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FRIVOLOUS AND FROTHY

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Although "Anything Goes" was originally conceived as a vehicle for Ethel Merman, William Gaxton and Victor Moore, the two-act musical comedy has proven to be remarkably durable. Upon opening in 1934, it ran for 420 performances and was revised and revived on Broadway in 1962 and 1987.

This season, the Heights Players are bringing out the old war-horse once again, and she’s still prancing.

Directed by Steve Velardi, this production glides along as beautifully as a ship on a smooth sea. It features a strong ensemble and several impressive newcomers - most specifically Erika White as Reno Sweeney and Christopher Shackleford as Moonface Martin.

"Anything Goes" was first envisioned by producer Vinton Freedley while fleeing from his creditors and hiding out on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Panama. After paying off his debts and returning to New York, Freedley asked Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse to write a book featuring a group of eccentric characters involved in a shipwreck.

But after the sinking of the S. S. Morro Castle off the coast of New Jersey, which resulted in the deaths of 125 passengers, the book was quickly rewritten by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who turned the plot into a romantic comedy about the interaction of high society and criminal (’though lovable) lowlife. The title of this revision - "Anything Goes" - reflects the slapdash way the show was put together.

In the new version, which featured the same characters, Reno Sweeney (White), the sexy evangelist turned nightclub singer, wants to marry Billy Crocker (Zachary Scott Abramowitz), assistant to the Wall Street banker Elisha Whitney (Dan Hermann). But Billy is in love with the debutante Hope Harcourt (Alea Vorillas), who is engaged to the English gentleman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Raymond Adams). In order to win the heart and hand of Hope, Billy gets Public Enemy No. 13, Moonface Martin (Shackleford), to give him the identification papers of a missing friend.

The ensuing misadventures and mistaken identities combine the best of William Shakespeare and Groucho Marx. But of course, neither one of these geniuses had the help of another genius - Cole Porter.

Porter certainly brings out the heavy artillery. He swings with "Anything Goes." He romances with "Easy to Love." He teases with "Friendship." He inspires with "Blow, Gabriel Blow." If Porter supplies the music, the Heights Players supply the energy in this production that can easily sweep you off your feet.

With choreography by Kathy Valentine and musical direction by Anne Rebold, who conducts the orchestra (Henry DeMeo and Jim Colarusso on trumpet, Marty Rawlens on woodwinds and Dave Birchard on drums) and also plays keyboard, the music and dance on the boat in "Anything Goes" rocks the stage.

White has the voice the Heights Players need for robust musicals, and Shackleford has the cocky humor. Adams starts off slowly, but ends up stealing a few scenes himself. Vorillas and Abramowitz are properly sincere and earnest. And both the aforementioned Hermann and Cathy Lemmon - who plays Hope’s mother, Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt - are powerfully ridiculous.

Frivolous and frothy, "Anything Goes" is the quintessential musical. It has no raison d’etre other than providing entertainment and relaxation to the anxious and overworked individuals we have all become.

In other words, it’s just "de-lovely."

 

The Heights Players production of "Anything Goes" runs through Dec. 19 - Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm - at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. Tickets are $15, $13 seniors and students. For reservations or more information, call (718) 237-2752 or visit www.heightsplayers.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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