By Susan Meister
The plot is canned: it’s about getting the girl with all the barriers put up by a cast of eccentric characters aboard a ship bound for England, carrying all the elements of madcap romance, confused identities, and mixed motives. Because it’s a musical, the right guys end up with the right girls, and we, the audience, go tap-dancing down the aisle at the end of one great afternoon of musical theater. That’s what Broadway by the Bay—a Silicon Valley-based organization that one hopes will find a permanent audience in Monterey, dedicated as it is to the musical theater, our great native, inimitable medium—gave us.
Anything Goes is the 1934 work of Cole Porter, who inherited the original book by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, later updated by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman—names that mean far less than Porter’s. The show contains so many of his famous songs—“I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “It’s Delovely”—that you think it might have exhausted the hit parade. There is little chance of that. He was so famously prolific, and there were so many more to come, that few could match his ebullience and energy.
And there is ebullience and energy to spare in Michael Ryken’s direction of his talented cast, the shining star of which is Katie Jaime as Reno Sweeney—was there ever a better name for a stage character?—originally played by Ethel Merman. Jaime’s tall, lithe frame, considerable dancing skills and perfect musical theater voice, light up every scene. So enjoyable is she to watch, we get the feeling that her compatriots on stage are catching her fire.
There are many others to mention. Tomas Theriot plays Lord Evelyn Oakleigh so in character as the seemingly wimpy public school toff that he barely drops his frozen upper-class jaw, until he reveals “The Gypsy in Me” in a hilarious, hectic, nimble piece of choreography that sends the audience into space. Ron Dritz, a former anesthesiologist turned theatrical whiz, plays Elisha Whitney, the lonely Wall Street titan, who—like Cole Porter himself a tenacious Yalie—delights in ordering around his lowly assistant, Billy Crocker, in a fine-edged performance by Adam Cotugno. In the role, he steals on board ship to pursue the love of his life, Samantha Cardenas as the socialite Hope Harcourt, who is unfortunately engaged to marry Lord Oakleigh thanks (or no thanks) to the persistence of her high-toned but impoverished mother, played by Molly Thornton. Cotugno, a bit challenged voice-wise, is a winning presence on the stage, and Cardenas, though she has a lovely voice, underplayed the part to the point where she sometimes looked uncomfortable.
But Ray D’Ambrosio as Moonface Martin steals a whole bunch of scenes on his own. Embarrassed that he is only Public Enemy No. 13 on a list that includes tooth decay, he goes all out to help Billy hide from the ship’s captain, facilitates the romance between Billy and Hope, and does some high stepping of his own. His small frame dominates the stage.
There isn’t anyone in this production who shouldn’t have been there, made most evident by their performance in two blockbuster songs. “Anything Goes,” at the end of the first act, features terrific choreography, especially the tap dance sequences. In the second act, the dance number “Blow, Gabriel Blow” was so vibrant my close neighbor in the orchestra seating, a woman of about 80 with a white cane, did a bit of dancing herself.
It’s good to imagine Cole Porter knocking out this genius library of songs. At his height he was a sybaritic social celebrity swanning around New York and Paris, officially married to a wealthy divorcée but actually a gay man whose sometimes outrageous dalliances embarrassed even his libertarian social circle. He went to Yale courtesy of his extremely wealthy grandfather who hoped he would go into the world of business by way of Harvard law school, but instead turned to music and never looked back. In 1937, he had a horse riding accident that fractured both of his legs and spent months in a hospital. Eventually one of the legs was amputated and afterward he lived in pain and depression until his death in 1964, a much-diminished man. During his life, he gave copiously to the musical theater, not least the marvelous Anything Goes.
For the experience at the Golden State on Sunday afternoon, we have to thank director Michael Ryken, musical director Sean Kana, choreographer Robyn Tribuzi, and costume designer Margaret Toomey. Fred Sharkey’s scenic design, while serviceable, seemed clunky to me, and I got tired of it. Still, with a big cast and many scene changes, I appreciated his challenge.
Sitting in the Golden State is like sitting in a cathedral of sorts, with ornate ceilings, decorated side panels that look like they could house an organ, wall ornaments resembling various ecclesiastical coats of arms. The stage—altar—perhaps a bit small for the grandeur of the setting, reminds me of how grateful we should be that the theater was purchased by a Redwood City couple whose passion is classic theaters.
The house was about half-full and deserved more. The audience was generally older, but there was a sprinkling of pert, hopeful ingénues looking towards their next auditions. Fortunately, Broadway by the Bay plans no less than four musical theater productions at the Golden State in 2015: Les Miserables in March, My Fair Lady in June, West Side Story in September, and Kiss Me Kate in November. This company deserves to know how much we value what they do so well. We are, after all, Americans, and we own the genre.