ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Review: Memorable melodies, inventive wordplay make ‘Anything Goes’ sing

Declan Whitworth and Gwendolyn Duffy star in Camelot Theatre's musical production, "Anything Goes." Steve Sutfin photo
July 1, 2024

The Camelot Theatre brings 1930s famous musical to the stage

By Lucie K. Scheuer for Ashland.News

A number of Broadway musicals produced from the 1920s through the ’30s were written to either lift spirits before, during or after the world wars, or during the great Depression. Stories, therefore, were structured to easily elicit laughs, highlight comedic characters and promote improbable story lines. Musicals within this genre also offered some of the most memorable melodies, lyrics, musical numbers and performers by some of the greatest composers and lyricists of the time, or any time, including, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and, of course, Cole Porter. 

Written in 1934 by Guy Bolton and P.G. Woodhouse after several plot revisions and story changes by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, with music by Porter, “Anything Goes” may be the most standout musical of that era. This all-singing, all dancing, musical revue is now playing at the Camelot Theatre, and at the risk of describing it in the most clichéd of terms “it’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.” It’s also a bit too loud, but rest-assured, Sound Designer, Zachary Biegel, can easily attend to that.

Once again, the Camelot has exceeded expectations with one of the most talented ensembles in the valley. Director Rick Robinson, who has directed a number of Camelot’s successful plays, Choreographer Rebecca K. Campbell, and brilliant digital Music and Orchestral Arranger, Karl Iverson, are once again at the helm of this seafaring, multi-talented cast and crew. Together they are mixing off-the-charts tap-dance numbers with Andrew Beyer’s visually eye-catching costumes, Evan Carbone’s lighting and Nathan Ynacay’s scenic design. It is the meeting of their minds, coupled with the ensemble’s evident hard, hard work, that brings this shipboard musical extravaganza together. 

There are a few unlikely shipboard romances going on here, mixed with some unlikely subplots, but nevertheless, we have a feeling things might just work out in the end. Simply put, the story is about a slew of romantically mismatched passengers aboard an ocean liner sailing from New York to London. 

The story opens, however, in a Manhattan bar, with Reno Sweeney, a female, redheaded nightclub performer who has been around a few blocks and has the hots for a young stockbroker named Billy Crocker. As they’re sharing a drink, Gwendolyn Duffy as Reno, slides into “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Ms. Duffy is not really a singer with a wide range in the classical sense, but she can belt out the songs, like her predecessor Ethel Merman. Duffy is smoother and more eye-catching than Merman too.

Duffy singing Porter’s “Anything Goes” is a feat in and of itself. The song is a critical but humorous review of the scandals and mores of that era, and it needs to be sung that way. It is also a singer’s minefield of repetition and rhyme worthy of Shakespeare. It has a “now try saying this three times without making a mistake” degree of difficulty. Example: “When the Missus Ned McLean, God bless her/ Can get Russian reds to yes her/ Then I suppose/ anything goes/ 

“When Rockefeller still can hoard enough money/ To let Max Gordon produce his shows/Anything goes.”

Ms. Duffy takes us right through it, and rest assured, the more her character understands Cole Porter’s sense of humor, the better Ms. Duffy’s emphasis will be on certain words.

Billy Crocker, played by Declan Whitworth, stows away on the liner headed for England to try and win the favor of the lady and heiress he’s really in love with — Hope Harcourt, played by Alyssa Hertzog. Both Whitworth and Hertzog harmonize beautifully together. Hope Harcourt in turn is engaged to quite a dapper fellow, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Lord Evelyn reminds one of Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, but without the sarcastic edge. Zach Virden’s timing and comic gestures as Lord Evelyn are spot on.  

The deets
“Anything Goes” plays four more weekends at Camelot Theatre in Talent: This coming Friday through Sunday, July 5 to 7, and the following two Thursdays through Sundays, July 11 through 14 and 18 through 21. Thursday through Saturday, shows start at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, shows start at 2 p.m. Tickets are $40. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

It all gets a bit convoluted as Reno Sweeny boards the liner to help Billy win Hope. Also aboard is a gangster named Moonface Martin played by Scott Ford. Thanks to Ford, you couldn’t find a more amiable, self-assured gangster, who can also sing up a storm. Sierra Milburn plays his stereotypical, blonde, moll, Erma. Also in fine voice is Chuck Isen as Elisha J. Whitney. And watch out for BriAnna Johnson as overbearing mom and opportunist, Evangeline Harcourt.

Since the music made these early musicals rather than the stories, Cole Porter was just the musical genius for the times. As Adam Gopnik recounts in a 2020 New Yorker article: “Porter still wrote in a revue style where the characters were hardly worth dramatizing. The producer Cy Feuer, who put on two late Porter shows, says in his memoir that Porter didn’t really care where the songs fit within the story; he was blithely composing numbers for “Can-Can” (1953) while the book writer and the director struggled bitterly with the plotline, and though he threw in new ones as needed, he seems to have stood mostly aside, amused and productive, as the rest of the creative team raged and yelled. In fact, Abe Burrows wrote a couple of deft, diplomatic letters asking Porter to please wait to write the songs until they knew what the story was.”

That sounds like Porter. It also sounds like “Anything Goes.” The musical is a lot of fun and Porter gave us a musical with which we could laugh at the absurdities and contradictions that accompany our quests for love — and a way to laugh at ourselves.

Ashland resident Lucie K. Scheuer is director and coordinator for two nonprofits in the Rogue Valley: Heart Rising Foundation(aiding Almeda Fire victims) and Uniting for Ukraine RV (aiding emigrating Ukrainian refugees). She is also a nonprofit development consultant, credentialed substance abuse/dual-diagnosis counselor and former copy editor and staff writer with the Los Angeles Times, where her work included features, reviews and a column on films in production. Email her at LucieScheuer19@gmail.com.

Picture of Cameron Aalto

Cameron Aalto

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