By Barry Reszel
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today…
If for no other reason than knowing these partial lyrics of the musical’s title song were written for Anything Goes in 1934, this fact should be enough to convince people to take a night off of the daily nightmare being broadcast on their news stations of choice.
For a song that begins, “Times have changed,” it’s fair to say, “Not really.”
The world has been through difficult times before, as Depression-era Composer/Lyricist Cole Porter attested. Rest assured, Don Lemon will annoy and Sean Hannity will lie tomorrow. Take a night off and head to Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium.
That’s where Porter’s masterpiece is being exquisitely performed by Director Rudy Hogenmiller‘s stellar cast—though only through Aug. 26, so get those tickets today.
The staging is based on the 2011 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival that also eared Tonys for choreography and lead actress (the incomparable Sutton Foster). Hogenmiller’s leading lady, Erica Evans, who’s surely in the Jeff-nominee conversation for her performance as Andy Lee in Drury Lane’s 42nd Street, takes on all the earthiness of lounge singer Reno Sweeney. A true triple threat with effortless tap dancing ability, it’s Evans and her equally fantastic co-star Ken Singleton as Billy (one of the finest and most dulcet-voiced leading men on a Chicagoland stage) who lead the rest of this talented cast through a fast-moving production.
And that’s no small feat. Anything Goes is an old-time (read: more than two hours) musical farce with plenty of built-in theatrical rain delays. But Hogenmiller plows through those, putting an almost contemporary stamp on this terrific production by allowing the audience to believe the cast is in on the gags—that fourth wall seems more made of lace than plaster.
There are no better examples than two of the shows most iconic musical pieces, “You’re the Top” (sung by Evans and Singleton) and “Friendship” (sung by Evans and the wonderfully funny and talented Brian Zane as gangster Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13). Though to be fair, the “We’re all on this farcical voyage together” feeling exudes from cast members throughout.
Those unfamiliar with the slapstick musical may read all about the plot and history of its multiple reinventions here. Suffice it to say it sports a stellar Porter songbook, including known numbers like “Blow, Gabriel, Blow;” “De-Lovely;” and “I Get a Kick Out of You,” in addition to the aforementioned and a host of others. They’re all expertly played by Music Director Roger L. Bingaman‘s truly magnificent 16-member ensemble who together puts plenty of brass in the band. Blow, Gabriel, blow, indeed.
The rest of the artistic elements are similarly stellar. Kristen Martino’s set is elegantly ship-shape; Aaron Quick‘s sound work is crystal clear; Alexa Weinzierl’s costumes are gorgeous, complemented by Christina Reszel‘s lovely hair and makeup designs.
Back onstage, joining Evans, Singleton and Zane in executing Choreographer Clayton Cross‘ exciting dance moves to technical perfection is a cast of 20 energetic actors, singers and hoofers. Standouts include terrific comic actors Maxwell J. DeTogne as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh and Liz Norton as Evangeline Harcourt; bombshell Kayla Boyle as ditzy mob arm candy Erma; and the stunning Lexis Danca as Billy’s love interest Hope Harcourt. Danca was last year’s Louise in Music Theater Works’ Gypsy who’s been cast in major regional companies throughout Chicagoland ever since. Members of the sailor quartet—Jar’Davion Brown, Max Huston, Tyler Klingbiel and Bryan J. Wlas—also deserve a nod for their tight vocal harmonies.
So maybe it’s because times haven’t really changed.
Perhaps it’s because history repeats itself.
Possibly it’s because it’s fun to realize a musical written just short of a hundred years ago treats marriage with less reverence than a participant on The Bachelor.
But mostly, it’s because this hard-working, uber-talented creative team, band and cast deserve appreciative patrons in the seats.
Regardless of the why, get to Evanston before this show closes on Aug. 26 because everyone deserves a night off from the day’s news.
Music Theater Works presents “Anything Goes” through August 26 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Brett Biener.