by Patrick B. McGuigan
Renee Anderson shines at Summerstock once again, in a musically masterful and dramatically deft portrayal of Reno Sweeney, the engaging lead character in Cole Porter’s solid musical comedy, “Anything Goes.” On the eve of a trip to Europe, where professional singing “gigs” await her, she wants to land the permanent affections — rather than the guy-gal pal dynamic — of Billy Crocker, played by Dallas Lish.
The tinkered plot line from writers Timothy Crouse and Johnson Weldman (refined form the original story crafted by a quartet led by P.G. Wodehouse) borrows from Shakespeare-style conventions of mistaken identity and misunderstood intentions – and to excellent effect.
Billy sneaks onto the cruise boat (captained affably by Robert Glaubitz) to seek the love of Hope (Haley Jane Schafer), who is intended to join in marriage with Evelyn (Paul Mitchell). Billy has to work hard to avoid detection by his investor boss, Whitney (Terry Attebery), a nice enough fellow who drinks to excess every single day. Planning to assure Hope’s happiness is her interfering mom Evangeline (Georgia Flering, in a superb cameo).
In the midst of all the Tom-foolery is Moonface Martin (Justin Laman, another standout), a con artist traveling incognito as a priest accompanied by Erma (Bailey Maxwell), a cheerfully promiscuous lass with her eye on several of the ship’s crew. Laman is effective throughout, but especially in his “bluebird” song in Act II.
The story brings forth engaging duets for the romantic pairings of Billy & Hope, Reno & (eventually) Evelyn, and finally Evangeline and Whitney. The highlight of the First Act is one of the best closing numbers in Broadway history, “Anything Goes.” Anderson as Reno delivers wonderfully in a spectacular number that moves from her brief solo to six, then 12, then 28 performers.
As Hope, Halley has a brief solo turn in the second act, where in one of her most engaging moments she conveys doubts about the planned marriage to Evelyn. Thus the plot weaves toward its more-or-less happy ending for all.
Speaking of Mitchell’s Evelyn, his best moment on stage is when he hints at his feelings for Reno during “The Gypsy in Me” as the show’s end approaches. That exchange sets the stage for the fun silliness of the conclusion, including Politically Incorrect interplay among Billy and Moonface, the dubious couple Hope and Evelyn and the “faux Chinese” John (Vahn Phollurxa) and Luke (Robbie Lee Miller).
The Act II highlight is “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” – in which Anderson reaches the pinnacle of musical story-telling with the help of the entire cast. Her four “fallen angels” (Rebecca Capra, Annie Michelle Guy, Ellen Kilgo and Samantha Whitbeck) provide deft support.
Rounding out this fine cast of performers – professionals, semi-professionals, and college students from UCO, Oklahoma City University, the University of Oklahoma and other colleges – are Taylor Radke as the Purser and the glorious ensemble of singers and dancers: Reed Bentley, Jason Bias, Elizabeth Dragoo, Roslyln Dubberstein, Kharissa Edmond, Clinton Foster, Katherine Gates, Cody Dent, Hope Schafer, Joel Swanson, Austin Thompson, Liz Valdez and Nicholas Winterrowd.
Close observers will see evidence of several remarkable quick changes offstage, no doubt a credit to both the performers and the costuming group of Becky McGuigan, Lindy Hoel and Viviane Wolfe (a fine dancer in her own right when she’s not working backstage).
Director/choreographer Shannon Hurleigh doubles as executive director of Summerstock, and she should be proud of the professional tone in this quality production. Marianne Searle plays piano and conducts the orchestra, including Michael Gelb, Jose Batty, Jard Cathey, Eric Upchurch and Bill Repavich.
Tips of the hat should go to the entire production crew, which makes fine use of the Mitchell Hall performance area on the University of Central Oklahoma campus (at University Drive and Main Street in Edmond).
This weekend’s final round of shows are “curtain up” at 8 p.m. Friday (July 27), 2 p.m and 8 p.m. Saturday (July 28) and Sunday (July 29) at 2 pm. For information on prices or to purchase tickets, visit www.summerstockok.com – or take your chances with walk-up ticket sales beginning an hour before showtime.
“Anything Goes” is highly recommended.