'Anything Goes' version is light and lighthearted

September 23, 1992|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing Critic

September Song's 19th annual fall production opened last weekend with a mostly successful launching of Cole Porter's nautical comical musical, "Anything Goes."

The production celebrated Porter's 100th birthday and recognized the immeasurable contributions of the highly talented Mary Lee Schmall to Carroll County theater and music.

This musical has one of Porter's finest scores, and it is upon this that successful productions rest.

The book, by the talented team of Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsey and Russell Crouse, while occasionally sophisticated and often bawdy, is painfully thin and monumentally corny.

When the original production opened in New York in November 1934, Lindsey acknowledged, "We went into rehearsal with only two-thirds of a first act and there was no second act at all."

The story centered around a shipwreck. Two months before the opening, the Morro Castle burned and sank off the New Jersey coast, killing 134 passengers.

Plot adjustments were made hastily, and new material was added to finish the book and avoid potential identification with the Morro Castle disaster.

"Anything Goes" pre-dates modern musicals, which feature well-integrated song and dance within cogent and believable plots.

The original production featured well-known stage personalities William Gaxton, Ethel Merman, Victor Moore and Vivian Vance. The local production spotlights the fine voices of Ann Barcroft, Chris Patrick, Edith Burbage and Diedre Derbus, and the comedic abilities of a clean-shaven Roger Buchanan.

The setting is attractive and appropriate but its adaptability is limited, which causes scene changes to be longer than is comfortable.

This is not helped by the decision to use the same song again and again to cover the shifts in location. This practice severely limits the contribution these moments can make to sustaining a mood or creating a new one.

Once again the power and balance of an amateur musical is limited by a lack of men in the company.

What is meant to be about sailing and sailors is lost in favor of a lot of female tap-dancing.

Perhaps this is why the take-off on a sea chantey, "There'll Always Be a Lady Fair," sung by the sailor chorus, is missing from this production.

Mary Lois Powelson has enriched this production by virtue of her very fine period tap choreography.

Unfortunately the several dance numbers begin to blend together and eventually all seem to be essentially the same.

A virtually untrained complement of dancers has much to be proud of.

Diedre Derbus successfully moved from her lovely Laurie of last Spring's "Oklahoma" to the brassy Bonnie of "Anything Goes." Ms. Derbus can belt out a song and her Bronx-ness came through clearly. On the other hand, her Helen Kane Boop-Boop-A-Doo quality, while accurate, made some of her lyrics unintelligible.

Dr. Bob Kersey's orchestra was solid. The work of the brass section of this year's production far surpassed that of the past few years.

One cannot help but wonder why Dr. Kersey choose to attack the ballads with such vigor. The beautiful "All Through the Night" was paced so fast that the singers were put at a great disadvantage.

Director Hal Fox has paced his piece well and has, for the most part, used the space to good advantage. He was not as successful in keeping the facial and physical reactions of the choruses within the bounds of reality and believability.

This a light and lighthearted production well worth the time of anyone who enjoys beautiful music and appreciates unsophisticated humor. Who can resist, "Where do they keep the sea gulls at night?" "In the gullery, the gullery mate will show you."

One of the funniest lines in the original script calls one of the characters "a Pomeranian" as a result of the source of the beard he uses as disguise. The substitution in this production is equally amusing.

"Anything Goes" continues this weekend at Westminster Senior High.

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