Song and dance with spirit, spunk

Show: Talent Machine teens shine in Cole Porter's musical "Anything Goes."


August 08, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The more I see our toxic youth culture spiraling into the depths of moral and aesthetic bankruptcy, the greater the joy I take in watching gifted youngsters use their talents to produce something sassy, sophisticated and laden with oodles of savoir-faire.

A Cole Porter show is all that in spades, which explains why I enjoyed such a lovely evening at the theater Saturday when Annapolis' Talent Machine Company presented Porter's musical Anything Goes at Key Auditorium on the campus of St. John's College.

Anything Goes is the madcap story of love on the high seas. A Wall Street gofer named Billy Crocker stows away on board ship to woo the girl of his dreams away from the rich, stuffy Englishman she is engaged to marry.

That British swell loosens his stiff upper lip long enough to fall for nightclub singer-turned-evangelist Reno Sweeney, even as a hilarious mobster masquerading as a man of the cloth wreaks humorous havoc on one and all.

While there are yuks aplenty, the show works because its score is chock-full of classic Porter fare such as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," "Let's Misbehave," "It's Delovely," "Blow, Gabriel Blow" and the toe-tapping title song. And in the best Talent Machine tradition, the stage is full of joy and primal energy as the songs and shtick are brought to life by a deep and talented cast.

Jonathan Nuckols of Annapolis High establishes himself as a first-rate song-and-dance man as he brings smart-alecky Billy Crocker to the stage. Long, lanky and limber, Nuckols is a joy to watch as he kicks up his heels in zippy choreography supplied by director Bobby Smith. (He is no relation to the late Bobbi Smith, Talent Machine's legendary founding director.)

Nuckols turns on the charm vocally. His "You're the Top" with Amy Sonntag, who's marvelously brassy as Reno, is terrific, as is a lyrical "All Through the Night" duet with Kerry Deitrick, whose bright, impeccably produced soprano voice is going to make some college choral conductor very happy a year from now.

Also delightful is Sean McCarron who runs a funny gamut of gentlemanly reactions from snooty to unbuttoned as he falls for the blandishments of Sonntag's Reno.

Andrew Sonntag steals every scene he is in as Moonface, the gangster who is too goofy to hurt a fly, while his moll is played nicely by Karley Willocks. A little more facial energy would make her funnier (smile, kiddo), but when she hoofs her way through her "Heaven Hop" number, there's no mistaking her pizazz as a dancer. Bravo.

The talent doesn't stop with the principals. Darren Biggart couldn't be funnier as crusty, gin-soaked Wall Street tycoon Elisha Whitney, while Rachel Scott is the soul of upper-crust mania as the perpetually panicked Evangeline Harcourt.

Best of all is the dancing in ensemble numbers such as "Blow, Gabriel Blow" and "Anything Goes," which fly off the stage with the vintage high-kicking energy for which Talent Machine has become famous. (Keep your singing volume up though, guys.)

Two problems hold the production back some and, alas, only one of them is fixable.

The accompaniments were recorded at such breakneck speed that some of those inimitable Porter melodies and lyrics rush by like the windows of a passing train. What a shame because these kids were plenty sharp enough to sell the catchy wordplay and cuddle the occasional phrase in songs such as "You're the Top" and "It's Delovely" and should not have been forced to sprint through them.

What can be adjusted is the microphone volume, which was so loud Saturday that many of the interpretive effects the singers were shooting for were mooted by blatty sound. They didn't need boosted volume any more than they required the forced tempos.

Talent Machine's production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes plays at Key Auditorium in Annapolis at 7:30 Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 18. Tickets are $10; $8 for children younger than age 7. Information and reservations: 410-956-0512.

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