Energy, humor on stage

Musical: 2nd Star Productions offers a lively `Anything Goes.'

Review

Arundel Live

September 30, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Opening night at Anything Goes confirmed that the folks at 2nd Star Productions excel at creating scintillating opening scenes forecasting the fun to follow. Before the S.S. American left the dock, the excitement and high humor were revved up by a lively assortment of passengers on board.

The megawatt energy of the ensemble reflects choreographer Vicki Smith's distinctive sense of joy and good humor along with her ability to generate excitement. In this show, many of the dancers are teenagers with a spark that sets them apart, and they capture the essence of a show that their great-grandparents might have enjoyed in 1935.

The plot concerns nightclub-singer-turned-evangelist Reno Sweeney, who is traveling with her "Angels." Reno helps her friend, stockbroker-gofer Billy Crocker, who remains aboard to be near his love, Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to Sir Evelyn Oakleigh - to the delight of her socially ambitious mother.

Adding to the fun is Moonface Martin, a crook posing as a minister, and his moll, Bonnie. Rounding out the cast are a flock of comely Angels, Wall Street broker Elisha Whitney and ship's officers. Billy pursues Hope, whose shipboard dates with Sir Evelyn are barely tepid. Only when Sir Evelyn discovers Reno does he generate enough steam to propel the ship.

Cole Porter's Anything Goes is jammed with great tunes that are not integrated into the plot and do little to move action along but are a joy to hear.

The score needs a strong cast, and, above all, the show's success depends upon the actress playing Reno. 2nd Star's production boasts a strong Reno in Andrea Elward, who has a lovely voice and stylishly delivers every song she tackles, with the exception of "I Get a Kick Out of You," which could have used more bounce. Still, Elward sings well enough to overpower the rest of the cast.

Elward is not a great dancer, but she gets by, and she projects a disarming warmth that is captivating.

Her scenes with Vince Musgrave's Billy and Michael Reese's Sir Evelyn are delicious, especially when singing "You're the Top" and "Let's Misbehave." Musgrave projects lovelorn sincerity in his scenes with Jill Vohr as Hope, and he knows how to deliver a comic line. He sings and dances well enough, although he is out of his range in the difficult song "All Through the Night."

The show is Vohr's 2nd Stage debut. She looks lovely, sings an acceptable "It's Delovely" and is perhaps a tad better than her partner in her rendition of "All Through the Night." But she often seems a bit wooden, with a glued-on smile that lingers until it becomes disconcerting.

Outstanding male performances were delivered by Walter League as Moonface and by Reese. League steals nearly every scene he graces, providing comic highlights when singing "Be Like the Bluebird" and adding pizazz to the "Friendship" trio with Elward and Musgrave. Reese grows in his role, moving from starchy nobleman to Reno's fired-up suitor, and doing it all with comic panache.

Heidi Toll strikes the right blend of silly pomposity and gullibility as Mrs. Harcourt. Martin Hayes is delightful in the nostalgic, sophisticated role of visually challenged, happily imbibing Wall Street mogul Elisha Whitney. Diana Wolf gleefully makes the part of temptress Bonnie her own.

Musical director Donald K. Smith and his 11 musicians in the pit add life and pizazz. Jane Wingard's direction is solid, and the set is fabulous.

Kudos to set designer Lynne Wilson and lighting and sound designer Garrett Hyde, who make the S.S. American the most shipshape of vessels.

"Anything Goes" continues on weekends through Oct. 31. Reservations: 410-757-5700.

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