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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Theatre review: Anything Goes is still de-lovely

It may be showing its age, but Cole Porter's music & Madeleine Suddaby's performance make this Royal City Musical Theatre production sing

It may be sexist and its story ridiculously corny, but thanks to Cole Porter’s music and a starring turn by Madeleine Suddaby, the Royal City Musical Theatre production of Anything Goes is still de-lovely.

The plot for Anything Goes is an outrageous story of romance and hijinks on the high seas. With six writers sharing credit for its book over the years, it is perhaps not surprising its plot is dense with madcap antics. Add a slew of oddball characters brought together aboard the S.S. American and it is perfect farce formula. And while this energetic cast takes full advantage of all its silly fun, it really is a showcase for Porter’s hits.

There is no denying Suddaby is the star of this show.  She not only can belt out a tune – her “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” is one of her many highlights – but she breathes life into the role of Reno Sweeney.  Originally made famous by the larger-than-life Ethel Merman, Suddaby’s Reno is that perfect combination of big, brassy, and bold that the role demands.

The other female standout here is Laura Ross who does a wonderful job as gun moll Erma.  Her sexy “Buddy Beware”, literally charming the pants off the ship’s sailors, is another of this show’s highlights.

Laura Ross is delicious and delightful as the mob moll Erma. Photo by Tim Matheson.
Laura Ross is delicious and delightful as gun moll Erma. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Andrew Cownden reprises his role from the 2011 Theatre Under the Stars production, with his perfect mobster drawl making for a amusing send-up of gangsters of the era. When paired with Suddaby for the familiar “Friendship”, the two create real stage magic.

Michael Wild is perfectly eccentric as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, and as the two romantic leads, Shannon Hanbury and Daniel James White have a nice chemistry. Hanbury has a delightful voice, but while White came out of the gates strong in “You’re The Top”, he struggled opening night with some of the more subdued numbers.

As with any Royal City Musical Theatre production, its ultimate success relies on its ensemble and Anything Goes is no exception. Director Valerie Easton gets the most from her choreography, and when the cast comes together it can be a glorious. The tap extravaganza of the title song at the end of act one was a particularly exciting cacophony of sight and sound.

The cast of the Royal City Musical Theatre production of Anything Goes. Photo by Tim Matheson.
The cast of the Royal City Musical Theatre production of Anything Goes. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Remarkably, director Valerie Easton keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace. She also wisely, and thankfully, expunged the racist treatment of the original Asian characters by replacing them with Russians (although not all the jokes make sense as a result).

If only Easton could do something with the overtly sexist way in which the women are treated in this 80 year old musical. To do so would be a near impossible task, although with the show’s history of rewritten librettos it may one day hopefully become a reality.

Set designer Omanie Elias brings a dominating cruise ship with easily movable set pieces to help ensure the pace is not slowed. With much of the set pushed back so far upstage though, there is at times a huge chasm from apron thrust, through the orchestra pit, to the action. Robert Sondergaard makes liberal use of follow spots to help fill some of the dead spots on stage. Christina Sinosich dresses this massive cast largely in white to match its nautitcal theme, making the colours she does use even more eye-popping.

Musical director James Bryson and his orchestra bring Porter’s immediately recognizable songs to life. Special mention must go to the horn section for their rousing part in “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”.

Anything Goes is largely light and fluffy fun, but it is also showing its age. Thank goodness for Mr. Porter’s tunes and Madeleine Suddaby’s voice.

Anything Goes with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, and a new book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman. Directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton. Musical direction by James Bryson. A Royal City Musical Theatre Society production. On stage at Massey Theatre (735 Eighth Ave, New Westminster) until April 23. Visit for tickets and information.

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