The 1930s may have been an economic low point for America, but they had their glitzy side as well, a side that Foothill Music Theatre has recaptured with its lavish production of Cole Porter’s 1934 musical Anything Goes. Complete with a 45-member cast and a live band, and in the capable hands of award-winning director Jay Manley, the show displays that era’s more glamorous aspects: dazzling celebrities (who could be famous gangsters just as easily as Hollywood stars), luxury travel and of course, great Broadway music.
The plot concerns Billy Crocker (Justin Buchs), a beleaguered stockbroker who stows away on a transatlantic cruise ship. Also on board are evangelist/nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Karen DeHart, in the role originally filled by Ethel Merman) and her four tap-dancing “Fallen Angels.” There is also Moonface Martin, a.k.a. “Public Enemy No. 13,” a gangster disguised as a priest (played to a buffoonish T by the towering Walter M. Mayes), and Erma, a sassy, flirtatious moll (Mary Melnick, in another spirited performance). Billy teams up with these characters, engaging in a number of screwball antics to avoid being thrown in the brig, and to win over his sweetheart, Hope Harcourt (Marisa Illo), before she marries the stodgy Lord Oakleigh (Tim Reynolds).
These events are quite amusing, even if they do form little more than a clothesline for the songs—numbers like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top” and the title song are the reason Anything Goes is regarded as one of Porter’s greatest musicals. Thanks to talented singers like DeHart and, in no small part, to Dottie Lester-White’s competent choreography, the show delivers rousing, hummable renditions of these tunes.
Anything Goes may seem a bit dated, with its references to ’30s pop culture and what some might consider racist characterizations of the Chinese. However, though it adheres more closely to later revivals than to the 1934 version, it is precisely this ’30s-ness that the production embraces most, and with the help of well-constructed Art Deco sets, the play becomes a window into a bygone age. It is, furthermore, a genuine crowd-pleasing comedy that you won’t be able to sit through with a straight face.
A Foothill Music Theatre production
Plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
Runs through Aug. 15
Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills. Tickets are $10–$26.
650.949.7360 or www.foothillmusicals.com.