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Review: 'Anything Goes' Schemes And Dreams Aboard An Oceanliner At Ocean State Theatre

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“Anything Goes” is a classic Broadway musical that first appeared in 1934. Now the Ocean State Theatre Company is doing a re-done version from 1987....

“Anything Goes” is a classic Broadway musical that first appeared in 1934. Now the Ocean State Theatre Company is doing a re-done version from 1987. Bill Gale says the result is pretty darn good – with some reservations.

Let's begin with the good stuff. After all, “Anything Goes” is filled, saturated actually, with the music (and lyrics) of the great Cole Porter. If you are of a certain age, or a person of any age who loves good songs, you get a kick out of this show.

Tunes such as “You're the Top,” “It's De-Lovely,” “Easy To Love” and, yes, “I Get a Kick Out of You” are simply hard to beat. Porter's combination of sophistication, whimsy, good fun and a hopeful view of love are an American treat we can all be proud of.

At Warwick's Ocean State Theater the songs are well portrayed, and believed in by some pretty fine, talented singers. Now let's get down to the script.

“Anything Goes” is overrun with jokes that will have you laughing sometimes, and groaning others. The “humor” if that's the word, runs from just plain silly, truly out-dated gags, about, oh, Benjamin Franklin and girdles , for instance.

And there's a truly over-the-top scheme concerning silly little Chinese immigrants that really has no place in today's world. The production of all this, it must be said, is quite fine. Scenic and lighting designer Bert Scott has come up with a very pretty and very usable scheme. The costumes, particularly the women’s lovely full-length 1930s gowns by Emily Taradash are sometimes stunning, always attractive.

And director Amiee Turner has done a good job in keeping all of the action, both physical and emotional, moving right along.

And, so, what about the plot? Oh that. You've noticed I've been ignoring it. Well, there's  not much to tell. “Anything Goes” takes place on an ocean liner huffing it's way from New York to England. On board are some rich people, very rich. Others aren't wealthy, but are trying whether it's through fixed card games or other nefarious efforts. Some want get married. Others don't. Some drink too much, a few others don't.

The ship sails on. And “Anything Goes” continues to what could possibly be the most absurd, preposterous, corny ending ever to be forced upon Broadway musical fans.

Never mind. The big cast gives it's all. Jessica Wagner, a very fine Eliza Doolittle in Ocean State's “My Fair Lady,” follows in the footsteps of Ethel Merman and Patti LuPone and is a reasonable Reno Sweeney. As Billy Crocker, a put upon guy trying to make his way, tenor Nate Suggs sang well and was pleasingly funny. Jade Genga had a lovely voice and Andrew Boza was very fine playing an English Lord, who really shouldn't lord anything over anybody. 

So, once again “Anything Goes” proves that given a reasonable production Cole Porter's ballads can carry a show a long way.

One more thing. Ocean States'  program points out that Cole Porter wrote most of “Anything Goes” while he was a house guest at Rosecliff, perhaps the loveliest of the Newport mansions. It's something I didn't know. 

So, what the heck. That ought to make any music and dance loving Rhode Islander decide to take in this show, faults and all. Just overlook the goofy jokes and out-of-date racial absurdities.

“Anything Goes” continues at the Ocean State Theatre Company in Warwick through May 22nd. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Jessica Wagner (center) stars as Reno Sweeney in the Cole Porter classic, Anything Goes,at Ocean State Theatre
Jessica Wagner (center) stars as Reno Sweeney in the Cole Porter classic, Anything Goes,at Ocean State Theatre