AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
New book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
Directed by Michael Butler
Presented by Center REPertory Company
Margaret Lesher Theatre, Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA / (925) 943-7469

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Audiences for Center REPertory Company's production of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" are in for a real treat.

Artistic director Michael Butler, who directs, has assembled a stellar group of performers and designers, resulting in a thoroughly entertaining show from start to finish.

The indisputable star is Molly Bell as Reno Sweeney, a role originated by Ethel Merman in the 1934 Broadway production. While Merman put her own inimitable stamp on the role, Bell has a different style that's equally effective. She's a triple-threat dynamo who can sing, dance and act with equal ease.

Reno is a brash nightclub "evangelist" who's the featured entertainer on a passenger ship sailing from New York City to London. She's romantically interested in Billy Crocker (Joshua Hollister), who works for a Wall Street investor. Billy, though, has his heart set on Hope Harcourt (Brittany Danielle).

However, she's engaged to a wealthy English nobleman, Sir Evelyn Oakley (Jeffrey Draper), a good-natured but naive sort who's fascinated by American expressions.

With Billy as a stowaway, they all wind up on the S.S.American along with an assortment of other passengers and crew. Complications arise, but all get sorted out.

Porter's music and lyrics have made this show a classic of the American musical theater. The long list of memorable songs includes such treasures as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," "It's De-Lovely," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and of course the title song. Closing the first act, it showcases the versatile choreography of Amanda Folena, artistic director of Redwood City's Broadway By the Bay, with a tap extravaganza.

As Billy, Hollister sings the show's most difficult song, "All Through the Night," better than almost everyone else I've heard in the role.

In addition to great singing and dancing, this production provides ample laughs, many of them triggered by Colin Thomson as Moonface Martin, a gangster of sorts, and by Lizzie O'Hara as Erma, his gal pal. She can sing and dance, too.

The show is a visual feast thanks to costumes by Victoria Livingston-Hall, who has given the women one delectable outfit after another.

The serviceable set by Michael Locher (lit by Kurt Landisman) places the 11-member orchestra (including musical director Brandon Adams on piano) on the top deck. If there's one drawback in the show, it's that the sound design by Jeff Mockus sometimes can't compete with the orchestra.

Everyone in the 23-member cast does an outstanding job no matter how small the role. However, the one who makes this production especially memorable is Bell. She's the top.

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