Whether you’re an avid theatergoer or just a patron of occasional stage productions, you’ve probably seen Anything Goes, the tune-filled musical crafted by composer Cole Porter in the mid-1930s. Over the years, the show has survived a cornucopia of revisions and still manages to entertain audiences after nearly nine decades.
The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton is currently proving that Porter’s production continues to pack plenty of laughs, and is as fresh, delightful and full of mirth as it was in the ‘30s. Executive Managing Producer Marilynn Wick has put her all – and then some – into the stellar production that runs through Feb. 12.
Wick says Anything Goes boasts the largest cast of any performance she’s produced in the more than nine years since she acquired, revamped and reopened the former Caldwell Theatre as The Wick.
The Boca showhouse’s first production of 2023 is an engaging and enjoyable, tap-happy rendition of the Porter masterpiece. Audiences are taking a fanciful trip up the gangway of the S.S. American to join a boatload of madcap passengers who offer witty repartee, exceptional singing and dazzling dancing.
Aaron Bower and sailors in Anything Goes at the Wick Theater. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
Since its debut at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway — now the Neil Simon Theatre — the musical has delighted audiences with comic appeal and a bouncy backstory that’s a little far-fetched, but enjoyable nonetheless.
The consummate Cole Porter score includes the iconic “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “De-lovely,” and, of course, the title tune, “Anything Goes.” The show also offers a particularly flamboyant rendition of Porter’s trumpet-strong, up-tempo favorite, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” that brings the whole cast to the stage for a dynamic showing.
“The original Broadway production debuted in 1934 and cheered up Great Depression audiences with its buoyant music, breathtaking dance routines and frothy plot,” Wick notes. “The Tony Award winning revival, which we are presenting, offers the same jubilant energy along with a marvelous dose of nostalgia.”
The zany plot involves some unorthodox players, including a brash nightclub singer, an heiress, a starry-eyed stowaway and a low-level criminal, all booked on a transatlantic luxury liner bound for romance and hilarity.
Coincidentally, director Norb Joerdor, the Broadway mentor who returns to helm his 15th production at the Wick, crossed paths with Anything Goes some years ago. He captured a small role in the 1972 production “starring the amazing Ann Miller” in the lead role of Reno Sweeney. “This show remains one of my all-time favorites,” he adds.
Joerdor’s work at Wick includes the just-completed Cinderella and last season’s Gypsy. He gets awesome backing in Anything Goes from returning choreographer Oren Korenblum and musical director Darren Cohen.
Aaron Bower in Anything Goes at the Wick Theater. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
Aaron Bower, a popular South Florida singer/actor/dancer heralded for her powerhouse vocals, portrays Reno, the brash, outspoken evangelist-turned-lounge performer who easily nails most of Porter’s top-notch tunes.
She’s not the only triple-threat cast member. Male lead Jeremy Benton as Billy Crocker, Alexandra Van Hasselt as heiress Hope Harcourt, Barry Pearl as Moonface Martin and Leah Sessa as Erma La Tour are just a few vocalists who knock it out of the park at every turn. And a stellar ensemble of hoofers and singers rounds out a commendable troupe.
Jeremy Benton and Barry Pearl in Anything Goes at the Wick Theater. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
Benton is a Broadway song-and-dance man who starred in Wick’s hit, Singin’ in the Rain. Pearl, who was one of John Travolta’s “gang” in the film, Grease, has trekked back to the Boca stage. Skilled singer Leah Sessa returns to her comic roots after successful roles in two dramas, Harlowe and The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe.
In Broadway style, Act I establishes the on-stage action using a two-story set that perfectly recreates the interior of an ocean line. The songs – some of Porter’s best – flow at top speed. With lots of lovely costumes and punchy, pun-filled dialogue, Act I is finished before you know it.
The second stanza opens with the heaven-sent version of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” but sadly bogs down, spending too much time in the brig where Moonface and Billy are being held as criminals.
Energetic Erma saves the day with a bubbly, flirtatious sailor-chasing tune, “Buddy Beware,” that resets the show’s previously enthusiastic pace.
Alexandra Van Hasselt in Anything Goes at the Wick Theater. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
Opening the show as the gown-bedecked Reno, Bower offers a paean to Bobby: “I Get a Kick out of You” before leaving port.
On board ship, she and Bobby hit all the right notes with a Porter favorite, “You’re the Top,” a recitation of all the things that were Number 1 back in the mid-30s – from Arrow Collars to Mona Lisa’s smile to cellophane.
Then, along comes Bobby’s true love, Hope, and they sing and dance to a soft Porter melody, “Easy to Love.” But Hope is engaged to a man much her senior, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Paul Louis), who is flush with money – and Hope’s mom (Britte Steele) wants it – badly. But Billy isn’t ready to give her up.
Britte Steele and Troy Stanley in Anything Goes at the Wick Theater. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
The show’s title pretty much sums up the show’s ongoing shipboard action.
Act I wraps with some of Cole Porter’s best stuff: “Friendship,” featuring Reno, Moon and Billy, and “It’s De-lovely,” by Billy and Hope, a song so wonderful it became the title of Cole Porter’s biopic. Hope excels, singing the touching ballad, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.”
Leah Sessa in Anything Goes at the Wick Theater. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)