Anything Goes

anything goesAre you are looking for a lighthearted break from reality with quirky characters, great songs, and dance routines? The classic Cole Porter musical comedy Anything Goes is Delightful, Delicious, and De-Lovely.

There are several versions of Anything Goes available to theater companies, with each offering a slightly different song list, running order and book (script) variations.

This McKeesport Little Theater production uses the 1962 version, there is also a 1987 version and a 2011 Roundabout Theatre version as well, so don’t think you’re crazy if this is a bit different than you may remember.

Unlike many musicals of its day, Anything Goes has a strong plot line full of twists and turns as you wonder who gets the girl and who gets the boy.  The later the version, the more fully developed the story line is. The musical is set on the S.S. American a cruise ship that is sailing between New York and England.  The voyage is packed with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a popular nightclub singer and former evangelist, her pal Billy Crocker, a lovelorn Wall Street broker who has come aboard to try to win the favor of his beloved Hope Harcourt (who is engaged to another passenger, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), and a second-rate con man named Moonface Martin, aka “Public Enemy #13.” Song, dance, and farcical antics ensue as Reno and Moonface try to help Billy win the love of his life.

Anything Goes offers a fascinating stylized glimpse at American life in the 1930’s. It’s Broadway debut in 1934 was a year after prohibition ended and roughly at the mid-point of the Great Depression. Roosevelt was just elected president in 1933 and the mood of the country has shifted towards cautious optimism.  Attitudes regarding women, class structure and foreigners have slowly begun to change. Although you might be surprised to see how little has changed between then and now.  Odd as it may sound, this retrospective is more predominant in the latter Roundabout version than the earlier ones, but this is still worth observing.

What community theater lacks in resources and experience, it often makes up for in enthusiasm. This production is no exception.

Most of the scenes take place on deck, the main highway for characters coming and going. Director Dorothy Fallows scenic design makes use of two winglets on either side of the main deck that serve as staterooms and the brig. Getting the large cast on and off the deck often seems a bit contrived as secondary characters appear as needed for big musical numbers.

The leads come to the production with various levels of experience and talent. It was interesting to see the diversity of age of the actors that embodies the true spirit of community theatre.

Riley Tate is a lovely woman and carries off the somewhat older than she Reno Sweeney quite well. She has played Reno before and it shows. While this production’s musical numbers choreography is not as lush as might be expected, Tate dances with joy and grace. She shows great promise vocally. Ron Clawson’s Billy Crocker doesn’t have the good looks of Ryan Gosling;  but he has a good voice and pleasant delivery. Tim Tolbert’s portrayal of Moonface Martin was fully realized with entertaining expressions and gestures and a good voice. Sam Minnick’s Sir Evelyn Oakley has just the right restrained British character, flummoxed often by American sayings and culture. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Reno and Evelyn just isn’t there. Emily-Ann Stephens’ Hope Harcourt never quite explains why Evelyn and why not Billy. Julia Lodge is a triple threat as the ditzy sexpot Bonnie.

Anything Goes features some of Cole Porter’s and musical theater’s most memorable standards, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “It’s Delovely”, “Friendship”, “You’re the Top,” and of course, the title song.

According to Linda Baker, President of MLT “This is one of the classic musicals that unfortunately not enough millennials have had the opportunity to experience.” So disconnect and go see it.

Anything Goes continues it’s run at the McKeesport Little Theatre May 19th to 21st. Tickets available at http://mckeesportlittletheater.com

Thanks to MLT for the complimentary tickets to a Broadway classic.

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Spring

Pittsburgh theatregoers have a great mix of musicals to choose from this spring. Our preview features five shows that offer a mix of style, period and contemporary relevance. Two of them are new to Pittsburgh, Daddy Long Legs from the Public Theatre and Violet from Front Porch Theatricals.  The classic Cole Porter musical Anything Goes will be offered by the McKeesport Little Theatre and the contemporary hit Dream Girls from Pittsburgh Musical Theatre. Rounding out the mix and out of today’s headlines is the Duquesne Red Masquers’ production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.Layout 1

Pittsburgh Public Theatres second musical of the season is Daddy Long Legs, the story of Miss Jerusha Abbott, who is the oldest resident of a New England orphanage. When she turns eighteen, a mysterious benefactor, Jervis Pendleton, decides to pay for her college education. There is one condition, she must write him a monthly letter and not expect any reply.

During the course of her education, Jerusha begins to imagine the woman she could become which leads to critical thinking about religion, the social issues of the day, and politics.

The story is set between 1908 and 1912 and Daddy Long Legs is a story of emotional growth told in song by both characters – as she’s composing and he’s reading her letters.

Pittsburgh’s own Allan Snyder plays Jervis. Audiences will remember him from PMT’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and the CLO’s 39 Steps. Danielle Bowen plays Jerusha.

The New York Times described Daddy Long Legs as “a great treat,” and Variety called it “a wholesome tuner in tune with the times.” Daddy Long Legs has been touching hearts for more than 100 years. Ted Pappas’ new production at the Public is “guaranteed to continue the tradition.”

Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s Daddy Long Legs

Playing March 9th through April 9th at the O’Reilly Theatre

Tickets 412-316-1600 or online at https://ppt.org/calendardream girls

American music has undergone many changes from the big band sound of the forties to rhythm and blues, to the new American sound of Motown. In 1962 even though Elvis was king and we listened to the Beatles, American’s were dancing to the new beat of The Supremes and other girl groups. Dream Girls tells the story of the The Dreamettes, a hopeful Black girl group from Chicago who enter the famous Amateur Night talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

The musical explores the relationships between the girls, their boyfriends and managers as the chase their respective dreams.

It is also about the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry that made this cultural phenomenon possible. The subject matter of this play deals with a musical contribution to America of such importance that only now — decades later —  we are beginning to understand.

“And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and “One Night Only” are just two of the great songs from Dream Girls that have become part of the canon of modern musical theatre.

Dream Girls from Pittsburgh Musical Theatre with performances at the Byham Theater March 9th to 19th. For tickets call 412-456-666 or at https://trustarts.org/production/49516BB andrew j

Pittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne University Red Masquers certainly had excellent foresight in picking Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as their Spring Musical. After all, our President considers himself a modern day Andrew Jackson.

The shows opening song, “Populism Yea Yea”, reflects the desire of Jackson to bring political power back to the public and away from the elite. The subject of immigration today is a topic of much discussion. In Jackson’s era it was native Indian lands. At first, the citizenry meets Jackson’s exhilarating cowboy-like governing tactics with great enthusiasm. But, as the problems grow tougher, the public begins to resent him.

Jackson decides he must take ultimate responsibility for the nation’s choices and autocratically declares that he alone will be the one to make the difficult policy decision.

At the Broadway opening in 2010, The New York Times noted “there is no show in town that more astutely reflects the state of this nation than Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Duquesne University Red Masquers playing 

March 15-19.

Tickets at http://www.duqredmasquers.com/purchase-ticketsanythign goes

Are you are looking for a lighthearted break from reality with quirky characters, great songs and fabulous dance routines?  The McKeesport Musical Theatres production of the classic Cole Porter musical comedy Anything Goes is just your ticket.

The S.S. American is sailing between New York and England with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a popular nightclub singer and former evangelist, her pal Billy Crocker, a lovelorn Wall Street broker who has come aboard to try to win the favor of his beloved Hope Harcourt (who is engaged to another passenger, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), and a second-rate conman named Moonface Martin, aka “Public Enemy #13.” Song, dance, and farcical antics ensue as Reno and Moonface try to help Billy win the love of his life.

Anything Goes features s some of musical theater’s most memorable standards, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, the title song.

According to Linda Baker, President of MLT “This is one of the classic musicals that unfortunately not enough millennials have had the opportunity to experience.” So disconnect and go see it.

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theatre May 5th to 21st. Tickets available at http://mckeesportlittletheater.com

Acclaimed Director Robyne Parish has returned to PPrintittsburgh to live after spending five seasons as the Artistic Director of the Gilbert Theater in North Carolina. Her second directorial assignment since returning is the Tony nominated Violet presented by Front Porch Theatricals.

Violet is a scarred woman who is traveling across the 1964 Deep South toward a miracle. She is looking for the healing touch of an evangelist that will make her beautiful. Though she may not succeed in being healed, Violet is able to repair those injuries that lie deeper than her skin. On the way she meets a young, African-American Soldier whose love for her reaches far past her physical “imperfections”.

I asked Robyne about her approach to the production. “One of the most interesting themes in this play, besides the complicated relationship Violet has with her Father, are the parallels between Flick and Violet. A black man in the south judged by the color of his skin and a white woman being judged by her scar. As an audience we will experience Violets growth, discovery of love, beauty, enlightenment and ultimately redemption.”

“Patrons will discover themselves in the characters in Violet. It’s the story of family, of first love, of desperation and of hope. They will identify with these folks and recognize them in an intimate way some shows may not allow. This is an intense and uplifting play about real people with real hopes, dreams and desires and real loss, failure and disappointment. This is a play about life.”

Violet from Front Porch Theatricals is in performance May 19th to 28th at the New Hazlett Center for the Performing Arts located in Pittsburgh’s historic North Side

Tickets https://www.showclix.com/events/12886

The spring of 2017 promises something for every theatregoer to enjoy.

 

 

Community, Celebration, and Risk Taking: McKeesport Little Theater’s Fall Season

The culture of a theater is dictated by hundreds of elements, one of the most 558587_368499533194803_1321376975_nsignificant of which is its size. Any theater worth its merit has a soul, a family, a crew, and, not insignificantly, usually a ghost. The size of a theater plays a pretty huge role in this equation; each production, each concession stand, each stage plays a greater role in establishing the spiritual nature of a place.

Perhaps no Pittsburgh theater is more actively aware of this little/big economy than the McKeesport Little Theater. I recently had the chance to sit down with MLT’s President, Linda Baker, to discuss their upcoming season, as well as the theater itself.

More than anything, MLT cares about its people: “The audience has a say,” Baker told me. “We are sensitive to what they want to see. At the same vein, we try catering towards the audiences of the future.” This concern for audience satisfaction extends from production decisions, to its community-oriented MLT Juniors Program, to travel concerns – Baker even takes care to ensure the steep road leading to the theater is clear and salted during winter productions.

The first of four main productions, MLT’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, a perennial crowd pleaser, is in some ways evidence of their approach to main_fit_300bridging the gap between friendliness and riskiness. Directed by Robert Hockenberry, a primary goal of the production is focus on the humanity of the show’s colorful cast, and by extension what humanity means exactly to each of us.

The relationship between the play’s titular lead characters promises to reexamine the contemporary fairy tale in a similar way, thanks to the casting of real-life couple Justin and Kristi Delboe.

Additionally, the production will feature “adults playing adults,” and will avoid trivializing its supporting cast. “[Robert Hockenberry] didn’t want to portray [the characters] as a cartoon. He worked with the cast to find the humanity in each object.” Audiences can see the play for themselves September 9th-25th.

fxgjgxfjfUp next is 12 Angry Men, directed by Laura Oxenreiter. Long considered one of the greatest examples of dialogue-driven storytelling, the Reginald Rose-penned classic is about a 19 year old man standing trial for the brutal murder of his father. Although it initially appears to be an open and shut case, one skeptical juror believes the young man to be innocent. Through an intense exchange of ideas, evidence, and biases, the 12 jurors debate their way towards a complicated, uncertain interpretation of truth. 12 Angry Men will be performed from November 4th-20th. Auditions for the show will be open September 18th-19th.

Polish Joke, a play by David Ives, is something of a wild card in MLT’s fall season. Directed by David Hoffman, Polish Joke follows Jasiu, a Polish-American exploring his ethnic identity in a complex culture. Acutely aware of the show’s (relative) obscurity, Baker feels the play is an opportunity to expose MLT’s audience to something fresh, and an example of the necessity of risk. “If [we’re] not willing to take a little risk, we wouldn’t be able to put on something like Polish Joke. You have to take risks.”

“I don’t think a lot of people have heard about it,” Baker continued. “I want [our audience] to have a new experience.” The play promises to have a quirky sense of humor, and is intended to be a breath of fresh air. Polish Joke will be performed from March 10th to March 26th.

This season’s final show will be Anything Goes. Directed by MLT veteran Dorothy Follows, the light-hearted classic tells the story of the inhabitants of 71the ocean liner S. S. American. Aided by nightclub singer Reno Sweeny and Public Enemy #13 Moonface Martin, Billy Crocker hopes to win the heart of Hope Harcourt, who is soon to be wed to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. With a show filled to the brim with elaborate disguises and good old fashioned hijinks, Baker looks to end this year’s season “on a big note.”

Lastly, MLT will continue its Juniors Program, which empowers young locals to try their hand at theater. When I asked her what impact the program can have on the community, Baker told me about her own children’s personal experiences.

“As a parent, I think the impact was that it gave my children the opportunity to learn about theater in a safe environment with kids that are like-minded. It made my [son] happy to have the skills to perform and learn.”

The program, primarily filled with young, aspiring actors, gives kids the chance to rehearse and put on a live show – this year, the Juniors Program will be putting on Madagascar: The Musical. Although this year’s show is still very much in the making, Baker and her team are already “having fun thinking about costuming. Do you want them to be cartoony, or human with the suggestion of an animal?”

“Do I think [MLT’s Junior Porgram] impacted how [my son] sees the world? I think it impacted his outlook. He found a niche that leads to a career,” said Baker. “Kids are here to be creative. Seeing them come out of themselves doing something different…it’s fun!”

Kids looking to get involved in the MLT Juniors Production can find more about the program at the theater’s website. Madagascar: The Musical will be performed this January.

Check out the rest of our 2016 Fall Preview here! Follow along with our autumn adventures with the hashtag #FallwithPITR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Anything Goes

anything-goesThe show began innocently enough—Billy, a young man, impulsively stowaways on an ocean liner to England in hopes of winning the heart of a young lady, Hope, who happens to be engaged to a British aristocrat. Billy is accompanied in his high jinks by: a two-bit gangster named Moonface, a nightclub singer named Reno, and a saucy wannabe named Bonnie.

At first it was difficult to hear Reno’s (Ashley Harmon) vocals over the band, but as the play went on, she seemed to become more confident in her delivery. By the end of the evening she was carrying me away with “Take Me Back to Manhattan”. Until I stepped foot in the Theatre Factory, I had never viewed a production of Anything Goes, although I was familiar with Cole Porter songs. It’s these songs: “It’s Delovely”, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “You’re the Top” that are the show’s magic. Cole Porter’s lyrics are emotive without being overdone, and the cast and band did his work justice.

Also of note was the ambitious choreography of the group dance numbers specifically for the song “Bon Voyage” and “Anything Goes”. Billy (Jeff Johnston) appeared especially in command of his dancing on the song “Friendship”. There was unfortunately, a young sailor character in the chorus who appeared to one to two beats behind in every dance number. This issue was made all the more obvious by the look of horror on this young man’s face as he struggled to keep up. I am certain that this is a case where a better policy would be for him to act as if he knew what he was doing. He was in one of the back lines for the dance numbers, and I wouldn’t have caught on if he had just kept grinning.

Despite some of the strengths of the production detailed above, I keep coming back to the question of why the musical was staged in the first place. Theater plays an essential role in our culture. Theater shows us idealized worlds, and reflects our lived experience and stories. Theater can be transcendent. Why then did the producers at the Theatre Factory choose to stage a musical replete with racist caricature, a joke about a potential lynching, and a plot dependent on women as chattel? One should look to the current revival of Shuffle Along as an example of how to revive a play with dated stereotypes. The producers of that show kept many of the numbers in the current show while adapting the book to modern values. The production I viewed of Anything Goes offered no context or commentary to the most offensive parts. As someone who was obviously swept up in the action on stage, to experience Act Two of the show was to have a metaphorical ice bucket dumped on my head.

The major plot point of the musical hinged on both Billy’s and Moonface’s escape from the ship’s brig (below deck holding cell) disguised in the garb of Chinese passengers. It was in this costume that Billy and Moonface put on garbled, accented Chinese and pantomimed the mannerism of Chinese immigrants. It was also in this scene that the negotiation of Hope’s marriage to one of the “Chinese” immigrants was cemented.

What is a viewer to gain from viewing Anything Goes? What was the intended takeaway for the audience? Yes, a musical that merely entertains does still have value, but what are we to make of a musical that perpetuates dated caricature? What are we to make of an audience that cheers and laughs at the actors aping as Chinese?

To this critic, it was obvious the time and effort that all involved put into this production, and I believe their talents could have been put to better use. The strength of the play was in the comedic performances of the aristocrat Sir Evelyn (Adam Seligson), Bonnie (Alyssa Bruno) and Moonface (Matthew Fawcett). These actors did justice to comedic lines that could have fallen flat without their sense of charm and command of timing. The stage production crew is also to be commended for the creative set design, which made great use of a small stage by skillfully creating the above and below deck scenery.

Special thanks to the Theatre Factory for complimentary press tickets. Would you like to see more articles and reviews like this from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!

Catch Anything Goes at Trafford’s Theatre Factory until July 24th. For tickets and more information, click here.