Regional Reviews: St. Louis
But those songs, by Cole Porter, speak a streamlined, universal language of love. And that makes this 1962 version of Anything Goes, with a libretto by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, a huge departure from what we've come to expect from the New Line Theatre in the past: a great company that readily supplies a stunning "deep dive" into rich, complex character; and the search for meaning in a world gone dangerously wrong. Even so, this famed musical is still an interesting bit of dash, and in some ways actually does fit the profile of this excellent local company, at the Marcelle Theatre.
Sarah Porter makes for a splendid Reno Sweeney, the evangelist turned nightclub singer: sparkling one moment, then wicked and wily the next. And Evan Fornachon manages to be both boyish and manly as Billy Crocker, Reno's old friend. During the course of the play, the two gradually devote themselves to breaking up a doomed wedding on a steamship voyage from New York to Great Britain.
It's a show full of schemers and marks, so conceptually, it measures up nicely to past New Line shows like The Sweet Smell of Success, and Jerry Springer: The Opera. (There's a sort of a song about all of that, "Friendship," on the dubious nature of honor among thieves.) And, like New Line's Hands on a Hardbody or even Heathers or Night of the Living Dead, there's also a world gone wrong, at least by implication: in this case, one of forced marriages to maintain social standing.
But, unlike the 1987 rewrite (the "Patti LuPone version"), that's not spelled out in this version. So we find ourselves suffering a minor case of "phantom limb" syndrome, as there is no dialog (or New Line-worthy song) about why people make horrible decisions out of economic necessity. In any other show by this company, such a forced marriage would be a big deal. Still, there's scads of glamorous heartbreak to pass around, thanks to silvery-voiced Eileen Engel as Hope Harcourt. Her doe-like eyes tell the story of a life of regret that's only just beginning.
And never fear, because Aaron Allen steals the show (or saves it) a half-dozen times, as Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13, escorting Mr. Fornachon (as Billy) into the cruising class. Sarah Gene Dowling is likewise terrific, warm and funny as a gangster's moll. And Zachary Allen Farmer is the distillation of dry wit as Evelyn Oakleigh, the flat tire that Hope is doomed to marry. Kimmie Kidd-Booker and Jeffrey M. Wright add perfectly pitched madcap humor as the grown-ups on board.
"But what," you ask, does Aaron Allen (as Moonface) "actually save us from?" Well, I'll tell you: the show is supposed to be dry and arch, but this one comes off as a little too dry, and too arch. Till now, just about every New Line show has had remarkable passion, even if it didn't have warmth. And Mr. Porter's songs have, over time, apotheosized into a realm where they can no longer serve the actors in developing their roles: they're just nice old songs.
By contrast, the average modern musical scarcely turns out any pop hits at all, because we're in an age where we take musicals so seriously (which, ironically, makes great companies like this possible in the first place). And perhaps Anything Goes turned out too many originally, because by now they've lost all meaning. There's not much chemistry to go around either, beyond the exemplary naughty Reno's Angels and the criminals with their hearts of gold. So, in his own Paul Lynde-ian, cringing sort of way, Mr. Allen somehow allows us to emerge apologetically along with him, again and again, from the desolate scenes that lack obvious angels, or devils.
But, points and respect for trying something different.
Anything Goes continues through March 24, 2018, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band
The Artistic Staff