“Anything Goes” at Segerstrom

“All ashore, whose goin’ ashore!” screamed a ship crew member with vigor, as a large show boat left the port of reality and sailed on the choppy ocean where mayhem, mischief and love were soon to follow. “Anything Goes,” which won the 2011 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, takes place almost entirely on a sleek transatlantic cruise ship. The cast has been touring the United States, and recently took Los Angeles by storm. It has now docked at our very own Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and had a fantastic maiden voyage in Orange County on Tuesday, September 24.

“Anything Goes” is very true to its name, with its satirical view of wealth, crime, racism and gender roles in America in the early twentieth century. On the high seas, things get topsy-turvy when conventional ideas of marriage, truthfulness and loyalty are tossed overboard.

Courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts

The acting, singing and dancing were on point, but what took my breath away was the three-story set. The stage acted as a main deck, and the upper two levels added height and visually exciting stage direction for the cast members. Certain replicas of port doors even opened and closed on stage, adding to the fantasy of being aboard a ship. Another pleasant surprise was the numerous, recognizably nautical, circular peepholes, which lined all three stories and were masterfully lit to match the time of day or mood of each scene.

The plot was quite outrageous, and at times cheesy, but the characters were lovable and found a way into my heart. My favorites included Dennis Kelly, who portrayed the rich, old Elisha Whitney, a man with a soft spot for ladies and alcohol, Joyce Chittick, who did a smashing job playing Erma, an obnoxious ditz often used for comic relief, and, of course, the star of the show, Rachel York as Reno Sweeny, a smooth-talking night club singer with a lot of “experience.”

While the characters themselves are written with hardly any depth or seriousness, the actors’ and actresses’ portrayals on stage had me sold, except for the young, debutante Hope Harcourt, played by Alex Finke. Each performer took their shallow character to a deeper level with back-stories and unique quirks, yet I felt that Ms. Harcourt’s character was the least developed of them all and the weakest of the cast. The naive British Lord Oakleigh, was a standout among the rest. The over- the-top British character with an adorable fetish for American culture grew on the audience and during bows, the actor, Edward. Staudenmayer had the audience on their feet.

That night, both male and female voices echoed throughout the theatre and blended into chilling harmonies with Ms. York leading the cast with numerous solos and duets. Staying true to the musical genre, dance also acted as a storytelling medium throughout the show. A beautiful partnering piece that involved many styles of ballroom and complicated lifts was delivered seamlessly by the chorus and principal cast members to the song “It’s De-Lovely.” “Blow, Gabriel Blow” was an evangelistic, sultry Fosse-like, girls-only piece that was sizzling and very well rehearsed. Ending their 80 minute-long Act 1 with a smashing tap piece to the namesake musical number “Anything Goes,” the whole cast shuffled and flap ball-changed with perfect rhythm that had the audience buzzing with energy and excitement during Intermission.

The show’s outright sacrilege and disregard for morality came as a shock to me, yet it portrayed these things in a very tasteful manner for our present times. While on the surface, the show appears very shallow, I admired “Anything Goes’” ability to expose certain downfalls of society, like the public’s adoration for fame over morality, as displayed when a Public Enemy #1 becomes a welcomed, celebrated guest onboard. The show also exposes a certain change in the ideology and culture of America at the turn of the 20th century. Strong, sensuous women characters drown out the often dope-ish masculine characters, making feminism and women’s empowerment a central theme. The hypocrisy of religious and authoritative figures is another underlying theme of the show, as a disguised gangster is viewed to have more morality than a true pastor, who has miraculously converted two Chinese men.

Sarcasm, irony, and witty song lyrics, had me laughing constantly throughout “Anything Goes.” The show is not only thoroughly entertaining, but also full of energy. While some of the references may go right over the heads of audience members under 45 years old, the zany characters and their outrageous misfortunes make this show enjoyable for individuals of all ages. The microcosm created in the isolation of the cruise ship powerfully evokes thoughts concerning social behavior and controversies in the larger world on shore. As always, the Segerstrom never fails in bringing the best to the Orange County area. “Anything Goes” is set to sail away from Costa Mesa on September 29th.