On Stage: In This Clever and Classic Musical, ‘Anything Goes’

by Lauryn Cantrell

You’ll get a kick out of it.

(L to R) Lisa Helmi Johanson (Hope Harcourt) and Corbin Bleu (Billy Crocker) in Anything Goes running November 2 through December 23, 2018, at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Maria Baranova.

All aboard the SS American in Arena Stage’s rendition of ‘Anything Goes.’ Sailing from New York to London, join Billy Crocker (Corbin Bleu) who stows away to stop the marriage of society woman Hope Harcourt (Lisa Helmi Johanson) to the millionaire from across the pond, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jimmy Ray Bennett). With the help of Reno Sweeney (Soara-Joye Ross), a charismatic nightclub singer, showgirls, sailors and public enemy #13 Moonface Martin (Stephen DeRosa), Billy tries to win back his true love.

In the theater-in-the-round rendition, actors glide across the stage, using every inch of intimate, but efficient, space to tell the trans-Atlantic tale of love and letting go. With a few rails, life rings, portholes and additional nautical touches, the set transforms into a new scene. The deck becomes living cabins; the ballroom to the brig; New York harbor to the middle of the ocean.

(L to R) Mickey Orange (Ensemble/Quartet), Ben Gunderson (Purser/Ensemble/Quartet), Soara-Joye Ross (Reno Sweeney), Brent McBeth (Ensemble/Quartet/Fred/Photographer) and Nicholas Yenson (Ensemble/Quartet). Photo by Maria Baranova.

Reinvisioned with the original score by composer and Tony Award Winner Cole Poter and book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, the story parallels the let-loose attitudes of the jazz era and cafe society scene that resonates with audiences today. 2018 is an era of ‘anything goes.’ Whoever you say you are, you are, describes the play’s director, Molly Smith, artistic director for Arena Stage.

The musical and Porter himself defined a generation through song and melody. Lovely, catchy numbers including ‘You’re the Top’,  and ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ highlight the wittiness and romance of the tunesmith’s style. The songs remain timeless American classics. Though sung exclusively between Reno and Moonface, an unlikely pair, the hit ‘Friendship’ captures their relationship, as well as the chemistry between cast members.

“The friendships and professional relationships that have formed throughout the process are priceless. I feel truly blessed to be a part of such a talented cast of men and women who respect each other and their art,” says DeMoya Watson Brown, who is part of the ensemble and plays the character Angel.

Corbin Bleu as Billy Crocker. Photo by Maria Baranova.

While staying true to the big band beats of the 1930s, the musical has a contemporary spin due to diversity within the cast.

“Diversity within the cast is a major difference in this production of Anything Goes. Also, with the help of the cast and the amazing writers of the show we were able to update portions of the book to bring this Golden Age musical into 2018 and beyond,” said Watson Brown.

As guests bid ‘bon voyage’ to the cast, they will leave humming along to the tunes, even walking down the streets wanting to step-ball-change arm in arm. The receptive, joyful energy of the crowd is a goal of Watson Brown’s in every showing of the ‘Delovely’ musical.

“I hope the audience members leave the performance with smiles on their faces, tapping their toes with love and hope in their hearts.”

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission.

Anything Goes runs through December 23 at Arena Stage, 1101 6th Street SW, Washington DC. For tickets, visit arenastage.com.

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