‘Anything Goes’ at Music Theater Works is a splashy sensation

by Philip Potempa

Lexis Danca stars as Hope Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at Music Theater Works. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

The best reminder of the creative and clever genius mind of Hoosier claim-to-fame Cole Porter is his 1934 musical stage comedy “Anything Goes.”

The last time I caught a run of “Anything Goes” it was the Spring 2013 national Broadway tour of the revival hit which played a two-week May run at Cadillac Palace Theatre,  introducing Porter’s tunes to new generations. It starred Rachel York in the spicy Ethel Merman-made-famous role of nightclub star Reno Sweeney during this tour as produced by New York City’s Roundabout Theatre Company.

The tour was based on the Broadway run launched in New York in 2011 headlining Sutton Foster in the Merman role opposite Joel Grey as gangster Moonface Martin and directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who rightly received the 2011 Tony for her work.

Now Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) has another long-awaited eye-popping and extremely entertaining new production of “Anything Goes” playing a two-week run, finishing performances Aug. 26 at Cahn Auditorium on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston. Roger L. Bingman conducts an impressive full orchestra serving up every one of Porter’s treasured songs, including “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship” and “You’re the Top.” Of course, the show’s title song is always the cherry that tops this naughty and nice silly, romantic comedy of mixed-up characters all afloat and cavorting on a luxury ocean liner.

Music Theater Works artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller, teamed with the perfect step-by-step choreography of Clayton Cross, guides a 29-member cast of talented troupers led by sensational Erica Evans as Reno Sweeney, dashing Ken Singleton as Billy Crocker, eye-batting Lexis Danca as ingenue Hope Harcourt and bright and funny Brian Zane holding court every turn of the way as gangster No. 13 Moonface Martin. Kayla Boye as moll Erma and Maxwell J. DeTogne as kooky Lord Evelyn Oakleigh have the over-the-top time of their lives in the guise of their colorful comedic characters.

Maxwell J. DeTogne is Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Erica Evans is Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” at Music Theater Works in Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

Add to these names the great talents of Rick Rapp as boozy Elisha Whitney and Liz Norton as snooty Evangeline Harcourt and it’s easy to see how entertaining antics are balanced with splashy large-scale show numbers, all of it countered with a seasoning of tender melodies. Evans and Zane share the spotlight for a fun frolic with their salty and sweet turn in “Friendship.” Running 2 hours and 45 minutes in length, including one 15-minute intermission, audiences get more than anyone could ever bargain for, especially the complex and layered steps and fancy footwork for show-stopping grand numbers such as “Anything Goes” at the end of Act 1 and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” both earning the entire cast and ensemble deserved bows and ovations.

The design/production team consists of Kristen Martino‘s vintage fun scenic landscape of staterooms and ship decks, Alexa Weinzierl‘s beautiful array of period costumes, Andrew H. Meyers capturing every magical moment with his lighting design and Aaron Quick setting the tone with fine-tuned sound design. Christina L. Reszel creates a stage masterpiece with her hair and make-up and Jamie Karas has dreamed-up some fun props, including two priceless pampered stuffed pooches.

Tickets for this do-not-miss stage extravaganza begin at $34. Ages 25 and younger are half price, with this musical recommended for ages 8 and older. FYI: (847) 920-5360 or order online 24 hours a day at www.MusicTheaterWorks.com

Music Theater Works is a resident professional not-for-profit theater in Evanston, founded in 1980. The company’s mission is to produce and present musical theater from a variety of world traditions. Music Theater Works has earned a reputation for a repertoire of often unavailable works not produced on the stages of commercial theaters and opera houses, offering modern productions with professional artists and a full orchestra.

Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached philip@ofnotoriety.com.