‘Anything Goes’ at City Springs Theatre is a familiar yet fun voyage

Credit: Chris Aluka Berry/BenRosePhotography.com

Credit: Chris Aluka Berry/BenRosePhotography.com

It’s lights up, tap shoes on and diaphragms set for belting at the Byers Theatre as City Springs Theatre Company takes audiences on a riotous trip across the Atlantic in Cole Porter’s classic “Anything Goes” (through Sept. 25). The 1934 musical tells the story of a group of passengers on the S.S. American as they find themselves entangled in a web of romance, false identities and high-seas hijinks.

In the capable hands of director and choreographer Sara Edwards, this show hits nearly all the right notes. Taking inspiration from the acclaimed 2011 Broadway revival, Edwards crafts a production that is funny, engaging and sure to put a smile on audience faces. Her choreography is a major asset in helping the show take flight, injecting such numbers as “You’re the Top,” “Anything Goes,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Buddy Beware” with such an undeniable verve and swagger that it will be difficult for viewers not to find themselves bouncing along in their seats.

Credit: Chris Aluka Berry/BenRosePhotography.com

Credit: Chris Aluka Berry/BenRosePhotography.com

Of course, pacing is key with a show like “Anything Goes,” and the top-notch cast keeps the wheels rolling with aplomb. Mamie Parris earns standing ovations as Reno Sweeney, commanding the stage from her first entrance and holding it tighter than Reno holds her martinis. Like other actresses who have taken on the role of Reno since Sutton Foster earned a Tony for her performance in 2011, Parris faces high expectations. Fortunately, while the spirit of Foster’s Reno is clearly with her, she imbues the character with enough of her own sultry vitality to avoid mimicking Foster’s performance or any other; her Reno is her own.

Parris receives worthy competition from Billy Harrigan Tighe, whose performance as Billy Crocker is one of the high points of the show. The character of Billy is arguably just as essential to the show as Reno, since it’s his star-crossed romance with debutante Hope Harcourt that drives much of the plot. Therefore, much of the audience’s emotional engagement is based on how swoonworthy Billy is, and Tighe is more than up to this challenge, perfectly capturing Billy’s roguish charm. Tighe also has a natural gift for movement, which adds to his charisma — even when he’s not dancing, he incorporates lithe athleticism into Billy’s blocking, making for a winning and magnetic performance.

The rest of the cast is mostly excellent as well. Jamie LaVerdiere is a sprightly delight as the wide-eyed Evelyn Oakleigh — though someone really needs to do something about the title of his big Act II number. Atlanta legend Terry Burrell steps into the role of Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, and she is as excellent as expected in a role that fits her like a debutante glove. Meadow Nguy sings sweetly as Hope Harcourt; Meg Gillentine tears up the stage as Erma; Kyle Robert Carter is a hammy delight as Eli Whitney; and Googie Uterhardt’s rendition of Moonface Martin’s “Be Like the Bluebird” is deserving of the laughter he receives at the end of the song.

I have just two criticisms: A few of the snappier moments of dialogue get a bit muddled, preventing some of the jokes from landing as well as they could. And Kyle Robert Carter, who stepped into the role of Eli for the Sunday performance, delivers his lines in an over-the-top fashion that, while perhaps befitting the show’s tone, makes him occasionally difficult to understand.

In terms of design, costume coordinator Paula Peasley-Ninestein is the standout. From the eye-catching dresses that adorn Reno, Hope, Erma and the rest of the female ensemble to the outlandish disguises that Billy and Moonface use to make their way around the ship, one can only imagine how much fun the actors are having with their wardrobes. However, Peasley-Ninestein’s design peers are not far behind. Steve Mitchell’s set is both functional and visually appealing. Mike Wood’s lighting ranges from atmospheric to celebratory, and Justin Schmitz gives the vocals and orchestrations a full-bodied sound that adds to the immersion.

It could be argued there is little that is subversive or original about putting on a production of “Anything Goes.” Everyone has done it, and it often serves as a vanity project for community theaters looking to entice a larger audience. Certainly there is fun to be had with Golden Age musicals, but there comes a point where one longs for something a little more novel.

However, “subversive” and “original” are not the goals City Springs Theatre set out for themselves. In an article published by ArtsATL this past April, artistic director and Tony Award-winning actor Shuler Hensley made clear where City Springs stands with its season-planning goals: “City Springs is not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of doing new, inventive projects … It’s more about finding those standards we all know, making these productions seem like ones people will feel like they’re seeing for the first time.”

In the hands of less capable artists, this could sound like the self-indulgent tagline of an out-of-touch community theater. However, by honoring its aspiration to provide fresh and lively iterations of classics, City Springs Theatre manages to distinguish itself through the quality of its artistry. This production of “Anything Goes” is proof positive that the familiar need not be tired.

If you enjoy high-octane dance numbers, soaring romantic chemistry and innuendos galore, then I see no reason not to recommend “Anything Goes” at City Springs Theatre Company. They may not be reinventing the wheel, but if the wheel already works, then greasing it up until it feels shiny and new will keep the vehicle running smoothly.

THEATER REVIEW

“Anything Goes”

Through Sept. 25. $37-$120. City Springs Theatre Company at the Byers Theatre, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 404-477-4365, cityspringstheatre.com.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

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