Review of Anything Goes at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild

    Few musicals from before World War II are still presented as often as Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. One reason for the show’s longevity is that it has not been allowed to grow stale. The book has been revised several times, and the score has been augmented with songs Porter wrote for other shows.

    The most recent update premiered in 2022. One change was long overdue. Humor based on invidious ethnic stereotypes was removed. “Two rascally New York City street toughs” replace the converts from China in previous versions.

    The new version of Anything Goes is the current offering at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild. In her accomplished debut as a director, Sara Rae Womack leads a joyous, insightful production.

    Despite the updatings, Anything Goes is still set in the 1930s, when the way to cross the Atlantic was on ocean liners whose most prized passengers were celebrities. One celebrity on the ship in Anything Goes is Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer and former evangelist.

    Reno has her sights set on handsome Billy Crocker, but he’s in love with debutante Hope Harcourt, who is going to England on the same ship as Reno. Hope is to be married during the voyage to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, whose wealth will restore the fortune Hope’s family lost in the stock market crash. Billy risks his career on Wall Street to stow away on the liner for one last chance to win Hope for himself.

    Rebecca Pasley has magnetism to spare in her self-assured portrayal of Reno. Aaron Fischer makes Billy’s love for Hope so convincing that any stunt he pulls while pursuing her seems plausible, no matter ridiculous he makes himself look. Rhiannon Bush’s Hope is affectingly torn between her attraction to Billy and her duty to her family.

    Bradley Bliven captures Lord Evelyn’s offbeat charm. Familiar figures from old gangster films are engagingly parodied by Justin Bouckaert as Moonface Martin (Public Enemy No. 13) and Stephanie Merritt as Erma Latour.

    The production features admirable performances by Tina Renard as Hope’s mother, Mark Zoole as Billy’s boss, Steve Lewis as the captain, Chris Moore as the purser, Adrian Vargasnes as Bishop Dobson, and Robert Jones and Grey Andre as the bishop’s recent converts.

    In the scenic design by Kent Coffel and Stephanie Merritt, the main set piece is a ship’s façade with stairways on both sides leading up to an upper level. The pieces needed for staterooms and the brig are quickly moved on and off the stage as needed.

    Kayla Dressman’s sumptuous costumes make it clear the passengers did not stint when they packed their trunks. The props are by Isabel Rose; the lighting, by Stephanie Robinson; and the sound, by Steve Creamer.

    Michelle Sauer’s choreography develops nicely in scenes with couples and brings impressive energy to the large ensembles. There are two winning quartets of principal dancers: Reno’s Angels (Emily Rene Fomachon, Maggie Nold, Livy Potthoff, and Bridget Biundo) and the sailors (Dakota Davis, Jack Ryan, Syr Charles Lyons, and Jason Shaffer).

    Anything Goes continues through May 19 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Dan Donovan Photography