If you hear thunder in historic downtown one of these balmy evenings, don’t run for cover. It might just be the thunder of a synchronized 21-tap salute. The heat is on and so is Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, opening a 46th season with Cole Porter’s 1934 nautical classic Anything Goes.
The predictable collides with the absurd, spinning madcap confusion whose sole purpose is to showcase great singing, dancing, Vaudevillian humor and escapist glamour. Think The Marx Brothers meet The Rockettes. If it’s plot and thought you’re after, forget it.
Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Nicole Anderson) helps her friend Billy Crocker (Midshipman 1st Class Alex Trujillo), a brokerage intern, stow away on a cruise liner to court socialite Hope Harcourt (Katie Gardner). Hope is in an arranged engagement to a stuffy ninny with poor social skills, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jeff Sprague), because her mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Kathryn Huston), is on the brink of financial ruin. Evangeline, meanwhile, catches the near-sighted eyes of Billy’s boss, millionaire Yale man Elisha Whitney (Noel Milan), from whom Billy is hiding. Add to the mix notorious gangster Moonface Martin (Nathan Bowen) and his moll Erma (Emily L. Sergo), an adorably clueless Captain (Wendell Holland) and Purser (Trent Goldsmith) and voilà — The SS America sets sail for silliness.
This script, the 1987 Tony award winning revival version, is so skeletal it reads like a 400-page novel condensed to 400 lines of dialog. The choppy storyline drags in Act I, but oh, the music!
Anderson and Trujillo are brilliant in Act I’s I Get a Kick Out of You and Friendship, but when she teams up with real-life fiancé Bowen for You’re the Top, it’s electric. Gardner and Trujillo are adorable in It’s De-Lovely, and the entire cast wows with the finale title song.
Act II has more laughs, notably in Holland’s ode to the infamous Public Enemy Number One, with Trujillo hamming it up in gangster guise, and in Sprague’s proclamation of love for Reno, The Gypsy in Me. Sergo is a brassy bonbon in Buddie, Beware. But Anderson steals the show with Blow Gabriel Blow and Take Me Back to Manhattan, an original number reintegrated into the modern script to showcase her talents, along with those of a phenomenal chorus of back-up chorus girls, Purity (Hannah Thornhill), Chastity (Amanda S. Cimaglia), Charity (Lacy Schmidt) and Virtue (Carlie Kidd).
The choreography is creative and tight, and the costumes are stunning: from sequins to sailor suits and smoking jackets to chiffons. The two-story set with twin staircases is used to great effect in chase scenes and large ensemble numbers. On the down side, though, technical issues with sound marred the opening weekend performance I attended, while a less-than-professional lighting technician distracted by spotlighting a freeloader who was peeking over the brick wall during the show.
Anything Goes is fun for children and musical theater devotees, but its star, Nicole Anderson, is the best reason to go. She is a performer to watch down the road for much bigger things, and you can say you saw her when …
Director and set designer: Jerry Vess. Musical director: Ruth Capobianco. Choreographer: Hannah Thornhill. Costumes: Meghan Bierne. Lights: Alex Brady. Sound: Dan Caughran.
Playing thru June at 8:30pm Th-Su at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20, rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.