Tap-dancing has become kind of a specialty thing, though maybe I'm the only person who ever found it mainstream. Anyway, you don't see tap numbers frequently, and sometimes when you do see one, the shoes don't all have taps on them and the orchestra plays really loud so you can't hear that the timing is not militarily precise. (Because it's a hard thing to do.)
Not so at Arizona Broadway Theatre right now -- they've got microphones right there on the stage floor so you can hear every perfectly executed time step and cramp roll in their current production of Anything Goes. With Cole Porter numbers that include the title tune, "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," and "It's De-lovely," this show barely needs production numbers, a plot, or even a chair for me to sit in, but there they are, running our cups over with terrificness. Win-win-win.
Director Joseph Martinez has wound up a sparkly, complex machine and let it go, and watching it operate is a pleasant evening indeed. It's the 1987 revival version of Anything Goes that starred Patti Lupone on Broadway and restored much of the structure of the 1934 original, and it's a corker.
Martha J. Clarke has designed super-appropriate costumes, as usual, in a limited palette of red, white, blue, and black that reinforces both the seagoing setting and the socioeconomic concerns of the (mostly) American characters. What we didn't know in 1934 -- that the economy would continue to recover, but at the cost of a devastating World War -- is now a shadow that gives the show's madcapness a bittersweet depth that I've always liked.
My companion and I both noticed another of Clarke's many talents, which is to dress actors of quite different body types in clothing that's lovely, distinctive, and flattering to each, where some designers will just put big clothes on big people and small clothes on small people.
Amid the breathtaking dance ensemble and solid acting all around, a couple of individual performances really stand out. Gina Handy portrays Reno Sweeney as a tough, experienced, opportunistic gal who can control her thermostat of charm from warm like a cupcake to scorchy like an acetylene torch, yet wouldn't hurt a fly. And Jason Paul is fearlessly funny as naive, fun-loving Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Whether he's green with seasickness, stripped to his knickers and gartered socks, or cutting a rug on-deck with a rose in his teeth, his tsunami of goodwill prevents embarrassment on either side of the proscenium.
Vocally, orchestrally, I don't think one could ask for more. The small orchestra is in full view as a group of characters in most scenes, rather than in the pit, adorable in their formal wear on an upper deck of the cruise ship set.
Katie Larson, as ingenue Hope Harcourt, has a voice that is in some ways more assertive and resonant that Handy's, but that's not bad -- there's absolutely nothing wrong with Handy's lovely voice or her character's singing -- it's just interesting, casting-wise. And the bar's having a Pinot Grigio special that I strongly recommend.
Anything Goes continues through Sunday, November 15, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Performances aren't at the same times and days every week (especially midweek), so make sure you're planning to go when there really is a show.
Tickets are $63.50 to $75.50 and include a two-course dinner from ABT's gifted chef, Allen Dowe, and the nurturing kitchen/dining team (gratuity not included), and drinking water. Appetizers, other drinks, and desserts are available at additional cost. Prices are subject to change, and a limited number of non-dining seats are also available. Order tickets here, or call 623-776-8400.
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