ISO Takes On 'Anything Goes' with Glamorous Guests

Guest stars and local talent shine alike in this Cole Porter–penned romp largely set at sea.

The audience had burst out the doors for intermission today at Hilbert Circle Theatre, just after Broadway veteran Rachel York and the company of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s take on Anything Goes delivered the show’s titular smash. The woman to my right turned and said, “Are you liking the show?” I replied, “Yes, very much so. You?” Her response will stick with me for a while: “I am. I used to know all the words to those songs. What’s happening up there, that was my time.”
The ISO’s latest show is a glitzy lesson in Hoosier native Cole Porter’s 1930s quirky romance, with zealous orchestral flourishes steered by principal pops conductor Jack Everly‘s sure hands. York guides the ship from there, as comely evangelist–turned–entertainer Reno Sweeney, a blonde bombshell who proves to be Teflon when it comes to love. Though nothing sticks for her, she is captivated by Max von Essen‘s Billy Crocker, a young assistant to finance tycoon Eli Whitney (Dennis Kelly). This trio, and a motley crew of gangsters, socialies, real and faux reverends, and sailors are all alternately captivating each other and being held captive on a vessel at sea. Anything goes, indeed.
Ted Keegan, who previously wowed local audiences in ISO’s Kander and Ebb tribute show, plays a monied Englishman betrothed to Evangeline Harcourt’s (Judy Kaye) highly weddable daughter, Hope Harcourt (Marissa McGowan, a late-breaking replacement for Janine DiVita). If that last character’s name reminds you of Dick Tracy’s steady, Tess Trueheart, you’re on the right path. The Tracy comic strip debuted in 1931. This is a similar thing—only more randy, with more brandy and set on the high seas.
Kaye and Gary Beach are Tony Award winners from the New York stage, and each has comic musical moments for all in the house to cherish. Beach’s gangster, Moonface Martin, is “Public Enemy No. 13” nationwide, with the gang moll to prove it. Tari Kelly milks the plucky role of that right-hand woman, Erma, for all her slapstick worth (see: “Buddie, Beware”). Kelly knows how to break hearts and make fans. Elsewhere, Scott Hogsed, a Taran Killam doppelganger, makes more of his ship’s-captain role than Porter even wrote. Von Essen’s voice is in fine form here, all but effortless, and Kaye’s instrument is sterling as ever. Beach speak-sings to the crowd’s delight on “Be Like the Blue Bird,” and Keegan’s “Gypsy in Me” similarly pleases with his many poses and physical comedy. McGowan’s voice blended in a truly de-lovely way with that of von Essen on a few occasions.
Yet it is York who carries the show, of course, gnawing on her lines (the best Porter wrote for this piece) and on anyone who comes her way, owning every scene in which Reno Sweeney appears, as—in more ways than one—it’s all about her. Her silky, slinky voice comes across as forceful and tender when need be, much like the opportunistic Reno herself, on songs from “You’re The Top” to “I Get a Kick Out of You.” From the start, York emerges as a vision to behold in Clare Henkel‘s gorgeous form-fitting gowns, which also beautifully adorn the silhouettes of McGowan, Kaye, and others.
A handful of lines fixed on the fly and some hidden missteps in the dancing hardly mar an opening performance. It should be noted that this production has a delightful local flavor, with a strong set of sailors plucked from the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, as well as versatile female castmates including Anne Nicole Beck, Amy Owens, Claire Wilcher, and more, all Indy-based singing-acting-dancing threats with personality in spades, some of them veterans of a number of Yuletide and other ISO productions. Joseph Perkins Jr. and Danny Kingston prove game dancing partners to the women on their arms, and the IMC members—purely volunteers—comport themselves capably in scenes shared with stalwarts who have pounded the boards to critical acclaim on Broadway.
That woman beside me, whom I spoke with as the intermission began? Her last words to me were “Enjoy the second act. These songs are for all time.” And then she was gone on her cane. She didn’t return.
Anything Goes. Hilbert Circle Theatre, 45 Monument Circle, 317-262-1100. Friday and Saturday, May 9–10, 8 p.m. Limited remaining tickets $20 to $56.