This makes two interminable shipboard romances. First, Titanic, that cinematic slog-fest that unfortunately boosted the careers of James Cameron and Celine Dion. Now, Anything Goes, the 80-year-old Broadway musical that seems to go on almost that long at the Welk Resort Theatre.
If Anything Goes were a jukebox musical composed of nothing but the songs of Cole Porter – “Anything Goes,” “You’re The Top,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship” – it would be a pleasant couple hours of tuneful nostalgia. But the book, in spite of the considerable talents of P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, is as hackneyed as discarded vaudeville skits. The large Welk cast directed by Ray Limon does its best to inhabit all the overdrawn characters, but the on-stage antics, mugging and rim-shot double entendres are so relentless that the production quickly becomes a real wristwatch-checker.
Most of the characters are saddled with cartoon characterizations, but they proceed gamely in spite of it. Josh Carr and Rachel Davis portray shipboard lovers Billy and Hope, but the signature performance is delivered by Natalie Nucci in the show’s highest profile role, one made famous on Broadway by Ethel Merman. Nucci’s evangelist/cabaret singer Reno Sweeney is smart, sassy and sexy. She handles Anything Goes’ comedy with just the right wink-wink attitude, and her singing, while not Merman-esque, is still de-lovely. When the shipboard stage is crowded – and it often is – Nucci’s the one you’re watching.
Anything certainly goes with Shaun Leslie Thomas’ turn as gangster Moonface Martin and RC Sands’ veddy British Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. We’re talking free-for-all time. At least they, like the ensemble as a whole, can dance. Director Limon’s choreography shines most at the end of Act 1, which closes with a fancy-stepping rendition of the show’s title tune.
It’s no bulletin that Billy and Hope end up together at the end, though the Chinese men-in-disguise gambit that makes it happen is nearly as squirm-worthy as Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Cultural insensitivity-induced laughter? Hey, anything goes.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.