Marquette Closes Season with Panache in ‘Anything Goes’
Marquette University closed its season with a visually stunning and well-executed naval salute to the musical theater of yesteryear. Under Ray Jivoff’s stage direction and Amy Brinkman-Sustache’s choreography, a talented ensemble of actor-singer-dancers brought the 1962 revival of Cole Porter’s classic Anything Goes to life in a way sure to put a smile to your face regardless of whether or not you’re a “musical person.”
The production values of this piece contended strongly with the actors’ performances and marvelous on-stage orchestra (under Milwaukee veteran pianist and conductor Paul Helm) for top honors. Marquette Alum Lex Gernon’s breathtaking scenic design for the good ship S.S. American included a grand five-stair dais, suggestive cloud and ship scenic drops, and multiple pieces of long, white string curtain that, coupled with Chester Loeffler-Bell’s versatile lighting design, organically suggested many locations and atmospheres. A particularly striking example of the harmony between these two design elements occurred when slanted light was directed through the gently swaying curtains to suggest the prison bars of the ship’s brig. The humorous potential of the string curtain came to the fore when Billy ever so gently “swabbed” it with a rag.
Debra Krajec’s costumes were similarly commendable both for their sheer volume (the principals went through four to five changes apiece) and the consistently high quality of the sumptuous period attire. Here again, humor and seriousness are well covered—from Sir Evelyn’s hilarious sock garters and silken dressing gown to The Angels’ sensational matching nightclub dresses.
Among the male performers, Michael Nicholas as incognito gangster Moonface Martin stole the show. His understanding of ’30s physical shtick was impeccable, as were his hilarious facial expressions and consistent delivery of gangster patois. As his partner in crime, Bonnie, Caroline Norton brought tremendous grace to her similarly caricaturized role. She was among the ensemble’s strongest dancers—especially evident in the gorgeously choreographed tap number “Heaven Hop”—and brought consistent and compelling moxie to the production. For sheer acting chops and beautiful vocal work, Aileen O’Carroll as sizzling nightclub singer Reno Sweeney deserves tremendous credit. She brought a whole new life to the classic “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and helped the modern audience see the glimmers of feminism present in this Depression-era farce. A.J. Magoon as the painfully foppish Sir Evelyn Oakleigh likewise deserves major credit for humanizing a role that could easily fall into the realm of sheer silliness; by the end, he had completely won us over with his charm and made us understand how a powerful diva like Reno could get such a kick out of him.
Brinkman Sustache’s choreography never failed to delight. Whether it was a large-scale number like “Anything Goes” (in which the ensemble formed a well-synchronized triangle and tap danced in a way not seen on Marquette’s stage for years), the ironically church choir-esque gestures of “Public Enemy Number One” or the three-part “Friendship” ending in a farcical “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” tableau, this choreographer and her performers never flagged in enthusiasm or poise.
Impressive and lighthearted, Marquette’s Anything Goes was an all-around success and a great choice for a season-closer.