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A Case of Dead on Revival

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Anything Goes” has the reputation of a Broadway classic because Cole Porter wrote it, Ethel Merman starred in it, and the score included not only the catchy title song but also such standards as “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “You’re the Top.”

But on the evidence of Fullerton Civic Light Opera’s lackluster revival, which opened Friday at Plummer Auditorium, “Anything Goes” is so overrated that unless it gets a major overhaul--as it got when the Lincoln Center Theatre produced it in 1987 with Jerry Zaks’ direction and Patti LuPone in the starring role--it simply lies there like an antiquated piece of show-biz junk.

In fact, the original 1934 production got off on the wrong foot. Its story about a bomb threat on an ocean liner had to be scuttled just as the show went into rehearsals because, coincidentally, a real ship sank off New Jersey and many people died.

A new shipboard story was patched onto the old characters by the director (Howard Lindsay) with the help of a press agent and occasional lyricist (Russel Crouse). The title of the show took on literal meaning: Anything went. But with a charismatic star such as Merman, panicked improvisation took them a long way. “Anything Goes” ran for 420 performances and became one of the Depression era’s quintessential hits.

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So what’s wrong with the FCLO’s revival?

Everything.

Forget for the moment that the story--about an evangelist-turned-nightclub singer surrounded by society types and gangsters on their way to England--makes no sense. Ignore that all the characters are stock figures.

The direction by Rob Barron, who also choreographed this production, has no vision or imagination. The cramped staging is dull and unfocused; the pacing lacks pulse, let alone fizz.

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Worse, Barron has failed to inspire his cast. The performances are routine. And when it comes to humor, Barron has an especially tin ear: He goes for the hokiest, corniest, broadest shtick every time.

*

Sylvia Brooks, playing nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, doesn’t make a dent in the role. She sings well enough but doesn’t really dance, and she offers a colorless portrayal. When she misbehaves in “Let’s Misbehave” with Sir Evelyn (played with utter silliness by Ronnie Sperling), the number is more tacky than funny. Unfortunately, that’s typical of the show.

As Billy Crocker, the supposed leading man, Robert Townsend doesn’t stir a heartbeat. Mardi Robins has a thankless role as the ingenue Hope, who stands around looking pretty.

Diane Vincent at least provides a touch of characterization as Bonnie, the moll, with her Judy Holliday voice and Bronx accent.

The large chorus, made up of Reno’s Angels and the company of sailors, means well, but its dancing looks sluggish. Costumes are fine, the set flimsy.

As do many revivals of “Anything Goes,” the score includes songs from lesser-known Porter shows. Here they include “Friendship” (from “DuBarry Was a Lady”) and “It’s DeLovely” (from “Red, Hot and Blue”).

On opening night, the miking left a lot to be desired--and not just because of its tinny static; the mikes went on and off with disconcerting regularity. Technical glitches aside, however, this revival of “Anything Goes” seems like nothing so much as a production at summer camp. You expect better of a company celebrating its 25th season.

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* “Anything Goes,” Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m. March 2, 2 p.m. only. Ends March 2. $14-$32. (714) 879-1732. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* “Anything Goes,”

Joe Fletcher: Elisha J. Whitney

David Scheve: StewardK.C. GusslerCharlie

Dirk Mitchell: Cameraman

Ronnie Sperling: Sir Evelyn Oakleigh

Kathy Lythgoe: Mr. W.T. Harcourt

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Mardi Robbins: Hope Harcourt

David Booth: Bishop

Sylvia Brooks: Reno Sweeney

Robert Townsend: Billy Crocker

Howard Mango: Moonface Martin

Eric Cajiuat: Ching

Robert Miranda: Ling

Gregory Cooke: PurserDiane Vincent: Bonnie

Griff Duncan: Captain

J.J. Davis, Karen Nowicki, Erin

Stafford and Aimee Mauzey: Angels

Michael Conte: Drunk

A Fullerton Civic Light Opera production of a musical by Cole Porter (music and lyrics) and Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (book). Director and choreographer: Rob Barron. Musical director/conductor: Lee Kreter. With Matthew Martinez, Peter Westenhofer, Lauren Kling, Susan Crouse, Jackie Mikrut and Juliana Phillips. Costume design: Thomas G. Marquez. Costume coordination: Ambra King Wakefield. Lighting design: Donna Ruzika. Sets courtesy of San Bernardino Civic Light Opera Co. Production stage manager: Donna R. Parsons.


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