Go See "Anything Goes" at Center REP

By Sam Hurwitt

POSTED:  May 27, 2015


"Anything Goes" has so many classic Cole Porter songs in it -- including "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You" and the title tune -- that it's a wonder it's a single play from which those songs originate rather than some greatest-hits musical revue. What's more, a few Porter favorites from other musicals were inserted in later revivals and have since become part of the show, such as "It's De-Lovely" and "Friendship."

And as the de-lovely production that closes Center Repertory Company's season demonstrates, time hasn't worn away any of the show's ability to delight. (There's a little bit of ethnic humor that hasn't aged particularly well, but that's about it.)

The 1934 musical has been tinkered with a lot over the years. The script was written by "Jeeves and Wooster" creator P.G. Wodehouse and frequent collaborator Guy Bolton and radically revised before its 1934 opening by the future "Sound of Music" team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse in their very first collaboration. The show was later rewritten for its 1987 Broadway revival by John Weidman (Sondheim's collaborator on "Pacific Overtures" and "Assassins") and Timothy Crouse (Russel's son, a journalist and author of the book "The Boys on the Bus").

It's a very silly love story set on an ocean liner -- and a stylish one, with art deco touches in Michael Locher's elegant set. A young stockbroker named Billy Crocker (charming, humorous and sweet-voiced Joshua Hollister) is in love with an upper-class debutante, Hope Harcourt (a decorous Brittany Danielle). Hope loves him too, but she's engaged to a foppish English nobleman, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Jeffrey Draper, hilariously clueless), and could never consider marrying a commoner.

Billy stows away on the ship in a variety of ludicrous disguises to avoid being spotted by his boss (pricelessly goofy Michael Patrick Gaffney), Hope's status-obsessed mother (Lynda DiVito, serving as an excellent straight ma'am) or the ship's crew, who have mistaken him for a notorious gangster.

The funny thing about this main plot summary is that it leaves out the best characters. Among those is Moonface Martin (wonderfully comical Colin Thomson), a second-rate gangster who concocts hysterically sketchy schemes to help Billy out, with occasional assistance by Lizzie O'Hara's amusingly uncouth gangster's moll Erma.

Molly Bell gives a phenomenal, captivating performance as Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer who has a crush on Billy but tries to help him win the woman he wants. As befits a role written for Ethel Merman, it's Reno who delivers all the most memorable numbers (and who wears Victoria Livingston-Hall's most dazzling costumes), and Bell's dynamic stage presence makes every one a showstopper.

"Anything Goes" has a wonderful tap-dance sequence choreographed by Amanda Folena, and the gospel-inspired "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" brings down the house. The only trouble is, Reno is such a firecracker -- quirky, alluring and bursting with personality -- that it's hard to fathom how Billy could possibly be interested in anyone else.

Curtain Calls by Sally Hogarty: All aboard entertaining 'Anything Goes'

By Sally Hogarty, columnist

For an evening of pure enjoyment as well as a nostalgic trip back in time, you won't want to miss Center Repertory's "Anything Goes."

The Cole Porter musical, playing through June 27, at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center is a delight from start to finish.

Michael Locher's smart set takes you aboard the SS American with its gracefully curved staircases, glass walls and aquamarine colors while Victoria Livingston-Hall's costumes bring back the elegance and gorgeous lines of 1930s fashions.

In fact, in any other production, those delicious gowns, double-breasted suits and crisp sailor uniforms would steal the show. But not so in this talent-laden production so well-directed by Michael Butler.

Musical director Brandon Adams and his tight orchestra keep such favorites as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's De-Lovely" and "Anything Goes" in your head long after the production is over.

The incredible Molly Bell blows the audience away with her stellar performance as Reno Sweeney, the cabaret singer traveling on the SS American with her bevy of "angels."

Here is a beauty who isn't afraid to show her comedic chops while belting out such songs as "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" or dancing up a storm as she executes Amanda Folena's delightfully fresh choreography.

Jeffrey Draper makes a charming Sir Evelyn Oakley with newcomer to Center Rep Joshua Hollister a marvelous addition as Billy Crocker. Hopefully, we'll see much more of him on local stages.

The entire cast is so creative, especially the harmonious quartet of sailors and a dynamite Lizzie O'Hara as Erma, that I wish I could mention them all. They all deserve a standing ovation, which is exactly what they got on opening night.

Triple-threat dynamo leads "Anything Goes"

POSTED:  May 30, 2015


By Judy Richter

Audiences for Center REPertory Company’s production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” are in for a real treat.

Artistic director Michael Butler, who directs, has assembled a stellar group of performers and designers, resulting in a thoroughly entertaining show from start to finish.

The indisputable star is Molly Bell as Reno Sweeney, a role originated by Ethel Merman in the 1934 Broadway production.

While Merman put her own inimitable stamp on the role, Bell has a different style that’s equally effective. She’s a triple-threat dynamo who can sing, dance and act with equal ease.

Reno is a brash nightclub “evangelist” who’s the featured entertainer on a ship sailing from New York City to London in the ’30s. She’s romantically interested in Billy Crocker (Joshua Hollister), who works for a Wall Street investor. Billy, though, has his heart set on Hope Harcourt (Brittany Danielle).

However, she’s engaged to an English nobleman, Sir Evelyn Oakley (Jeffrey Draper), a good-natured but naive sort who’s fascinated by American expressions.

With Billy as a stowaway, they all wind up on the ship. Complications arise but all get sorted out.

Porter’s music and lyrics have made this show an American musical theater classic. The many memorable songs include “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and of course the title song.

Closing the first act, it showcases the versatile choreography of Amanda Folena, artistic director of Redwood City’s Broadway By the Bay, with a tap extravaganza.

In addition to great singing and dancing, this production provides ample laughs, many of them triggered by Colin Thomson as Moonface Martin, a gangster of sorts, and by Lizzie O’Hara as Erma, his gal pal. She can sing and dance, too.

The show is a visual feast thanks to costumes by Victoria Livingston-Hall, who has given the women one delectable outfit after another.

Everyone in the 23-member cast does an outstanding job no matter how small the role. However, the one who makes this production especially memorable is Bell. She’s the top.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Anything Goes” will continue through June 27 at Center REPertory Company, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets and information call (925) 943-7469 or visit www.centerREP.org.



"Anything Goes" - Magic Theatre

POSTED:  June 25, 2015


By Richard Connema

Center Repertory Theatre of Walnut Creek is in the last week of a terrific production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes. My love for this classic musical goes back to 1962 when I first saw the Off Broadway revival at the Orpheum Theatre in New York with Eileen Rodgers playing Reno Sweeney. I have since seen productions with Rachel York, Patti LuPone, and Sutton Foster playing Reno. The show dates back to 1934, when it opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre. This production, under the direction of Michael Butler with dynamic choreography by Amanda Folena, ranks with the best I've seen.

Where else can you hear the dazzling score that contains such standards as "I Get a Kick Out of You", "You're the Top," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow", "Friendship," "Anything Goes," and "It's De-Lovely"?

Yes, the plot is sublimely silly and cleverly rebellious but it sure packs a feel-good punch. The 1934 zingers are dated one-liners that have been spiffed up and still get laughs. What makes this musical exciting is the singing and pulsating, boundless dancing, culminating in the ensemble tap dancing to the title song to close the first act. During intermission the audience is on a high from those high-stepping guys and gals.

Molly Bell is sensational as Reno Sweeney. She makes the role her own with her blithe, jazzy original phrasing. She belts, taps, waltzes, and makes "You're the Top" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" exciting. She blows the audience away with a sumptuous dance number built around the song "Blow, Gabriel, Blow."

Joshua Hollister gives an impressive performance as Billy Crocker. This charismatic leading man displays fine singing chops on "It's De-lovely," "You're the Top," and the sublime "All Through the Night." Brittany Danielle is beautiful as Hope Harcourt, Billy's love interest; with her pleasing voice she is pitch perfect singing "Easy to Love" and "It's De-lovely." Lynda DiVito gives a first rate performance as Hope's mother.

Playing Sir Evelyn, an English aristocrat in love with American slang, Jeffrey Draper makes a perfect upper-class twit with an up market English accent. He also pleasantly sings "The Gypsy in Me." Lizzie O'Hara is captivating as the sailor-chasing gangster's moll while Colin Thompson gives a flawless performance as the gangster Moonface Martin. He shines the brightest singing "Be Like a Bluebird" and "Friendship." Michael Patrick Gaffney playing nearsighted Wall Street tycoon Elisha J. Whitney brings an enjoyable lightheadedness to a lustful but foolishly immature aging person. R. Martin Newton gives good account of himself as the Captain while Nathaniel Rothrock is perfect as the Purser. He also shows great moves when dancing.

The rest of the cast in small roles of sailors and passengers include Justin Travis Buchs, Ryan Cowles, Ariel Daly, Caleb Haven Draper, Jenna Harris, Mary Kalita, Christine Macomber, Scott Maraj, Neal Pascua, Jason Rehklau, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Amanda Sylvia and Michael Verzosa. They are fantastic both in the singing and dancing.

Credit also goes to musical director Brandon Adams and his fine ten-piece orchestra playing the Cole Porter gems. This is also a swell looking production, with Michael Locher's multilevel ocean liner and snug compartment on a center revolving set with art deco style. Victoria Livingston-Hall's costumes are strictly 1930s dazzling wear and Kurt Landisman's lighting casts a moonlit radiance on many of the numbers and bright shining lights in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and the title song. Bravo to Michael Butler for giving the audience a terrific, tuneful production.

Anything Goes runs through Saturday June 27th, 2015, at the Dean Lesher Performing Arts Center, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets and information visit www.centerrep.org or called 925-943-SHOW.


"Anything Goes" a knockout hit at Center REP

By Kedar Adour

POSTED:  May 27, 2015


Ethel Who? That would be Ethel Merman who made Reno Sweeney her signature role in  the musical Anything Goes that sailed onto the Broadway stage in 1936. . . at a time when ‘anything goes.” You can forget Merman if (when) you go to see Molly Bell’s Reno Sweeney and a fantastic cast under Michael Butler’s non-stop direction of  Anything Goes that earned a standing ovation opening night at Center Rep stage It is a charming, sparkling, energetic, hysterical humorous, song filled, spiritedly danced and corny/loveable musical.  Porter’s classic, vivacious, witty and naughty songs will keep a smile on your face as you hum the tunes long after you leave the theatre.

All the previous adjectives, starting with charming, describe Center Rep's staging with a cast of 25 cavorting on a fantastic shipboard set with a 10 piece onstage orchestra being led by the multi-talented Brandon Adams who even comes down to center stage to lead an acapella rendition of “Public Enemy #1.”

Although Reno (Molly Bell) is a major player in the high jinxes that come fast and furious, she has to share the stage with an eclectic bunch of characters portrayed by a great cast. First we meet a Yale alumnus, and heavy drinker, financier Elisha J. Whitney (Michael Patrick Gaffney at his best) and his stock broker Billy Crocker (handsome tenor Joshua Hollister) who is love struck by Hope Harcourt (beautiful Brittany Danielle) betrothed to Sir Evelyn Oakley (great comedic timing by Jeffrey Draper). Then there is Public enemy #13 Moonface Martin (scene stealing Colin Thompson) with a great desire to be #1 and his moll Erma (bright, bouncy Lizzie O’Hara). Reno, an evangelist turned cabaret performer is traveling with her four ‘angels’. These are the major characters that all end up on the SS America bound for England.

As with most musicals of the 30s, the book is secondary and the writers say, “Enough of this dialog, it is time for a song or a dance.” So it is with Anything Goes. Molly Bell makes her presence felt belting out “I Get a Kick Out of You” before the sailors decked out in sparkling white uniforms invade the Bon Voyage Cocktail Lounge to shuffle off to Buffalo with “There’s No Cure Like Travel” before the entire company send the ship off to the high seas with a song and dance “Bon Voyage.” Now how’s that for two opening scenes? But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  Porter inserts two more great songs, “You’re the Top” for Reno and Billy and “Easy to Love” for Billy and Hope. And we are only half way through the first act.

Cherubic Colin Thomson as Moonface Martin, gets his turn to show his stuff with Reno in the rollicking “Friendship.” Joshua Hollister and Brittany Danielle are a perfect match as their love interest emerges with “It’s De-Lovely.”  By this time it is one hour and twenty minutes into the show and time for a show stopper.  What a show stopper it is with the crew and passengers praising Moonface as “Public Enemy Number One” in the signature song, “Anything Goes.” Bell is at her best with the full company as back-up in the spirited tap routine to end the first act.

The second act is a continuation of the improbable mix-ups with disguises that you won’t believe to keep you entertained. The energy continues when Reno and her Angels (Ariel Daly, Jenna Harris, Amanda Sylvia, Mary Kalita), step out of their white robes into revealing red costumes belting “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”  Molly Bell is a whirl wind with a voice to match her great dancing. The dancing and dancers are a marvel performing Amanda Folena’s stunning choreography.

Before the two hour and 30 minutes (with intermission) are over Lizzie O’Hara belts and dances up a sexy maelstrom storm in “Buddie Beware” with the sailors as back up. Colin Thomson steals another scene with “Be Like the Bluebird”, Jeffery Draper shines with the tongue in cheek “The Gypsy in Me” and Brittany Danielle and Joshua Hollister are pitch perfect with “All Through the Night.” The evening ends with a reprise of “I Get a Kick out of You.”

The set is a creative beauty art deco main deck with semi-circular stairways surrounding a central revolving area that allows expeditious scenery changes in sync with director Butler’s torrid pace without missing a beat. All phases of what musical theatre should be are on display: Fantastic music and lyrics, powerful dancing, great orchestrations, costumes to die for (Victoria Livingston Hall), great singing, a plethora of humor and of the shining star of Molly Bell making the character of Reno Sweeney her own. Ethel Who? HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

CAST: Molly Bell, Justin Travis Buchs, Ryan Cowles, Ariel Daly, Brittany Danielle, Lynda DiVito, Caleb Haven Draper, Jeffrey Draper, Michael Patrick Gaffney, Jenna Harris, Joshua Hollister, Mary Kalita, Christine Macomber, Scott Maraj, R. Martin Newton, Lizzie O’Hara, Neal Pascua, Jason Rehklau, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Nathaniel Rothrock, Amanda Sylvia, Colin Thompson, Michael Verzosa.

CREATIVE STAFF: Director Michael Butler; Choreographed by Amanda Folena; Music direction Brandon Adams; Set design, Michael Locher; Costume design, Victoria Livingston Hall; Lighting design,  Kurt Landisman; Sound design, Jeff Mockus

Kedar K. Adour MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com


Center REP has the best Bubbly event for your summer Musical.

By Vince Mediaa

POSTED:  May 28, 2015


Anything Goes - and Cole Porter the perfect excuse to get to the Theatre this summer, don't miss this excellent fun!

Center Rep, you are the Top, the ANYTHING GOES cruise line ship has parked in Walnut Creek Ca. Margaret Lesher stage and it's intoxicating.  

The Center Rep closes its 48th season of great theatre with this Cole Porter classic. This pop of a champagne bottle is sure to bring a smile to anyone who attends this “De- Lovely” excuse for song and dance. Back in 1934 when this show premiered with a young Ethel Merman, it was considered a bit risque, but this company reminds us that no matter how mindless this ship is, ANYTHING GOES is an American classic.

Creative Director of Center Rep, Michael Butler assembled an excellent cast to bring some of Porter's best tunes to this revival. “You’re the Top”, “I get a Kick Out of You” “It's De-Lovely” and “Friendship”.  Some of the songs added along the way of this shows history on stage. The script was written by creator P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and revised before its 1934 opening by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The show was later rewritten for its 1987 and 2011 Broadway revivals.

This 23 member cast is on course - every one of them from the A list of local stages. Molly Bell as Reno Sweeney controls this ship, belting out Porters songs, she is excellent almost upstaging the main cast. Her take of the title song is impressive and in Act II “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” is a show stopper.

The story of course, a love stoty sitcom with all the standard plot twists and madness of 40’s musicals. It still holds strong even with the asian racism still intact - And two fun asian actors play the guys Michael Verzosa and Neal Pascua. The young stockbroker Billy Crocker is played by Joshua Hollister, who at times shows off his operatic talent. Crocker is in love with debutante Hope Harcourt played by Brittany Danielle who is set to marry Sir Oakleigh, played by local favorite Jeffrey Draper. Draper brings a class act of comic timing to this show, and he is so fun to watch on stage. Michael Patrick Gaffney plays the blinded boss misdirected throughout the story, and Lynda DiVito plays hopes mom and is very funny in the role.

Colin Thomson is cast perfect as the low end comic sidebar gangster Moonface Martin. Thomson provides some of the best humor of this ride. The brilliant Lizzie O’Hara easily stands as tall as Molly Bell, both are a delight. O’Hara plays Erma the gangster female and is perfect in “Buddie Beware”.  The female leads are dressed to shine by Victoria Livingston-Hall's gowns, they at times become the show. Reno is always in satin and the tap dancing is highlighted by the brilliant costumes. The art deco of the ship is also a scene stealer, designed by Michael Locher, his set is so very elegant.  We have seen this ship on many stages with the two staircases and many doors ways to get the actors in and out, but Locher set is one of the stars of this show. The ten piece orchestra is perched on the upper level of the ocean liner set, under the direction of Brandon Adams, and brings Porter's tunes to perfect melody.  

Tap dancing is of course what we come to see on this ship and Amanda Folena choreography is wonderful highlighted by the end of the first act high stepping “Anything Goes”. The shadows of light pouring from every port of the on stage ship is designed by Kurt Landisman, and the follow spot look keeps our eye on target with so many shticks that come and go in the madcap tail. Other players to mention include the classy sailor company with Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Ryan Cowles, Caleb Draper, Nat Rothrock, Jason Rehklau, Justin Buchs. Martin Newton as the busy Captain, Scott Maraj, Christine Macomber and the Reno’s Angels, Ariel Daly, Jenna Harris, Mary Kalita, and Amanda Sylvia. ANYTHING GOES is an icon of American Musical history and a delight. This company is the best way to start your summer theatre, don’t miss this fun.

Center REP's "Anything Goes" is Pitch Perfect!

By Jan Miller

POSTED:  May 29, 2015


Center REPertory Company’s production of "Anything Goes," currently running through Saturday, June 27 at the Dean Lesher Theatre in Walnut Creek, CA., features so many classic Cole Porter tunes, including "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You" and, of course, the title song of the same name. It is a fantastic finish to Center REP’s current season.

While this classic musical, winner of the 2011 Tony Award for Best Revival, is a madcap comedy, the premise really takes a backseat to the superb performance of the show’s star, Molly Bell as Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer who has a crush on young Billy Crocker, but tries to help him win the woman he wants. Bell’s all-around extraordinary singing, dancing and acting talents take center-stage are showcased in a performance that would make Ethel Merman proud.

Also, Center REP artistic director Michael Butler gives “Anything Goes” a pitch-perfect staging with its impressive 23-person cast. The singers and the 10-piece orchestra directed by Brandon Adams on the upper deck of the SS American do a superb job, keeping the audience engaged throughout its entirety.

“Anything Goes” is really quite a silly love story set on a stylish ocean liner, complete with art deco touches in an elegant set. Here, young Billy Crocker (Joshua Hollister), a stockbroker, is in love with an upper-class debutante, Hope Harcourt (Brittany Danielle). Hope loves him too, but she's engaged to a rather clueless, bumbling English nobleman, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Jeffrey Draper), and could never consider marrying a commoner such as Crocker.

The plot of the show is strictly secondary to the performers, who include the pricelessly goofy Michael Patrick Gaffney in the role of Billy Crocker’s boss Elisha J. Whitney, Hope's status-obsessed mother, Mrs. Harcourt (played by Lynda DiVito), the wonderfully comedic Colin Thompson as Moonface Martin, a second-rate gangster who seems to get in his own way, and Erma (Lizzie O’Hara), Moonface’s quirky moll.

Oh yes, let’s not forget the ship's crew, which is comprised of a wonderful ensemble of singers and dancers, including Justin Travis Buchs, Ryan Cowles, Caleb Haven Draper, and Jason Rehklau, as well as the four Angels -- Ariel Daly as Angel Purity, Jenna Harris as Angel Chastity, Mary Kalita as Angel Virtue, and Amanda Sylvia as Angel Charity.

“Anything Goes,” is one of the greatest musicals in theatre history, and Center REP’s version does this classic proud. It is not to be missed. For tickets or more information please phone (925) 943-7469 or visit www.CenterREP.org