Ahoy there! Set sail for an oldie but a goodie with Arena Stage’s production of Anything Goes, Cole Porter’s classic romantic farce set aboard the S.S. American, traveling from New York to London in 1934, but docked at the Fichandler until Dec. 23.
More that charming enough to overcome all the silly (and there is quite a bit of silly), this production, helmed by Arena artistic director Molly Smith, boasts one of those casts where the comic actors slowly reveal themselves to be great singers, the singers display surprising comedic chops, and absolutely everyone can dance, dance, dance. Sure, all the songs you know and love (“It’s De-Lovely,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” the title tune, etc.) are front-loaded into Act 1, leading to a bit of a post-intermission comedown, but by that point, you’ll be having too much of a good time to notice (also: thank god for reprises).
Corbin Bleu (he of High School Musical fame) stars as Billy Crocker, who risks his budding career working for Wall Street player Eli Whitney (Arena regular Thomas Adrian Simpson is an expert at working the room) in order to stow away on an ocean liner pursuing his true love, debutante Hope Hardcourt (D.C.-area native Lisa Helmi Johanson has a two-dimensional character but still makes her hum), who is already engaged to a British lord named Evelyn Oakleigh (Jimmy Ray Bennett may be playing a buffoon, but he’s well in on the joke.) Also on board are a celebrity-chasing captain, a friendly gangster (incognito as a priest) and his frisky gun moll, a pair of Asian emigre-hustlers, a chorus of sailors and singers, and the requisite “Aww!”-inducing dog. Presiding over it all is Reno Sweeney (a capital Soara-Joye Ross), the brassy-voiced performer who helps everyone get into their best trouble, but shows herself to have plenty of heart.
Everyone runs around, trades disguises, foils their own plans, gets drunk, and generally has a grand old time, one they’re all too happy to share with the audience.
Writers Timothy Crouse and John Weidman have filed down the most noxious racism in P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton’s original book. Costume designer Alejo Vietti does superb work with both the evening wear and the naval whites — some of these looks are fetching enough to find their way to the gift shop. And choreographer Parker Esse has wheeled around a freaking dessert tray: Tap, soft-shoe, some light slapstick — this is a dancer’s Anything Goes if ever there was one.
The eponymous song is the show-stopper, but particular delight can be found in “You’re the Top,” Billy and Reno’s “just friends” duet of rhyming couplets. The whole cast is top drawer, but Bleu and Ross hold the stage in all of their scenes, a wonderful pair of triple-threats (and that’s, like, a half dozen threats just between the two of them).
If this show can’t make you smile, it might be time to get your facial muscles checked out.