Before last night, I would have said that the Westbury Theatre at the Transalta Arts Barns had a large stage. That was before I saw Strathcona Theatre’s performance of Anything Goes, which left me with the impression that the stage was just barely large enough for the cast of 50+ (I tried to count a couple of times, but they kept dancing!) A clever stage design evoked the multiple decks, spiral staircases, and porthole-covered swinging doors of an Art Deco cruise liner, while also providing space for the pit musicians to play on an upper deck. Last night’s preview show played to a full house, and since many of the family, friends, and fans of Strathcona Theatre got there earlier than I did, I was grateful for being able to watch some of the action as well as musicians not so far down from where I was sitting.
Early in the show, I thought that Sydney Williams, playing the nightclub singer and former evangelist Reno Sweeney, was dominating the show as a strong singer with good stage presence. Adam Houston, as Billy Crocker, seemed a bit outmatched at first, with a difficult first song, but he hit his stride quickly and was more convincing later in the show. The audience was particularly delighted with David Unsworth as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh when he broke out of his rather predictable exaggerated-aristocracy role late in the show (you can’t miss it). I will definitely keep an eye out for this young actor in future productions.
The lyrics and music of this classic show (first staged in … with several revivals and revisions since) are by Cole Porter. A few of the songs were quite familiar, especially “You’re the Top” and “I get a Kick Out of You”. P.G. Wodehouse (also known for Jeeves and Wooster) had a hand in the book, and you can tell. There were love triangles, gangsters, mistaken identities, tap-dancing sailors, an exceptionally well-behaved live dog in the cast (credited as Teddy Gorman), evangelists, missionaries, and converts, puns, innuendoes, and assorted happy endings. When two or three actors were speaking or singing, there were often many other characters on the edges of the stage doing things that were interesting but not distracting, adding to the sense that more was happening than we could watch.
I was a little uncomfortable with the portrayals of the two Chinese converts Luke and John (James Kwak and Spencer Lloyd), complete with Mao jackets and the stereotypical accents common in fictional portrayals of the early 20th century, and the later adoption of “Chinese” disguises by other characters. I’m not sure why the humorous portrayal of the English aristocrat didn’t disturb me the same way. Maybe it felt a bit like blackface. I would not be surprised if it had been toned down from Broadway versions, though.
Linette Smith is Director and Choreographer, and Stephen Delano is Musical Director. There were a few technical glitches in this first preview performance – some sound balancing or sound cuing that was a bit slow, and one door that came off its hinges distractingly – but nothing that should interfere with the audience’s appreciation during the run of the show. It continues until Saturday night at the Westbury Theatre, with tickets available at Tix on the Square .