My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Anything Goes: the LOT presents Cole Porter froth with a developing bite

by Drew Rowsome - photos by Seanna Kennedy

... practically ev'rything leaves me totally cold The only exception I know is the case When I'm out on a quiet spree Fighting vainly the old ennui And I suddenly turn and see Your fabulous face

What better to counteract the February blahs than a fabulous-faced, frothy musical with lots of familiar catchy songs and some high-energy dancing? It worked for Anything Goes in 1934 (the Great Depression), 1962 (when the repressive '50s had yet to become the swinging '60s), 1987 (the Reagan years and the height of the AIDS crisis), 2011 (the current not-Great-either depression) and once again, courtesy of the Lower Ossington Theatre, in 2016 (war, famine, climate change, imminent extinction of the human race, and the Kardashians). Decades of distraction thanks to a very clever Cole Porter score and a convoluted, frivolous plot to string the tunes and witty lyrics together.

The surface of Anything Goes is several love stories involving disguises, mistaken identity and true love conquering all; the sub-themes are the dangers of celebrity, sex vs marriage, racism, addiction, the hypocrisy of religion and, very coded, homosexuality. Director Alan Kinsella (The Woman in BlackHairJesus Christ SuperstarHedwig and the Angry Inch) teases out some of these themes but for the most part this Anything Goes just wants to entertain, and to that end it zips a zany cast of characters on and off a versatile art deco-influenced set to dispense cheesy one-liners and deliver those great songs.

A big old-fashioned musical in an intimate space emphasizes strengths and when the whole cast breaks into a tap number or full vocal flight, it is extraordinarily energizing and exciting. The choreography, possibly because of space constraints, relies a lot on mime which is repetitive but does pay off when it is satirized in the second half by which point there is enough momentum to allow for a bit of welcome camp and self-awareness. The intimacy is also, alas, brutal on weaknesses: there is some hesitancy with some of the more complicated lifts, a distracting number of lighting miscues and the pacing of the banter is still shaky, though to be fair, it must be like performing in a foreign language peppered with arcane references, 1934 was a long time ago.

I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

No-one dives more into the opportunity to quip, grin and dance up a storm that Thomas James Finn who was smarmy charm in Hairspray and explosive in The Buddy Holly Story. His gangster Moonface Martin is a comic gem who will surely rise up the theatrical "Most Wanted" list no matter how far down the list the baby-faced mobster falls. His foil, Emma Gibney, churns up a sexy storm as Irma who is perpetually late to her entrances in order to be spotlit in a comical promiscuous tryst. Chelsey MacLean (The Beaver Den) channels Ethel Merman (if the diva had ever had dancing and grace lessons) to create an imperious and brassy but lovable Reno Sweeney. A near wardrobe malfunction didn't fluster her for a second, and added considerable comic suspense to a duet with Finn that was already sublime. They handled it with enough aplomb to earn them a well-deserved ovation.

Kevin Doe treads that ambiguous line between British royalty and fey, redeeming his character with a rousingly athletic and erotic, "The Gypsy in Me." Jeffrey Bowers (Hairspray) is a blustery conniving captain of the ship where Anything Goes is set, who dances up a storm while retaining his authority. Wilex Ly and Timothy L Ng have to deal with a questionable portion of the book, a rip-off of Madame Butterfly, but transcend the carefully skated-over racial stereotypes as rambunctious sailors. Sailors who, inexplicably for a Cole Porter musical, sing "There'll Always Be a Lady Fair" and are almost convincing. And the uncredited dog puppet is a delight despite being responsible for the two worst jokes.

Some get a kick from cocaine
I'm sure that if I took even one sniff
That would bore me terrific'ly too
Yet I get a kick out of you

Though the two ostensible leads get wonderful songs that they sing gorgeously, the plot leaves them nothing to do beyond look attractive. Madison Hayes-Crook (Legally Blonde) is in fine voice but the character only demands that she vacillate as the plot demands. The male protagonist, Bryden Rutherford (Mary PoppinsLegally Blonde) as Billy Crocker, has to play seductive con man then, in the next breath, a befuddled lovesick naive. There was perhaps too much accentuation on the latter, though Rutherford does confused and innocent well. In the duets his sinuous long limbs make the audience ache for a full-out display of his dancing prowess, that would be seductive.

The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today

And when "the world has gone mad today," Anything Goes is a fun diversion that will surely settle into an effervescent delight as soon as the multitude of intricacies are second nature. And the winks to 2016, and the lovely but ludicrous notion that marriage is the solution to everything, will foreground the subtexts in a way to make it a frothy farce with bite. Yes, LOT and Anything Goes, we got a kick out of you.

Anything Goes runs until Sun, March 20 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave.