There are Broadway shows with a social message, and there are Broadway shows that are just so cheesy, you’re afraid to admit you’ve seen them.
Then there’s “Anything Goes.”
“I call it guilt-free broadway,” says actor John Williams. “It’s for people who like Broadway but are ashamed to tell their friends. This show is so self-aware, it’s takes the absurdity inherent in the medium and just elevates it to ridiculous levels.”
Williams plays Billy Crocker, the lead in Peter MacDonald Productions version of “Anything Goes,” opening at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Wednesday.
With the title song and tunes like “I Get a Kick Out of You” by Cole Porter, the original musical was written in 1934 and was one of his biggest hits. It’s the classic boy-meets-girl story with complications, but it’s the set — a cruise ship — and characters that make the storyline unique: there’s Billy, a lovelorn stockbroker; Reno, an evangelist-turned nightclub singer; Hope, a debutante; and Moonface Martin, a gangster disguised as a minister, among others.
Billly falls in love with Hope after meeting her in a cab, and when he realizes she’s travelling on the same cruise ship as his boss, he stows away on board. He discovers she’s travelling to England with her fiancé, a British lord whom she’s reluctant to marry. Also on board are Moonface and his friend Erma, who have disguised themselves after stranding the ship’s chaplain at port, and Reno, who flirts with Billy but helps him win over Hope.
Williams’ past credits include Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast,” but this is his first time playing a romantic lead, which he said is a unique challenge.
“Billy is an interesting guy. He seems kind of unassuming and innocent and normal at first, but then his true character and the exceptional nature that is Billy comes out when he’s forced to assume various disguises to evade capture as he’s stowed away on the ship,” Williams explained, hinting to an appearance in drag at one point. “Billy and Hope and Reno team up to try and pull the wool over the eyes of the ship’s crew, which isn’t very difficult. He’s a good guy, a nice guy, a likeable guy. I hope.”
Reno is played by Adena Cahill, a voice major at MUN’s School of Music who insists she came out of the womb singing. She’s got quite a few musical numbers, and her two biggest, the show’s title tune and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” are among the productions’ most spectacular. “Friendship,” a playful number she shares with Kyle McDavid (Moonface), is hilarious, as is Moonface himself.
Hope is played by Kiersten Noel, a seasoned musical theatre actress whose credits include Meg March in “Little Women,” Betty Haynes in “White Christmas,” and Belle in the Our Divas’ production of “Disney in Concert: A Tale as Old as Time.” There’s something about the sweet, good girl that Kiersten suits and to which she can relate, she said.
“I always think I was born in the wrong time. I like to think I’m a classy gal that should have been born in the 1930s or 1950s or something like that,” she said, laughing. “I really like the music in older shows, because they have great melodies and they’re beautifully-written, and I feel really comfortable in that voice.
“I find when you go to a show now, it just takes a lot of brain power to sit and process what you’re seeing, and I think this kind of thing where you can just go and have fun and relax and enjoy what you’re seeing and hearing.”
It’s a show full of optimism, escapism and great music, said MacDonald, who always steps up and casts himself in his productions whenever there’s a character that hasn’t been filled. In “Anything Goes,” he appears as Elisha Whitney, Billy’s boss.
It’s the positivity of the piece that makes it relevant and should draw people to it, he said.
“The Great Depression was ending and Roosevelt’s new deal was happening. I was reading a few articles and they say it’s very relevant to today, because the time period is similar to what Americans are ging through now,” he said. “It’s that same time of shedding your problems and having a new outlook on life.”
“Anything Goes” also stars Tim Caudle, Leslie Stuckless, Kara Noftle, Angela Dawe, Monika Behr, Mark House, Brad Furlong and about 50 other actors, dancers and singers. It runs until Oct. 6. Tickets are $29.50 for adults and $27.50 for seniors and students (HST and service charge included) and are available at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, or online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.
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