Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Anything Goes
42nd Street Moon
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of Six, Justice: A New Musical and The Travelers

Ashley Cowl and Cast
Photo by Daniel Thomas
Anything Goes, the 1934 Cole Porter musical (with book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) that opened this weekend at the Gateway Theatre in a 42nd Street Moon production is one of the most delightful, escapist bits of musical comedy ever written. Despite its age (nearly 90!), it's still amazingly relevant, primarily because it's never been anything more than a fun romp. With its rather ridiculous plot points, mistaken identities, and people pretending to be someone else, it might bring to mind one of Shakespeare's comedies.

While the story may be ridiculous, the songs are anything but. Porter wrote some of his most wonderful melodies and clever lyrics for Anything Goes, including the title number, plus songs that have become standards: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Let's Misbehave," "You're the Top," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and "Easy to Love."

When you start with a show as terrific as this, it's hard to go too far wrong. As in cooking, if you begin with top-quality ingredients, you have a much better chance of ending up with a great meal. Though this production has its share of issues, I still left the theater with a broad smile on my face.

As a chorus, the cast is terrific. Though individual voices, even some of the leads (more on that in a moment) lack the strength to overcome the volume of the four-piece band (led by Dave Dobrusky) positioned backstage, as an ensemble they are terrific. When the full 18-member cast is onstage at the same time, their blocking (by director Nick Ishimaru) feels a little cramped, especially when placed all on the same level.

Which brings me to the set, designed by Kuo-Hao Lo. Though the bones of his design are great–lots of doors with portholes, and multiple levels and stairs to allow for many entrances and exits–it ultimately feels like he ran out of budget or time to complete his design. The flat, off-white expanses are like an empty palette crying out to painted upon. A few simple touches, perhaps painting the frames of the portholes silver or having the ship's name (the SS American) stenciled on an orange life ring–would have gone miles to making the environment feel both more colorful and more nautical.

The story that takes place on this set is simultaneously complex and simple. Simple because the individual story arcs are pretty straightforward, but complex because there are many characters, multiple love stories, and multiple plot lines to track. Tyro Wall Street broker Billy Crocker (Matt Skinner) works for the baronial Elijah J. Whitney Gary Stanford Jr., who's about to set sail across the Atlantic and asks Billy to sell some stock he's certain is about to plummet. But Billy has fallen head over heels with heiress Hope Harcourt (Jas Cook), a girl he recently met at a party. When Billy sees that Hope is also boarding the SS American with her mother (Juanita Harris) and her fiancé, the British earl Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Nick Nakashima), he decides to stow away in order to pursue her. Also on board are Moonface Martin (Heather Orth), a gangster fleeing the law disguised as a nun. She is supposed to be accompanied by her boss, Snake Eyes Johnson, Public Enemy Number One. When Snake Eyes doesn't show for the embarkation, Moonface gives Billy his passport and ticket. Billy is now both a stowaway and a fugitive from justice.

The protagonist of all this action is nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Ashley Cowl), who stirs the various pots and makes sure the right lovers ultimately end up pairing off. Cowl has a lovely tone to her voice, but she feels like a soprano in an alto role. To this critic's ear, she is in her head voice far too often, which leaves her without the power to overcome the volume of the band backing her. As an actor, she exudes the proper level of charm and spunk for her character, but needs to project some extra vocal oomph, especially in numbers like "Blow, Gabriel, Blow."

But the standout in this cast is easily Nick Nakashima as Lord Oakleigh. In addition to his perfect (to my American ear) received pronunciation, his gloriously expressive face and glittering eyes made him a joy to behold. His performance alone is worth the price of admission. It's possible that seeing him in his silken dressing gown with gartered socks might alone be worth getting a ticket! (Costumes by Lisa Danz are another highlight of the evening.)

By the end of the show, everyone who is seeking a partner will find one, the captain will marry them all–and you will likely leave the Gateway with a broad smile on your face. After all, if you're served a perfectly grilled Wagyu ribeye, who cares if the potatoes could use a little salt or the carrots are just a touch undercooked?

Anything Goes runs through March 12, 2023, at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. (and at 1:00 p.m. on March 4), and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $35-$80. For tickets and information, please visit or call 415-255-8207.