Star Struck’s ‘Anything Goes’: Just About Perfect

by W. Fred Crow, The Arts
Milpitas Post – August 11, 2005

I usually reserve room in my reviews for growth and improvement and change so that, when you visit a show I recommend, it might be that much better an experience. However, I don’t believe Star Struck Musical Theatre’s production of Cole Porter’s, “Anything Goes” can actually get any better. Its presentation of a little silly 1930s romp of pomp and music is so solid and pleasing and entertaining that it is a complete delight. The only way to possibly improve on this outdoor venue would be to relieve the police helicopter of its hovering duties endured during the first act.

Rivaling professional houses, I had to remind myself that the age range of the cast went from a capable 10 to a compelling 19 and that these were nonprofessionals. The ensemble danced and sang and played with its own pomp and flash exceeding anything the audience might have expected.

Director Lori A. Stokes’ brilliantly conceived and clever vision of Porter’s theatrical lark was a treat carried to the theater by talented and tender hands. The show was simply remarkable.

The story is simple. It’s really a farce, a musical frolic to lighten the soul of the audience struggling to get free of the Depression years. Porter was having fun and let us all in on the joke. Taking a cruise to cross the Atlantic, the expectation of passenger and press alike was to find celebrities aboard with the hope of being entertained. Think of being on board a ship for two weeks with your favorite entertainer or celebrity, hoping for the chance meeting or conversation. Such a meeting might happen, if not on the first day of sailing, then surely by the last.

The press and passengers of the USS American, eager to learn who might be cruising the Pond, thus adding to their conversation and gossip, were disappointed. The best on board were entertainer Reno Sweeny and her Angels, a Lord in search of his lady, and the rumor of Snake Eyes, on the most wanted list at No. 1. The rumor proved untrue as the police were hunting Moonface Martin, who stole aboard being on the most wanted list at the lowly rank of No. 13. However, spicing up the trip was the possibility of a marriage. Lord Evelyn Oakleigh was engaged to debutant Miss Hope Harcourt, an alliance financier Billy Crocker wished to break for his own benefit. Throw in complications from misidentities and torn emotions and the musical is made.

The very large cast was superb. Too many to name all, the entire ensemble was a solid treat of verve, vitality and performance. Playing the hard shelled but soft-hearted Reno Sweeny was Courtney Stokes. Her commanding, clear voice was as appealing as her presence. She owned the stage as if born to it. She also owned the songs of Sweeny: “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s de-Lovely” and “Anything Goes.” Singing, dancing and acting, Courtney Stokes does it all.

Evan Boomer presented devil-may-care Billy Crocker with a sense of magic magnetism. A strong baritone with an agreeable aura, Boomer was a pleasing lead. His get-about with Reno and Moonface in the song “Friendship” left little doubt that talent was on display and ready to play. Laura Sa played Crocker’s love interest, Hope Harcourt. Sa, not in a lead role, simply wowed the audience with her charm and voice, especially with the heart tugging rendition of, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.”

Anthony Vega obviously enjoyed portraying the good-hearted lug, Moonface Martin. His rendition of “Be Like the Blue Bird” while cooling his heels in the ship’s brig was a kick. His sweeter but just as bad side, Erma, was played by Melissa Modifer, who provided stage poise and backed up her claim to the part with a powerful voice. Through Modifer, Erma came alive.

Jordan Aragon has come to play the odd and quirky character in a number of plays something he does with an individual flash, dash, and splash. He simply savored the role of Lord Oakleigh, lifting the character high and opening up at the right moment and in the right manner. He was a character part played by a character actor.

Juliane Godfrey and James Huang played disinterested love interests, Evangeline Harcourt and Elisha J. Whitney, one desperate for a fortune, the other a fortune to share.

This is a musical and music was outstanding (Nancy Godfrey). This is a musical that tapped and danced and the choreography was outstanding (Jeanne Batacan-Harper). This is a play and the set design (Chris Guptill/Christopher Booras) and costumes (Marlene Borlaug) were outstanding. The technicals, those outdoor lights and sound (Booras and Adam Fresquez), are worth mentioning.

It’s not often that such a completely entertaining package comes along. Mark your calendars. The curtains remain open for only three more shows, Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 11-13. All shows are held in the Ohlone College Amphitheater and begin at 8:15 p.m. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, call Star Struck Musical Theatre at (510) 659-1319. Trust me. See it. You’ll be glad you did.