Anything Goes at Welk Resorts San Diego
By Jeffrey Kieviet
I Get a Kick from Champagne (and Everything Else)
I knew the name Cole Porter and associated it with the Rat Pack style of music but I never knew what he was famous for or which songs were his. He predates the Rat Pack by a good 30 years, this musical was written in the 1930s and features staples such as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the titular “Anything Goes.” The play also features some pretty kick-ass tap dancing, which I’m not too familiar with, but as far as tapping your metallic toes to the beat, it’s the bee’s knees. If you’re seeing this show, you’re seeing it for Porter’s music and the spectacle of the musical.
The plot is a convoluted farce about a guy who falls for a gal and then meets her again on a ship (S.S. American) right before she’s supposed to sail off to London to get married. With the help of a gangster (Public Enemy 13) and an evangelist-turned-nightclub-singer, he stows away onboard and hijinks ensue as he tries to win the heart of his ladylove. To go into more detail would only convolute the beautifully simplistic nature of the story. There are sidekicks and MacGuffins and an overbearing mother and an unassuming boss and wanton angels & sailors, there’s mistaken identity, a live dog, and one of the best(?) racially insensitive song & dance numbers I’ve ever seen. But it is the songs that sell the show.
I’m going to be a little biased, but the best performance of the show goes to Moonface Martin, the goofy gangster, hilariously portrayed by Shaun Leslie Thomas. To be honest, Shaun’s a good friend of mine from the first time I got to be the Plant Puppeteer in Little Shop of Horrors; he was Seymour. Here’s the thing, up until he came out with his old-timey Dick Tracy villain shtick, the audience would politely clap after the songs. Moonface livened up the show with energy and humor that got us all laughing and cheering, so whatever bias I may have, the audience seemed to agree. I took my mom & sister to this show and, at one point, Moonface is bouncing around the stage shoving a dog up his preacher’s robe, my mom turns to me and says “He’s really funny.” It’s a simple statement, but it was completely accurate; Shaun’s funny charm can breath new life into even the oldest Broadway standard.
The other standout was Natalie Nucci as the nightclub singer Reno. While the plot may focus on Billy (Joshua Carr) falling in love with and trying to win Hope (Rachel Davis), Reno is the true star of the show. She gets all the good songs, including “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Nucci truly shone as the star, looking like she was having so much fun being part of the show, her eyes were laughing the whole time which made the audience want to have fun with her. One of the subplots is that Reno might be in love with Billy, but he asks her to seduce Hope’s fiancé, the cluelessly British Evelyn (RC Sands, who’s naïve, prim awkwardness created a vaudevillian buffoon worthy of the Three Stooges or Benny Hill). Nucci’s Reno is able to handle the shallow heartbreak of helping Billy get the girl, while still finding a way to fall for the dopy Evelyn. All the characters end up finding their own love interest and everyone is coupled off, although the script shoehorns them all together; there is very little reason to the rhyme of why and how these people end up together, but if you just sail along with it, you’re in for a fun & funny ride.
To a certain extent, this show reminded me of Breaking Bad. Because everything reminds me of Breaking Bad. Once you’ve seen that show, it’s impossible to not draw comparisons, but this might be a bit of a stretch. Billy’s character starts as a simple man who is just trying to help his boss get on a boat. But once he realizes the love of his life is also there, about to sail away for ever, he mans up and descends into vile villainy. He sneaks aboard the ship, steals sailor’s clothes, consorts with a gangster, encourages thievery, impersonates a celebrity, and breaks up a potential marriage. It may not be on the same level as Walter White bombing an orphanage (ok, he doesn’t actually bomb an orphanage, but it’s the best example I can give without spoiling the show), but there was definitely room to play with the drama of the characters. This show is light and fluffy and fun, it’s not going to make you ask the deep questions about life, but it’ll make you tap your feet and swing to the beat.
The craziest part of this show was when Billy & Moonface steal the outfits of a couple Chinese prisoners, and then pretend to be Chinese dignitaries trying to get Evelyn to marry Plum Blossom (a woman Evelyn had slept with many years ago in China, however here she is Reno pretending to be Plum Blossom). I don’t know what society was like in the 30s, but I know what it’s like today and you can’t run around in straw hats, bowing and scraping like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I once had a Halloween costume that people called “politically incorrect” or “less than racially sensitive.” But these cats were the pinnacle of asian stereotype and I haven’t heard one word of objection. Next time I dress up as Will Smith’s Hancock, I’m adding a song & dance.
Last, I would be remiss to not mention the theater itself. I never watched Lawrence Welk on TV, he was before my time, but I guess he was like the Ryan Seacrest of his day. Only talented. Cheap shot, I know, but it’s not like Sir Seacrest is reading this blog crying into his bowls of money because I’m not a fan of… whatever it is Sir Seacrest does. American Idol? I saw the guy from Borat throw ashes on him one time, does that count? I’ve digressed. Lawrence Welk hosted The Lawrence Welk Show (original title, right?) and was a huge American TV personality. So much so that this place in Encinitas was named after him and they have a little museum in the lobby dedicated to all the stuff he did. Little museum, but he was a big man. This theater has a quaint bit of history about it, and the stage and set were great; representing the deck of a giant ship on stage isn’t easy. I know, I was in Treasure Island once. But I’ve never gotten to perform at good ol’ Larry Welk’s theater. A goal to add to the bucket list. Now all I’ve got to do is learn how to sing.
Anything Goes (1934)
Directed & Choreographed by Ray Limon
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse