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Perfect Porter
By Kathy Ceceri

Anything Goes!
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter, new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, directed by Tralen Doler
Cohoes Music Hall, through May 15

Cole Porter, who produced some of the most sophisticated songs on Broadway, was not striving for depth when he wrote Anything Goes! He’d already decided that “polished, urbane, and adult playwriting in the musical field is strictly a creative luxury” and was aiming for a crowd-pleaser when he came up with the score for this tale of debutantes, nightclub singers and gangsters aboard a trans-Atlantic cruise ship.

In a twist on the usual testosterone-driven plotline, two women, Reno Sweeney, the evangelist turned showgirl, and Hope Harcourt, the ingénue engaged to a British lord, are both enamored of a Wall Street broker named Billy Crocker who spends his time running errands for his wealthy boss. But while the story may be slight, Porter didn’t skimp on wit or musicality when penning songs like “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “You’re the Top,” which still sound great 70 years later. And as Cohoes Music Hall’s new production shows, the script rewritten for the 1987 Lincoln Center revival with Patty Lupone matches Porter’s style zinger for zinger, making for a hilarious, tuneful evening.

Women shine in this production. As Reno Sweeney, Leslie Ann Hendricks is terrific, displaying both a knockout voice and fantastic dancing ability. Backing her up are the sexy “Angels,” Jessica Costa, Darcy Wright, Nicole Brammer and Heather D’Arcy, who get some of the best outfits as well. Karla Shook’s gun moll Erma is a scream, and Alison Mahoney as Reno’s rival Hope has a voice that’s sweet and strong.

Ken Shepski, who plays Billy Crocker, understudied the role on Broadway, but despite his wonderful voice and acting he’s just too long in the tooth to be totally convincing as the man every woman in New York is after. Happily, that one hitch doesn’t stop the show from bouncing along. Supporting actors John Noble as the goofy gangster Moonface Martin, John Baker as the slang-mangling Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, and Joe Phillips as Billy’s Yale-besotted boss are all excellent, and director Tralen Doler gives lots of wonderful bits of business to the rest of the cast as well, including the gigolo and the bickering couple.

Every costume in this show is a stunner, from the sleek sequined gowns to the Mondrian-inspired halter tops. Charles Elliott’s orchestra does a good job with Porter’s score, besides looking awful cute in their sailor hats. And the shipboard set by Scott Aronow, aided by a ramp leading around the orchestra pit into the audience, creates plenty of space for huge production numbers, especially the title piece. Altogether this is a great rendition of Cole Porter classic, and bodes well for next season’s production of his all-time masterpiece, Kiss Me Kate.

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