At the Gateway Theatre in San Francisco, Cole Porter’s award-winning musical “Anything Goes,” delights with a lively performance, brimming with heart and bursting with energy. Running from Feb. 23 to March 12, the show is guaranteed to leave any audience member with a list of melodies ringing in their head long after the curtain call.
Acquired in 2017 by the theater production group, 42nd Street Moon, the Gateway Theatre features a quaint auditorium with ample seating that cultivates a cozy atmosphere. Given the intimacy of the venue, performers do not wear mics during the show; however, their strong voices carry through much of the theater, with only the occasional missed line or mumbled delivery.
The stage itself is positioned neatly at the center, set with a stark white ship-inspired background for “Anything Goes.” Though slightly visually underwhelming, as soon as the performers take the stage, the simplicity of the design becomes crucial in maintaining its balance.
Set in 1934 on an ocean liner bound from New York to London, “Anything Goes” follows the romantic tryst and hijinks of the lovesick Wall Street upstart Billy Crocker (Matt Skinner), debutante Hope Harcourt (Jas Cook) and celebrity nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Ashley Cowl), as they search for love and a good time on the high seas.
Nick Ishimaru directs the lively cast in a partially gender-bent performance that lends itself to some unexpectedly amusing changes, particularly that of Heather Orth’s portrayal of Moonface Martin. One of the comedic highlights of the show, Orth’s Moonface transforms the traditionally male-lead gangster into a capricious nun with a thick New York accent and a pension for Tommy guns.
Orth’s animation is so enthralling that come time for her rendition of “Be Like the Bluebird” in the second act, the shock of her enchanting voice flowing out of the gangster’s mouth only added to the dynamism of her performance.
The show opens with the somber yet enchanting melody, “I Get a Kick Out of You,” performed by Ashley Cowl as Reno Sweeney, who enamors the audience with comedic wit and powerful vocals. Paired with the equally stellar Skinner, Cowl’s strong debut sets a high-caliber expectation for the rest of the show.
The most memorable numbers of the first act include “You’re the Top,” “Friendship” and “It’s De-Lovely,” but, by and large, the ace of act one is “Anything Goes.” The lively tap dancing, adorable costumes and engagement of the entire cast infuse the show with an indelible bolt of vitality that leave the audience buzzing well into intermission.
The show, however, truly hits its stride with the second act, channeling the much needed energy of “Anything Goes” into a spirited performance of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Cowl begins the iconic set by tossing aside her white robe to reveal a gold, shimmering floor-length gown, the perfect outfit to accompany the tune’s splendor. The support from Cowl’s consistently radiant devils, Charity (Catrina Manahan) and Virtue (Renee Deweese), adds to the pageantry of the number, cementing it as one of the show’s most memorable moments.
Aside from the opener, it is difficult to pick a favorite song from the hilarious and wildly entertaining second act. Much of its joy can be attributed to the musical’s accompanying characters, particularly Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Nick Nakashima) in “Let’s Misbehave,” Erma (Jillian A. Smith) in a cheeky rendition of “Buddie Beware” and Hope Harcourt in a beguiling solo performance of “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.”
Ishimaru’s “Anything Goes” is a pleasantly captivating, whimsical and engaging experience that is a surefire hit for anyone considering attending. Despite being a smaller theater production, the show spares no expense in talent, rivaling that of any major theater company.