Anything can happen when Anything Goes

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Photo: Normand Brassard

The crew and passengers of the SS American sing "Anything Goes" at their final curtain call on Saturday evening.

What happens when a cruise ship sets sail carrying wannabe gangsters, dancing angels, 1930s high rollers...and a lovesick ex-girlfriend?
Anything can happen!

The Quebec Art company (QAC) proved this with a cracking, polished performance of Anything Goes on Saturday night at Holland School. Despite the early cold snap, every seat in the school auditorium was filled. In fact, tickets for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances were reportedly sold out. It was standing room only for some at the back on Saturday night.

Anything Goes is nearly as old as Broadway itself, having debuted there in 1934 at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon theatre). Cole Porter's jazz standards "You're the Top" and "I Get A Kick Out of You" were first heard on that stage. Porter's music, according to one of the sailors, is "hard to sing" because of the many key changes and complex melodies; not only that, but the intricate and witty lyrics require perfect enunciation for the audience to appreciate them.

The play was made into a movie twice and revived twice on the Broadway stage, most recently in 2011. The Quebec Art Company production was also a revival of sorts - the company first produced this enduring classic in 1993.

In the 2013 version, Kelly Leighton was impressive as Hope Harcourt, an earnest debutante torn between her wealthy and insufferable fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played with an appropriate Scottish accent and cachet by Scottish-born Martin Trager) and the bungling but earnest American Billy Crocker (Michael Bourguignon) whom she met a few days before boarding the cruise ship. With a sweet, clear voice, Leighton sang beautifully and her songs were heart-rending, but they didn't slow down the comic energy of the play.

Bourguignon's character, who bears a certain resemblance to Richard Gere as Billy Flynn in Chicago, spends much of the play hiding from fellow passengers, who think he's a gangster - Public Enemy Number One, to be precise. Hope Harcourt's mother, the hysterical and overbearing widow Evangeline Harcourt (played by the QCT's own Shirley Nadeau) is also on board, along with her little doggie and her one-time love interest, zillionaire businessman Elisha Whitney (Peter Calkins).

When Lord Evelyn falls for the self-assured evangelical/nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (show-stealer Rosie Sabor), Reno's friend Moonface Martin (Larry Hodgson), a wannabe Public Enemy masquerading as a priest, and his moll Erma (the memorable Sharon Macleod with a pitch-perfect New York accent) hatch a barely plausible, but brilliant, plot to set things right. Mary Greary and Mary Thaler steal several scenes as two bumbling Chinese brothers, converted to Christianity by the suitably unctuous Reverend Dobson (Mark Lepitre, who is also the play's artistic director) but they're never far from falling back into their sinful, gambling ways.

The cast was a mix of QAC newcomers and veterans. Hodgson in particular is no stranger to the QAC, or to Anything Goes. He played Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in the 1993 production. "I said I'd love to do it again, but maybe not as Evelyn Oakleigh," he recalled with a laugh at the post-performance gala wine and cheese party.
Many of the principal actors had been rehearsing since early summer for the play, balancing day jobs and school commitments, and the entire cast was rewarded with four full-to-bursting performances.

The Quebec Art Company's spring production is Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor. Auditions, to be held in January 2014, will be open to all. If you think being onstage sounds like fun, please check quebecartcompany.com for further details.