Cole Porter’s 1934 Depression madcap masterpiece romps with class as it employs a mix of veteran Broadway actors ( Amanda Lea LaVergne and Paul Kreppel) with a young rising star (Caleb Albert) under detailed yet exuberant direction of Alan M-L Wager at Sharon Playhouse. The subplot actors, Edward Miskie, Amara Haaksman, and Seana Nicol remain a sheer delight.
The musical offers a bizarre concoction of banality, wit, show-stopping songs, funny racy jokes, and ultra- corny plot amid a cruise ship burdened by eccentric idiocy, which permits goofy slap-stick satire on the upper class as well as underclass. How such a bizarre concoction works so well remains a well-guarded secret by Director Wager and the various authors who created the musical.
The devilish dancing and swift hoofing under choreographer Justin Boccitto will paste a smile on your face—there must have been some serious rehearsals there to get the ensemble so right and tight in numbers that really demand a larger stage. The seven-member live orchestra under the direction of Ben Kiley offers extra bounce—none of that cheap, leaden canned hollow beat, but the intensity of live dynamics and zesty bang.
Despite the star power of three Actors Equity actors, local Sharon stalwarts like David Fanning (ship captain) and Monte Stone (hypocrite preacher) credibly fill lesser roles. As the cartoon gangster Kreppel provides chameleon-like mugging appropriate to his mercurial role. Bill Morris as the avuncular rich drunk positively swims in the habitual bluster the role conjures. Emily Soell as his eventually obtuse wife carries off a difficult minor role with panache.
LaVergne’s robust voice dominates with songs like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Anything Goes,” “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” and the combo Finale. Tall and handsome Albert delivers deep emotion in the duet “It’s De-Lovely” with the vulnerable clarity of Haaksman’s voice and especially in “All Through the Night.” The song “Take me Back to Manhattan” has been cut. One terrific surprise is Miskie’s rendition of “The Gypsy in Me” where the acting, singing, and stage direction offers delirious pleasure. Seana Nicol’s solo “Buddie, Beware” caps her fine character acting.
The new management crew of Wager and Managing Director Robert Levinstein has a noticeable hit on their hands. Opening night was sold out. Having once worked as a stage manager, I must tip my hat to David A. Vandervliet and Ann Barkin. Sets by Jason Myron Wright and costumes by Keith Schneider offer Broadway quality.
The parts of this production are solid, but the effect and atmosphere of the whole is transcendent fun, especially the singing and dancing. This production runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 1. For more details or tickets, go to the Sharon Playhouse website.