It’s a busy season for theaters, with opening and closing coming fast and furious. Few things, though, as as fast and furious as the tap-dancing in Anything Goes, which continues its run this weekend at the Winspear Opera House. The national tour of this Tony Award-winning revival is part of the classic strain of American musicals where quick-witted people end happily while dancing their asses off, all the the tunes of folks like Cole Porter. There are more hits in this score than during a Mafia wedding: “Friendship,” “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “It’s De-Lovely” and, natch, the title tune. If hearing the sounds that make up the foundation of the Great American Songbook, belted out like Merman on speed, isn’t your idea of a fun night of theater, there’s something wrong with you.
Rachel York leads the cast as Reno Sweeney, the sassy cabaret star who’s chasing after a boy who has eyes on another girl, who is engaged to be married to a British lord, who doesn’t care much about marrying her …. Oy. Plot is not its friend. But jaunty one-liners, sexy men in sailor suits and timeless songs are. Even 80 years after it opened, the energy is as fresh as morning glory. (Through Sunday.)
How, then, can Catch Me If You Can at Fair Park Music Hall, which is just two years old, feel so much more dated than Anything Goes? Scored by the team that did Hairspray (partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and written by Terrence McNally, it’s also set in the 1960s and based on a hit movie. And that’s where the similarities cease.
What made the film version a hit wasn’t the plot — about Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenaged con man who charmed his way in life posing as an airline pilot, an ER surgeon and any other job he needed in order to kite bad checks) — it was the style brought to it by Steven Spielberg: Hip, jazzy, almost Hitchcockian, like North by Northwest. Well, you can’t recreate that style onstage — or, at least, this production can’t. It plods along, hoping that a boy whose complete lack of charisma was his chief asset can hold our attention. It can’t. Neither the play nor the film have a good love story, just a few romantic threads thrown in occasionally so that we don’t notice the two main characters (Frank and Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent chasing him) share almost no time together. It’s Les Miz without the pageantry.
It doesn’t help that the score is set in that netherworld genre of pop between doo-wop and psychedelic rock: The Vegasy finger-snapper. (Consider: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” came out within a year of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” — in what universe does that happen?) There’s perhaps some nostalgia going for it, but not much else; the genre simply has no bite on its own. The production seems like a cheap, non-Equity tour with muffin-topped dancing girls and merely serviceable sets. The singing is fine, but this is a show in desperate need of starpower. (Through Sunday.)
The stars of Kitchen Dog Theater‘s The Chairs, Rhonda Boutte and Raphael Parry, are two of Dallas’ most stylized actors, by which I mean they have a long history of twisting their faces and mouths and talking in strange accents to make themselves quirky. Often, that’s a distraction, but in this hilarious version of Ionesco’s absurdist classic — where an aged husband and wife frantically prepare their remote island home for an onslaught of invisible visitors, each of whom needs a seat — their otherness serves them, and the show, perfectly. Director Tim Johnson has constructed a funhouse style, with a door-filled set that allows for sudden entrances and exits and allow the play’s farcical heart to shine through.
But Johnson, Parry and Boutte also tap into something greater than the comedy: The acerbic anti-religious message Ionesco unmistakably but underhandedly inserts into all the slapstick. The Chairs is as thought-provoking as it is gut-wrenchingly hysterical. (Through March 9.)
Farce ain’t easy to pull off, but while Johnson’s manages it at The MAC, Rene Moreno does the same over at the Bath House Cultural Center for his own adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Restoration comedy The Lucky Chance for Echo Theatre. Moving the setting from the 17th century to “Mod London” of the 1960s, Moreno has combined the garishness of Carnaby Street with the outrageous sexual insouciance of the reign of the Merry Monarch.
Practically, what all this means is that characters dressed like they stepped off the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s (courtesy of Matthieu Ryan Smith) occasionally breaking into lip-synched Dusty Springfield songs.
It’s pretty amusing.
The plot has the insane complications and unlikely coincidences that audiences in the Renaissance had a greater tolerance for than I: Mistaken identities, saucy asides, cuckolded old farts and randy, breasty actresses. It doesn’t just go over the top — it stares down at the top from dizzying heights.
Even so, once you accept the silliness as part of the aesthetic, it’s easy to get lost in the crazy twists that include a dashing hero, a blue-balled old bridegroom *Bradley Campbell, who was born to make this kind of part believable), a fey, sexually ambivalent bon vivant (Ian Ferguson) and a blowsy landlady (Kateri Cole). Despite a too-long run-time, that cast sells it and takes you along as if you’ve been handcuffed to Austin Powers. Yeah, baby!
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