WSU revives ‘Anything Goes’ 

The School of Performing Art’s fall musical “Anything Goes,” playing at the Wilner Auditorium this weekend, is an impressive showcase of campus talent. It’s also a classic musical, stuffed with switched identities, failed pranks, fantastic love and questionable ethnic humor. 

The New York based guest director and choreographer Bradley Allan Zarr, whose residency was sponsored with donations from philanthropy group Performing Arts Angels, brought an expert’s attention to the wonderfully executed ensemble dance numbers that sit at the heart of Cole Porter’s work. Zarr wore his Kansas roots on his sleeves on opening night, mentioning his family connections to the community. 

“I’m so moved by the community and generosity, and I can see there’s a strong support for the arts here,” Zarr said. 

Composer Cole Porter and  writer P.G. Wodehouse’s 1934  musical “Anything Goes” follows nightclub crooner Reno Sweeney (junior Kalene “Koko” Blanton) as she fails to marry adorably bumbling Billy Crocker (junior Trevor Seyl) and resolves to help him marry Hope Harcourt  (junior Caroline Boesen), the debutante he really loves. Nevermind that Billy and Hope only had one date. Also never mind that everyone just so happens to be trapped in the same boat, vividly evoked by an impressive stage set, including a convincing starry night sky. It’s a musical. 

Reno Sweeney isn’t the romantic lead, but directs the main love story with her hilarious schemes and plots from behind the scenes, all while leading the impressive, saltery dances. 

A musical is only as good as its goofy cast of side characters, which “Anything Goes” is chock full of. Special mention goes to the promiscuous Erma Latour (Xan Mattek), who moved her part of the plot exclusively through raunchy escapades and nailed the ear-piercing 1920’s New York ditzy accent. In addition, Moonface Martin (Matthew Alexander), played the role of a 13th-rate criminal with hilarious vitality, landing every joke with a saucy grin. 

It’s unfortunate that the musical rests on an extended gag about how hilarious it is to be Chinese. It’s not necessarily hostile racism, poking fun at white Americans by comparing opium to martinis. But it was enough for an audience member to say “Oh no,” when it became apparent the day would be won by the characters dressing up as racist caricatures. 

On that note, here’s a friendly reminder that the Opium Wars ruined countless lives in the name of Western imperialism and definitely wasn’t funny. 

The score though is undeniably catchy and the orchestra nailed it. The hit song “Anything Goes,” famous in the 21st century for appearing in the dystopian role-playing game “Fallout 3,” will worm its way into your head and live their comfortably for a few days. 

“Cole Porter’s music is brilliant, timeless, rhythmic and sexy,” musical director Phil Taylor says.  “It does all these things a lot of these contemporary scores don’t do anymore.”

Students can attend the play for free Saturday and Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.