By John Horan Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The dim bar with a handful of patrons and a piano player seems an odd entree to "Anything Goes," that most effervescent of musicals, but in no time Erika Conaway is belting out "I Get A Kick Out Of You," and the scene shifts to the snazzy ocean liner that dominates the Orhstrom-Bryant stage.
Passengers bustle down the theater aisles amid commotion about who's going and who's staying, but soon they -- and the audience at Shenandoah Conservatory -- are off on a farcical journey filled with the tunes and witty lyrics of the inimitable Cole Porter.
The 1934 musical, Porter's first big Broadway hit, boasts a cornucopia of songs that have become standards: "You're the Top," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and the title song. This revised version mixes in melodies -- "Delovely," "Easy to Love" and "Friendship" -- from other Porter musicals.
The story, a three-sided romance with a subplot about gangsters and numerous zanies thrown in for good measure, is crafted better than most musicals'. But then its authors include P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who wrote "Life With Father."
Despite its age, "Anything Goes" remains fresh, even contemporary, with its glorification of celebrities and the rich and its references to cocaine and loose morals.
The Shenandoah production, directed by Carolyn Coulson-Grigsby, is ideally cast, with expert musicianship all around and credibly acted feature characters.
As Reno Sweeney, the evangelist-turned-nightclub-singer, Conaway conveys the self-assurance and brassy vocalism embodied by Ethel Merman, who originated the role, and Patty LuPone, who starred in the Lincoln Center revival in 1987.
AJ Ackleson is an affable Billy Crocker, with a deft comedic touch and an agreeably lyric tenor voice. Corinne Bupp, as the society gal he woos, is his worthy match.
Mikey Nagy revels in the role of Moonface Martin, a second-rate gangster yearning to move up the most wanted list. Abby Hart is his brash moll, whose charms captivate the crew.
Grayson Owen is the stuffy Brit, hopelessly and hilariously befuddled by American colloquialisms, who finally reveals his hidden Gypsy heritage in an uproarious number, seductively choreographed by Alan Arnett.
Rob Mobley is the soused financier, Alisha Eberhart the stuffy society matron and Ira Lindberg Harris the Obama-esque ship captain.
William Pierson's stately ship is not only wondrous to behold but cleverly designed: The band is perched on the top deck and the lower deck opens and revolves to reveal state rooms and the brig.
Wm. McConnell Bozman's lighting is effective and Cheryl Yancey's costumes sumptuous.
"Anything Goes" continues today at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The box office phone number is 665-4569.