"You're the top! You're an Arrow collar! / You're the top! You're a Coolidge dollar!" What the heck is an Arrow collar?
With a basic education in U.S. history, you can take a stab at Coolidge dollar, but you would have to be a fashion historian, or 90 years old, to know what an Arrow collar is.
Legendary composer and songwriter, Cole Porter, encapsulated the popular culture of his time. Take a song like "You're the Top," and you can identify exactly what this country was obsessed with in 1934: everything from the marvels of science and advertising ("You're cellophane; you're Pepsodent") to public works ("You're the Dam at Boulder; you're the National Gallery"), with politicians and pop stars thrown in between. By all rights, songs like this one should now be quaint anachronisms, but they still sound so fresh today you get right into them, even if you do not know what they mean.
To hear Cole Porter performed both live and lively is reason enough to go see Anything Goes, a production of the Heights Players, the oldest theater company in Brooklyn. For nearly 50 years, this company of local talent has offered eclectic and challenging seasons of works ranging from fervent to farce, in a little theater in the half-round with actors and audience almost cheek-to-jowl. The challenge for the troupe this time was to take a musical whose book is a less-than-quaint anachronism and make it entertaining enough to tolerate while waiting for the next immortal song. And they actually pull it off.
The story, a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-type shipboard contrivance of disguises and wrong matches made right at the end, is just a fluffy little platform for a collection of Porter at his best, songs that, by now, need no platform at all. People may have found such devices amusing in 1934, but it is hard to do so now. The dialogue is barely witty, the characters flat, and the plot stereotypical. All the more challenge for a director to overcome these handicaps, and Steve Velardi has done an admirable job.
Given the restrictions of the original book by Guy Bolton, PG Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse, the acting was admirable too. Erika White as the blowsy, boozing singer Reno Sweeney - the part played by Ethel Merman in the 1934 Broadway production and subsequent 1936 movie - gives a gutsy if not lusty performance and belts out a good tune. Her fellow lead, Zachary Scott Abramowitz as the ingenuous but resourceful Wall Street lackey Billy Crocker, is not able to rise above the insipidity of the script and does not have the vocal range or power to do justice to Porter's romantic masterpieces "Easy to Love" and "All Through the Night."
Alea Vorillas as Billy's true love Hope Harcourt, sings touchingly but acts blandly, while Raymond Adams as her fianc