Local lights shine brightly in ‘Anything Goes’

Leigh Barrett as Reno Sweeney and Jared Troilo as Billy Crocker in “Anything Goes.” Photo: Herb Philpott

WALTHAM – Once a Rockette, always a Rockette. And no Rockette is likely to forget what made the name world-famous and the troupe the standard bearers for precision choreography.

Former Rockette Eileen Grace is now a director and choreographer who has choreographed touring productions of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” as well as other special events involving the dance troupe. She has also been involved in many non-Rockette productions, and her work at the Reagle Music Theatre has earned her four IRNE Awards.

She is directing and choreographing Reagle’s current production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” and it’s guaranteed to dance its way right into your heart.

There is a magical showstopper of a production number which just happens to be the show’s title tune.

OK, it would have stopped the show anyway, because it was the finale of Act I, but it sends the show off into intermission on such a high note it had the audience floating on air.

Nothing short of a power outage could have stopped Act II from being just as successful, and the troupe responds with another knockout production number in “Blow, Gabriel Blow.”

The 30’s were a time when Americans were looking for something — anything — that could distract them from the hardships of the Great Depression; it was a time when many movies or plays were upbeat and aiming for pure escapism, the more carefree the better. Preferably, by the finale, everyone – or almost everyone – was in the the money.

The updated book of “Anything Goes” is still pretty thin gruel, more of a Christmas tree on which to hang those delightful Cole Porter tunes and the production numbers.

The original 1934 book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and then revised again by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman.

The show takes place on the cruise ship the S.S. American, sailing out of New York City. A sultry nightclub singer by the name of Reno Sweeney (Leigh Barrett, whose voice remains the most durable and consistent vocal instrument in the area) is carrying a longtime torch for a Wall Street broker named Billy Crocker, smartly played by Jared Troilo, who has evolved into a go-to leading man type for musicals.

Billy sees Reno as a good friend but is entranced by ingenue Hope Harcourt (Libby Rosenfield), who happens to be engaged to a fellow passenger named Sir Evelyn Oakleigh.

Billy is enlisted by his booze-chasing boss Eli Whitney (Reagle regular Rick Sherburne), a Yale man times 10 (and the rare instance of a name that’s a double-pun), to go off to Wall Street and dump off a stock Eli’s been tipped is about to crash. He, of course, never gets off the boat and ends up being a stowaway. Comic chaos ensues — Billy is eventually mistaken for a gangster — but all will eventually be wrapped in a neat bow.

It all requires strong comedic skills and Grace and Producing Artistic Director Bob Eagle have stocked “Anything Goes” with old pros who know what to do when given their cue.

J.T. Turner’s turn as comical convict Moonface Martin (“Public Enemy No. 13”) is right in the veteran actor’s wheelhouse, and he’s just as at home singing (“Be Like the Bluebird”).

But the real comic chops come from Mark Linehan, showing off hisloose-limbed physical comedy skills and an outrageous English accent as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, the English royal who thinks he wants to marry Hope.

He is being egged on Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (Karen Finale) the gold-digging mother of Hope, the now-broke debutante. Evangeline is determined her daughter will marry into the Oakleigh fortune. Linehan as Sir Evelyn is a hilarious Mr. Malaprop when it comes to American slang and constantly finds himself in compromising positions while also saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

By the way, that indestructible Cole Porter score features “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You‘re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “It‘s De-Lovely,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and, of course the title tune, and you’ll be tapping your foot along with the music and the wonderfully witty lyrics that Porter was renowned for.

Reagle is celebrating its 50th season and it seems one area where Eagle has been tweaking his formula is eschewing the use of a well-known TV or Broadway star to headline his shows. Last season, former “Dukes of Hazzard” star Tom Wopat landed himself in jail on the day the show was supposed to open, and created a massive headache for Eagle and the cast of “42nd Street.”This season, he has engaged proven local talent to headline his shows.

I don’t know if there’s a connection there, but I wouldn’t be shocked if there were. An upcoming production of “The Music Man” will feature Linehan and Jennifer Ellis.

And if the audience reaction at a recent production of “Anything Goes” is any indication, the local lights are shining quite brightly, thank you.

The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston production of “Anything Goes.” Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Original book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. Directed and choreographed by Eileen Grace. Lighting design by David Wilson. Music director by Dan Rodriguez. At the Robinson Theatre through July 15. reaglemusictheatre.com.

The ensemble in a scene from “Anything Goes.” Photo: Herb Philpott