by David Pierce
Anything Goes, the latest production in the Iowa City Community Theatre’s (ICCT’s) 61st season is a fairly entertaining show until it is marred at the end by racism in the script.
I would rather not be talking about this. I would rather be talking about the spectacular performances of several in the cast. And I will. But the racism needs to be addressed and called out.
Here’s the set-up. The play features two young male Chinese characters. Unfortunately, they were played by two white performers. That was bad enough. But the reason the characters are in the script at all is so their clothing can be taken and wore by two white characters, who then appear on stage in Chinese costume, shuffling their feet and speaking broken English.
This isn’t a difficult call. This isn’t a gray area. No one would hesitate for a moment to call two white performers playing two African characters racist, nor would they hesitate to call white characters coming out in the garb of some African tribe racist. Doing that with Asians is the exact same thing as doing it with blacks. It’s racist and it’s unacceptable.
So, other than that, what did I think of the play?
There are a lot of strong performances here, led by two of the female leads. Mia Fryvecind Gimenez is a revelation as Reno. She’s a part of all the strongest musical numbers, singing duets on ‘You’re The Top’ (with Dustin Davis’ Billy) and ‘Friendship’ (with Jeffrey Allen Mead’s Moonface) and solo lead on ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’, and most notably of all the show’s title song, ‘Anything Goes’. She’s also on stage for the musical highlight of Act Two, being sung to by Sam O’Brien’s Lord Evelyn Oakleigh with ‘The Gypsy in Me’. Gimenez brings strong acting and dancing chops to her role in addition to her standout vocals.
Just as strong is Angela McConville as Erma. I have to admit I’m a bit biased here. I brought Angela into local theatre as my assistant director on Death of a Salesman a couple of years ago. That said, she’s wonderful here, displaying a great accent, perfect comedic timing, and strong singing and dancing skills that helped her create a fully-realized character out of a part that would be a cliché in lesser hands.
If no one else in the cast is as good as these two, it’s less about the talent of those cast members and more about how good these two are. The aforementioned Davis gives a strong performance as the male lead, displaying great chemistry with both Gimenez and Alyanna Ann Schwartz’s Hope Harcourt. Mead gives his usual strong performance as the comedy foil for the show, bouncing comedic energy off both Davis and McConville. And while O’Brien’s Lord Oakleigh is subdued for most of the show, his singing and dancing in ‘The Gypsy in Me’ was worthy of a standing ovation on its own.
Another highlight of the show is the work of choreographer Payton Proud, with an assist from Kate Jochum. It’s great choreography throughout, with the best coming during ‘Anything Goes’. This song features great tap dancing from Gimenez, which slowly over the course of the song adds on people until by the end the entire cast is tap dancing onstage.
Also worth mentioning is the costuming and the set design. There are four credited costume goddesses, so it’s hard to know who gets credit for what. Suffice it to say the costuming all throughout was as close to perfect for the period as you can get for a community theatre production.
The scenic designer is J. Guerdon Mayfield, who has designed a creative set where the thrust of the stage is the bow of a ship with the front of the ship’s cabin area at the back of the stage. This opens up to reveal the orchestra at the start of Act Two. It’s a very creative and original use of the space.
This isn’t to say the production is flawless from a technical standpoint. The orchestra is inconsistent, strong at points and coming close to falling apart at others. It’s possible this was an opening night problem, though.
The blocking, which ranged from good to adequate to poor, was also an issue. While the set design was creative, it was often a poor choice from a functional standpoint. When two people were in the bow of the ship, they often stood face to face, meaning a large portion of the audience only saw the back of one actor. This was a common problem all throughout, and the actors didn’t cheat any – standing the feet looking at each other, but angling their bodies so the audience could see them – near enough. Another instance stands out. After the number that opens Act Two, we had one actress onstage singing a solo. This was a perfect opportunity to bring her down near the audience, as no one else was onstage. Instead, she stood at the very back of the stage, right next to the orchestra which over-powered her.
Anything Goes runs through this Sunday at ICCT. Tickets are available here.
- I’m an absolute sucker for an all-cast tap dancing number.
The pre-show music featured a lovely singer doing Cole Porter numbers. Unfortunately, the singer isn’t credited in the program notes. It would have been nice to know the name of the singer.
- The orchestra features the return of trumpeter Don Hughes. Don is great, and he has a standout solo on ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’.
- The show started about five minutes late. By the time the pre-show speech was finished, it was about seven minutes late. As my high school drama instructor drilled into us, you start the show on time. Not one minute late. Not two minutes late. On time.
- Speaking of pre-show speeches, I know theatres are using these as an opportunity to reach the audience. Nonetheless, I maintain the perfect pre-show speech is ‘Thanks for coming. Give us your money. Give us your time. Turn off your stuff. Enjoy the show.’