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Love and laughs win out in Lancaster's lively 'Anything Goes'

Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," 85 years old this year, long ago transitioned from being a contemporary hit to joining the realm of theatrical standards.

Thankfully, though the plot is as creaky as a pair of 85-year-old knees, in the right hands the music, energy and shameless humor of the show can remain fresh, even in their familiarity.

And fresh it is in the current production at Lancaster Opera House, where a young and enthusiastic cast delivers a delightful and de-lovely version of Porter's classic comedy.

The story falls under the category of madcap romance. While seeing his boss off on a trans-Atlantic ship headed for London, Billy Crocker runs into the girl of his dreams, Hope Harcourt, who is traveling to England with her mother and her inconvenient fiance, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Determined to win over Hope before she is hitched, Billy finds a way to stay on the ship.

Also on-board are entertainer Reno Sweeney, a fallen evangelist, and her quartet of showgirls, the fallen angels Charity, Chastity, Purity and Virtue. Rounding out the main characters are gangster-on-the-lam Moonface Martin and gun moll Bonnie, whose boyfriend, Public Enemy No. 1, has missed the boat.

With nine more actors in the supporting cast, it makes for a crowded deck when everyone is onstage together, and choreographer Kevin Leary deserves a round of applause for gracefully dancing the action through several big musical numbers with style and no collisions. David Dwyer's stacked-deck set design helps with the entrances and exits, and with keeping the players out of each other's way.

That lets us focus instead on the silly circumstances unfolding on-board. Brian Klimowski is a sweetheart as Billy, lovesick enough to bend the rules but decent enough not to totally break them. He sings Porter's classics "You're the Top" and "It's De-Lovely" with a sincerity that makes it seem like they were written yesterday (although references to Milton Berle, Jimmy Durant and cellophane tip their age), and his many disguises do nothing to hide his charm.

That doesn't mean we can't also root for Chris J. Handley as the out-of-place Brit Sir Evelyn. Though he's clearly wrong for the spirited Hope (a lovely Sarah Blewett), he isn't diabolical, he's just too accommodating. Whether in sport coat, tuxedo or his underwear, Handley shows that, despite his title, Evelyn has the heart of a true underdog who is just looking for the right woman to unleash his passion.

And so we introduce Reno Sweeney, played with sexy swagger by Katie Egan, who leads Sir Evelyn down a lusty path with "Let's Misbehave," is front and center with "I Get a Kick Out of You," and leads the way for the rest of the company in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and the title song /irrepressible earworm "Anything Goes."

Mary Bellanti embodies stuffy society as Hope's social climbing motel, and Jeremy Kreuzer is her diametrically opposed counterpoint as the hapless criminal Moonface Martin, with Valerie Bochenski giving Bonnie, the jilted moll, a new life of her own. All have a high time camping it up in the roles of jokey 1930s stereotypes, with Kreuzer especially entertaining as the street smart but otherwise dim jailbird.

The period costumes by Jimm Halliday are gorgeously reminiscent of a time when people actually dressed up when they traveled and the musicians, under the direction of Fran Landis, show a real understanding of Porter's music.

Opening night there were a few little sound problems involving popping and feedback, a couple of missed lines and some other minor staging issues, none of it particularly distracting and all secondary to the exuberance of the performers. Director David Bondrow makes solid use of the various strengths of the large cast, allowing the audience to sit back in its figurative deck chairs and enjoy the range of talents in the ship board parade.

Cole Porter never heard of CNN or Fox when he wrote "Just think of those shocks you've got / And those knocks you've got / And those blues you've got / From that news you've got .... ," but even now, eight decades later, he got it right with "Anything Goes."

THEATER REVIEW

"Anything Goes"

3 stars (out of four)

Runs through April 7 at Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster. Tickets are $30; $28 for seniors, $10 for students, online at lancopera.org,

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