Jesters Dinner Theatre: Anything Goes

It’s 1934 at the Jesters Dinner Theatre in Longmont, Colorado, and the S. S. American is about to set sail.

Among the passengers are Elisha Whitney, a wealthy Yale-educated businessman who urgently needs his assistant, Billy Crocker, to sell some stock for him while he’s away so that he stays rich; young ingénue Hope Harcourt and her mother Evangeline, and Hope’s fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Hope doesn’t love Lord Oakleigh, but her mother needs her to wed the Englishman to restore the family fortunes which have been devastated by the Great Depression.

Hope loves Billy Crocker, though she won’t admit it to herself, having just met that brash young American. Crocker, in turn, foregoes his duty to his employer Whitney and stows away on board the ship so that he can court the woman with whom he has fallen in love.

Just before the ship sails, Moonface Martin (public enemy #13) and his girlfriend Erma, anxious to escape a police dragnet, board the ship under false pretenses as well – Moonface assumes the identify of a priest heading to London for a conference.

What’s a cruise ship without entertainment? The entertainment on board the S.S. American will be provided by former evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, and her three showgirls Purity, Chastity and Charity. As it happens, Reno is friends with Billy Crocker and had imagined they were something more. She’s not happy when Billy reveals he has fallen in love with another.

And so the stage – and the ship – is set, for heartbreak, for romance, for love, for fortunes lost and found, for anything goes on board the S.S. American.

Audience members get to sit quite close to the stage at the Jesters Dinner Theatre

Audience members get to sit quite close to the stage at the Jesters Dinner Theatre

The Show

The Jesters Dinner Theatre’s production of Anything Goes is smooth sailing. (Sorry, I just had to slip in a nautical-flavored metaphor.)

The staging is sparse, of necessity. Because there’s the potential of patrons sitting to the far left and right of the stage, there can be no elaborate set-pieces to block their vision. The backdrop is of ship’s walls with portholes, and a few bits of furniture. The space is small enough that the actors move about on stage and can be seen easily from any seat in the house. Theatre purists will enjoy the fact that the actors aren’t miked. The acoustics are perfect and it was easy to hear and understand every word.

Actresses alternate performances for three of the key female roles. For the performance I saw, Reno Sweeney was played by Samantha Cooley. Hope Harcourt was played by Lize Bohnen. Hope’s mother Evangeline was played by Artie Thompson.

The sparse staging allows the actor’s performances to shine.

Alex Grant is appealing as the ne’er-do-well Billy Crocker, who charms every woman he meets but who is willing to give up everything for the lovely Hope Harcourt. Billy isn’t quite the lady’s man – for example Reno Sweeney has fallen in love with him, and believed he wanted to marry her, all because he never touched her or tried to kiss her in all the time she’d known him. He had behaved like a perfect gentleman which meant he must have had honorable designs – i.e. marriage – on her.

Lize Bohnen does a good job with Hope Harcourt, but she’s not given very much, it must be said. That’s the fault of the script, frankly….Reno Sweeney is such a vivacious character that Hope pales by comparison. Bohnen does well with her one solo, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” and pairs well with Grant for “It’s De-lovely.”

Artie Johnson shines as Evangeline, Hope’s mother. She is given some pretty good lines, as is Pat Massengill as Elisha Whitney.

One of the biggest laughs of the show was when Hope’s “stuffy” English fiancé reveals to Reno Sweeney “The Gypsy in Me.” The choreography of the accompanying dance is hilarious and Adam Thornburgh as Evelyn Oakleigh has a lot of fun with it. The same can be said for John Hedgepeth as Public enemy #13, Moonface Martin with his solo, “Be Like the Bluebird.”

But when she’s on stage, the stage belongs to Samantha Cooley’s Reno Sweeney. Reno is self-confident, talented, and despite a rival with Hope Harcourt for Billy Crocker’s affections, quite appealing. Cooley plays her to perfection, and delivers “I Get a Kick Out of You” and her half of “You’re the Top” with cool assurance.

Timing in vocal delivery is essential for the audience to get the most out of the witty dialog, and that timing is delivered here thanks to the direction of Mary Lou and Scott Moore.

Music and lyrics are by the incomparable Cole Porter.

Garden salad, chicken cordon bleu, and chocolate mousse pie

Garden salad, chicken cordon bleu, and chocolate mousse pie

The Dinner

The Jesters offers a variety of appetizers – soups, chips and salsas, quesadillas, over and above the entrees which are included in one’s ticket. (If one chooses the dinner and a show ticket. It’s also possible to purchase a ticket for the show alone.)

I chose the chicken cordon bleu. It was supposed to be drizzled with a béarnaise sauce but I asked for that on the side. The chicken cordon bleu was quite delicious, and the sauce went over the rice and made it quite tasty.

The desserts offered were also an extra charge, as is typical at a dinner theatre. Choices included ice cream sundaes, New York Style cheesecake, Chocolate Mousse pie, Apple pie, Mud pie, and a Root Beer Float.

Photo collages of past productions line the walls

Photo collages of past productions line the walls

The Venue: Jesters Dinner Theatre

You enter the Jesters Theatre and there is a small foyer. There are a couple of busts of jesters on the walls, and lining the hallways are photo collages from past productions. Comfy chairs are present in the foyer and in one of the halls.

The stage is not quite theatre in the round, but close. Patrons are seated to the far left and right of the stage, but these are not really bad views because the staging compensates for it. Scenes take place from one side of the stage to the other. Regardless of where you are sitting you are actually quite close to the stage, with good sightlines.

There are only two stalls in the woman’s bathroom. Two! However, since it is not a 300-seat house, this probably doesn’t present much of a problem during intermission.

Over all, the phrase “intimate space” describes it very well. An excellent space for theatre, delivering an immediacy that adds to the overall enjoyment of the production.

A Note About Anything Goes

If you take a look at the program for Anything Goes, you’ll see that the Jesters is performing the “Beaumont Theatre Version.” This refers to the 1987 Broadway revival of the show at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. The script differs in a few respects from other productions.

You’ll also see that Guy Bolton, P.G. Woodhouse (of  Bertie Wooster and Jeeves fame) Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse are credited as the authors of the original “book” or script – which had much of the action taking place after the cast had been shipwrecked on a desert island. This book was jettisoned after a cruise ship, the SS Morro Castle, caught fire and cost the lives of several passengers. Timothy Crouse and John Weidman provided a new script which has been the basis for all productions since.

It’s show business convention that even if a show’s “previous” book is not used, its original creators must still be given credit.

Barbara Peterson

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