Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
The Encinal Drama Department, which has never backed down from a theatrical challenge, is currently presenting a major opus: Cole Porter’s nautical blockbuster: ANYTHING GOES.
Navigated through the choppy waters of eight weeks of rehearsals by Admiral Robert Moorhead ably assisted by Vocal Chief Bonnie Nelson Duffy and a First Mate Choreographer Amy Moorhead, the crew of the USS America, nearly fifty ecstatic Encinal students, steers clear of any shoals and opens with a dazzling, brilliant, seemingly flawless, performance.
Like the engine room of a cruise ship, the cast and crew come together in perfect harmony to sail, sing and dance across the Encinal stage.
Nearly every star is born on a high school stage and it would be no surprise if at least one career is launched by this superb production: leading lady Samantha Jackson as Reno Sweeny is simply smashing.
Just as you are certain Miss Jackson couldn’t get more over the top, she does it: again and again.
Miss Jackson starts out with a polished and restrained rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You” and continues to unveil and unleash more and more of her conspicuous talent as she moves through a duet: “You’re the Top” with co-star Khye Booker.
But Miss Jackson is just warming up; during the rousing signature song: “Anything Goes” Miss Jackson captures the USS America and most of the audience; when she hits the decks with “Blow Gabriel Blow” she pulls out all the control rods and totally rocks the house: absolutely stunning.
Khye Booker, certainly no stranger to the stage, is another amazing asset; the man does it all: acting, comedy, great vocals and on-the-money dancing.
Khye has such a range of facial expressions, that he could be a mime artist.
“You’re the Top;” his satiny crooning duet and flirtatious pas de deux with the dazzling Miss Jackson is one of the major highlights of the show; his sophisticated aplomb captures the elegant cosmopolitan spirit of a Cole Porter musical.
Chris Womack, as the very dapper Elisha Whitney, is delightfully marvelous and convincingly sophisticated.
Chris steps so far into his character, that he can only be recognized on stage by his immediate family and closest friends.
Dora Chu, as the tres chic Girl at the Bar, demonstrates the Broadway adage that “there are no small parts in theater;” Dora delivers a very carefully crafted version of “Bon Voyage” blending technical precision with her native mellifluence.
Another jewel in this richly encrusted crown is Cienna Johnson as hopelessly conflicted Hope Harcourt.
Following the arrest of her secret love, Billy, Cienna sings “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” with the wistfully riveting melancholy sweetness of a nightingale and a manicured excellence that reveals true professional coaching.
Raymond Cole-Machuca, hangs up his baseball cap and takes up the frame-cover of the USS America Captain.
As the most affable Captain, Ray had the officer-like bearing and chiseled commanding speech of a real Navy Officer but with miles of heart and none of the bluster.
A certain effusive beacon in the chorus—Elaine Spencer—sustains a beaming smile and a booming voice; her radiance can easily replace one or more Klieg lights and her vocal exuberance obviates a lavaliere microphone.
Angel #1, a.k.a. Emma Finn, adds a sultry athleticism to her high stepping chorus line numbers; matching precision with verve and brio.
The huffy MRS Harcourt—a predator and gold digger posing as a house plant—is played with oodles of histrionics by a generally composed Sarah Russell.
Kinga Vasicsek, boldly dives headlong into her foxy, flirtatious and feisty character, assuming a very worldly nonchalance in the moral twilight zone of the opportunistic Erma.
Ethan McGuire creates a Moonface Marlin that exudes vice and sleaze; he seems to exalt in crime for crime’s sake.
McGuire’s Moonface is so malevolently unctuous you can’t wait to wash your hands after listening to his shyster shtick; he is superbly slick; he must have been born during an election year.
McGuire has a future in politics.
Sound and lights for this amazingly complex show never dip below professional production standards thanks to technicians like Fanny Liu, Jenny Zhoa, Jin Bao Lei, Claire Contendre and Drew Bixel.
The show runs for another week and is easily the cultural highlight of this academic year.
Cancel your travel plans, elective surgery and elopement and get thee to ANYTHING GOES.
For tickets and information, contact the Encinal Box Office at 510-748-4023.