All Aboard!: The S.S. American Sets Sail at CCES

Mattea Koon, Senior Editor

What do a lovesick broker, a theatrical evangelist, a masquerading mobster, and a British lord have in common?  They have neighboring staterooms on the majestic ocean liner the S.S. American!  This spring, Molly Aiken and a fantastic cast of 35 CCES high school students revived Cole Porter’s 1930’s classic Anything Goes.

The musical opens in a Manhattan bar.  It is closing time as Fred the bartender (Jack Evans) hands the thoroughly drunk Elisha Whitney (Elliot Jarret) a bottle of liquor.  Suddenly, Billy Crocker, an adventurous stock broker played by Harrison Johnson, enters.  He carries several travel items for Whitney – among them a stuffed bulldog (Whitney is, after all, a Yale man).

The audience learns that Whitney will be leaving New York on the S.S. American.  Also on board will be Crocker’s beloved Hope Harcourt (Olivia McCall) and the sharp Reno Sweeney (Cates McLean).  Sweeney, the ship’s singer, loves Crocker who in turn loves Harcourt, leaving Whitney with a bottle and a bulldog.

To pursue his love, Crocker stows away on the American with the help of fellow fugitive, Public Enemy Number Thirteen, Moonface Martin – played by Isaiah Hogue.  Martin, disguised as a minister, totes a machine gun in a violin case and struggles with the flirtatious Erma (Maggie Hamberis).

Other passengers on the American include the corrupt Reverend Henry T. Dobson (Jack Evans) and his Chinese converts, Luke (Jason Chen), a compulsive gambler, and John (Lance Zhang).  Ellie Williams as Evangeline Harcourt, Hope’s mother, is also on board, traveling with her daughter’s fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (David Moore).  Finally, the handsome Bandit Smith reprised the role of Cheeky, Evangeline Harcourt’s fearless pooch.

Crocker, disguised in a baggy sailor’s uniform, tries to blend in with the ship’s crew (Josh Rogers, Ben Kirby, Heyward Hodges, Stephan Schmitz-Justen, Justin Trenor, and Bradley Walker).  He navigates this colorful cast in search of Hope.  Dismayed to discover her engagement, Crocker tries to win her back, leading her in an elegant moonlit dance that featured McCall’s graceful ballet skills.

The first act ends with the entire cast singing “Anything Goes.” This number was accompanied by a spectacular dance scene.  It featured exceptional synchronized tap-dancing – the biggest surprise of the performance.

In Act II, Crocker’s efforts to court Hope have failed.  She has fallen in love with him but feels bound to marry Oakleigh for her mother’s sake.  She refuses Crocker, and he resorts to trickery.  First, Sweeney attempts to break up the wedding by seducing a half dressed – briefs, an undershirt, socks, garters, and a sabre – Oakleigh.

Later, Crocker dons a deerstalker cap and a beard suspiciously reminiscent of Cheeky and approaches Evangeline Harcourt.  He introduces himself, saying that he has arrived from a mental hospital.  Oakleigh, he explains, is in fact his deranged patient.  Evangeline faints and the wedding seems canceled until Crocker is unmasked and mistaken for Public Enemy Number One.

This unexpected twist improves Crocker’s status on the ship.  In fact, he becomes a celebrity with Anne McEvoy, Leyly Bagherof, Maggie Ramirez, Eileen Robertson, Caroline Vermillion, and Yunshu Zhang playing his smitten admirers.  He is even offered a front row seat at Reno Sweeney’s popular cabaret.

Sweeney opens the cabaret with her four lovely ‘angels,’ Purity (Jesse Hasty), Chastity (Kay O’Connor), Charity (Caroline Willcox), and Virtue (Melissa Cochrane).  Before the show, the pious Sweeney asks for the audience’s confessions.  Oakleigh obliges by stating that he had had a relationship with a woman, Little Plum Flower, in China.  The cabaret follows this shocking revelation with Sweeney and the angels grandly singing “Blow Gabriel Blow.”

At the end of the evening, another secret comes to light – Crocker is not Public Enemy Number One.  Ironically, he is immediately handcuffed and taken to the brig along with Moonface.  As Crocker begins to doubt his ability to win Hope, John and Luke are thrown into the cell on charges of winning too much money from the other passengers.  Unlike Moonface and Crocker, they will soon be released.

The situation seems bleak when Sweeney, who has fallen for Oakleigh, comes below deck.  The unscrupulous Sweeney immediately sees a solution.  She knocks John and Luke unconscious, allowing Moonface and Crocker to steal their clothing and impersonate them to evade the guards.

Disguised as the Chinese converts, Moonface and Crocker reach the deck just as the wedding commences.  Crocker interrupts, claiming to be the father of Little Plum Flower.  He points to his daughter, Sweeney in disguise, and explains that Oakleigh must marry her to preserve honor.

Hope and Oakleigh quickly catch on and agree to Crocker’s demands.  Oakleigh joins Sweeney, and Hope reunites with Crocker.  Even Whitney finds love when Evangeline agrees to marry him.  Unfortunately for Cheeky, the Whitney’s bulldog is stuffed!

The Christ Church Episcopal Upper School’s spring production of Anything Goes was a hit.  Ms. Carter proclaimed, QUOTE.  Ms. White stated QUOTE.

Several aspects of the show stood out.  The choreography, especially the tap dancing, added a flare new to the CCES stage.  Throughout the performance, actors executed humorous and elegant dances while delivering witty lines and singing catchy music numbers.

The acting was also exceptional.  Cates McLean embodied the wry humor of Reno Sweeney through her polished voice and coquettish gazes, and David Moore perfected Oakleigh’s good-natured confusion (not to mention a British accent).  Meanwhile, Harrison Johnson mastered Crocker’s bold attitude across from Olivia McCall’s tender portrayal of Hope Harcourt.  Ellie Williams personified the selfish and indulgent Evangeline alongside Elliot Jarett’s spectacularly drunken Whitney.  The audience especially responded to Maggie Hamberises’s hilarious portrayal of Erma and Isaiah Hogue’s comical gangster gun-slinging.

The entire cast – with the dancing angels, the harmonizing sailors, and the humorous passengers – brought the show to life, engaging the audience from beginning to end.  The stage crew, including Kerryn Stroud, Mary Helen Ezell, Emile Batchelder-Schwab, Niklas Abbing, Rene van der Weiden, Worth Gentry, Steven Till, and Caroline Andrews, completed excellent scene changes and added well-timed lighting.  Finally, the orchestra, conducted by Molly Aiken on the ship’s upper-deck, completed the show.

Congratulations to the cast of Anything Goes!