In light of the recent less-than-desirable news coming from today’s cruise ships, there’s one ocean liner tha’s landed in town that everyone will want to hop aboard.
The campy and delightful Tony Award-winning musical, “Anything Goes” opened Tuesday night at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in its first visit to the Twin Cities.
Sprinkled with the iconic music and comedy of Mr. Cole Porter, this upbeat production shows when it comes to love, there’s nothing better than a little mistaken identity and good ol’ fashioned blackmail.
Edward Staudenmayer, who plays Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, is a veteran of the stage. Having performed on Broadway (in Wonderland and Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me) before hitting the road for a number of touring productions, Staudenmayer said this is the best tour he’s been a part of in his entire career.
We spoke with Staudenmayer before the big opening night about the show and his visit to the Twin Cities.
For those not familiar, tell us a little about the show.
It takes place on an ocean liner heading from New York to London in 1934 and it’s really a comedy of errors of sorts, a big farce. There’s a young man and he’s fallen in love with a debutant and he’s a stock broker working for a rich tycoon, and he sees this woman that he’s fallen in love with — she’s about to get married to a British lord — so he smuggles himself aboard the ship and pursues her and tries to win her. In the process, there’s all these different love triangles. Also on board is one of his dear friends, Reno Sweeney, who’s a night club singer/evangelist. And there’s also a gangster, public enemy no. 13 is on board. So there’s a big farce and lot of love interests that happen and people pretending to be things they’re not. It’s a silly little romp on the high seas.
You play Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. What’s he like?
I’m a British lord and it’s set in 1934. I’m a guy who is trying to get married. It’s something I need to do for my family, it’s a bribe. I love everything about the United States and I have met this young debutant who is a great choice for me and seems like she’d be a great lady of the house. So our plan is to take the boat back to England and get married. Unfortunately, she has fallen in love with somebody else but the situation has her mother involved and her father has passed, they lost money in the stock market — in the big crash — so they’re trying to maintain their family’s wealth, so they’re hitching her up to this rich, wealthy British lord, which is me. So it’s a matter of society and it’s kind of a little “Downton Abbey” with the arrangements and marriages that are made to keep the wealthy, wealthy. But she’s in love with this up-and-coming stock broker.
But it’s all campy and funny, right?
Oh yes, it’s told through this really funny farce. This great book has been revamped and rewritten but it’s also amazing how this old piece from 1934 and how much it’s maintained in the show. And the writers often try to write it with that 1934 mentality. So one of the major things we have going for us is the incredible score by Cole Porter — the most fantastic lyrics that were ever written. It’s just so bubbly and fresh and funny and witty. And some of the things that he rhymes, there’s no finer songs than when Cole Porter’s writing the songs and the music. Just a bubbly glass of champagne, that’s the whole show. It’s got that kind of uplifting, fun, frothy feel the whole night.
And a lot of the tunes will be familiar to the audience, like “I Get a Kick out of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, “Anything Goes.” But there’s also a bit of an introduction to some of his lesser-known songs, as well?
Yeah, my song for instance is not a really famous Cole Porter song but it’s so delightful and fun and there’s a great dance involved with it. It’s a big surprise. I don’t want to give away too much but my character makes a big change and it’s one of the big show-stoppers of the evening.
Speaking of dancing, there’s quite a bit of tap dancing in this production. How long did it take to learn the choreography?
Well, we rehearsed for four weeks in the city. I believe the ensemble cast members came in earlier so I think I rehearsed for three weeks, they rehearsed four weeks. They came in to learn the really lengthy long tap numbers and other dances too, so they had an extra week of rehearsals before I came in as one of the principal actors. So yeah, it took a while. It was a process. You learn a little bit day-by-day and then you work on something else and you go back to it and add something else. The choreography is just so inventive and fun and such a joy to do.
What about the cast in this show? What’s it like working with everyone?
Well, we’re led by Broadway veteran Rachel York, who I’ve been a fan of, just forever. She’s truly a star — beautiful, sings like an angel, funny as can be. And as far as our cast, we are so fortunate — and it’s funny because one of the Chicago papers mentioned this in their review — that you’re not going to see a touring production that has a line-up like the characters we have in our bullpen. We have some of the finest character actors working in the business. So it’s so fun to do the play because everyone is such a pro and at the top of their game. Even people in the understudy roles, they have major careers of their own … we’re so lucky. I think the show was so good in New York and then when auditions came around for the tour and to work with our director Kathy Marshall and to be a part of this production, we all jumped at the chance. So we have really terrific pros in this production.
How familiar were you with the show before auditioning?
You know, I had done a production of it when I was still in college. I was in the ensemble. I played a sailor. So I knew it and I liked the show but I didn’t know that it could be as good and as funny and fresh as this production. I think it’s because of our wonderful director/choreographer Kathy Marshall.
I know you’ve done work on Broadway as well as other touring shows. What are some of the major differences or the pros and cons for you?
Well it’s really nice to be able to be home and not have to move around every few weeks with a show so it’s nice to have that. And Broadway means a lot, it’s like the top of our game — it’s the top place to be. But I’ve never had so much fun on a tour as I am on this production. I have a wonderful part, I have a wonderful leading lady that I get to fall in love with every night, I get to be a part of this wonderful production that I’ve been talking about.
I drive myself and I’m traveling with my little dog and we are driving across the country, and I’m really getting to see our country, which is really a neat way to experience it. So most of my days off aren’t really off. I spent all day yesterday getting here from Chicago but it was gorgeous. I don’t think I’d ever really visit the Wisconsin Dells, you know, it’s just not a place I would ever really think of going but it was absolutely gorgeous. And I got to experience it and see it and it was lovely. I feel really blessed about this tour. It’s nice to be home and cozy at home but I have a little piece of home, my dog, so every morning when I get to snuggle with him, it makes it fun. I’m looking out at my gorgeous view of St. Paul and I’ve never really spent time in St. Paul, so it’s great. We went to the river today, we went to the ballpark — we go to just about every ballpark in the country now. We should write a book. So I’m having a very positive experience with this because you know, touring can be hard — you’re away from your friends and family but this has been the best tour I’ve ever done.
I really hope that people spread the word about this show and they sell tickets and come. Because everybody who comes to see the show, they’re really blown away. I don’t think they realizes how much fun they were going to have. You know, this old revival, this old, classic show that everybody kind of knows, but they really haven’t seen a production of this caliber in a very long time. There was a big revival in 1987 but then the tour didn’t really happen and fizzled out. So the places we go, the people are so pleasantly surprised. We hear all the time from house managers at theaters, the audience members go up to them and say, ‘Thank you so much, this is the best show that we’ve seen here in years.’ Of all the touring shows they’ve seen, this is the one they love the most. It’s exciting to be a part of that.
“Anything Goes” runs through May 12 at the Ordway. For tickets or more information, click here.