Curtain Call

By City Pulse Staff

It’s still de-lovely

There’s not a lot of pop culture left over from 1934 that’s still relevant today. Jokes about medicinal cocaine snorting, ribald gypsy souls and Chinese accents are beyond passé — they’re downright distasteful. So how does “Anything Goes,” playing through Sunday at the Wharton Center, get away with it? Two words: Cole Porter. OK, well maybe two more: Rachel York.

From the second the curtain rises, you realize something’s different. Modern touring shows have been moving toward a cinematic style, relying on an abundance of props and complex moving sets to hide the boards. But “Anything Goes” plops you onto a stationary ship deck and lets the action play out there, just like they did in the old days. And you know what? It works beautifully.

Of course, with Porter’s clever lyrics and seductive music, they could have set the whole thing in the brig and it would have been just as good. “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship,” “I Get a Kick Out of You” and the title number are just as fun, funny and addictive as they were nearly 80 years ago. If only all art held up this well.

There were some technical glitches — a herky-jerky sliding set threatened to spill a couple of actors during a scene change, and one of the bulkhead hatches seemed to have a paranormal life of its own, distractingly popping open during two of the numbers. Ironically, these modern conveniences only detracted from the deliciously retro feel of the show.

The meltingly sexy “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and the slapstick joy of “The Gypsy in Me” are standout showstoppers, alternately driven and anchored by the radiant York. The word “magnetic” gets thrown around a lot when describing powerhouse performances, but I dare anyone to try to take their eyes off York anytime she’s on stage, whether leading the tap dance title number or simply letting her silk teddy slip off her statuesque shoulder. De-lovely, indeed.

“Anything Goes”
Wharton Center
Oct. 16-21
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday- Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday $32-$72

‘Peach’ fuzzy

Every child — and heck, most every adult —dreams of embarking on a grand journey, and the best theater performances allow audiences to do just that. But while “James and the Giant Peach” offers an ample dose of high adventure, that transportive quality is surprisingly evasive.

Based on Roald Dahl's beloved children’s book, “James” follows the titular orphan as he escapes his miserable existence via a magical, fuzzy fruit and befriends a crew of madcap arthropods. The show is enthusiastically performed by the game cast, but enthusiasm is all they have to work with. Jokes, quips and songs fall flat, and entire chunks of dialogue are either inaudible or incomprehensible. At times it is difficult to see what a child would glean from it all, other than being distracted by the din and some colorful costumes.

The true highlight of the show is the set, sound and projection design. The creative use of backdrop projection to depict the gargantuan peach, light graphics on the stage floor and simple yet effective sonic flourishes work to immerse you in this world. Although the decision to stage most of the action on a spiral staircase at the rear of the set — likely for practical reasons — affords some fun cast interactions, it inhibits a true suspension of disbelief into this fantasy world.

“James” does have enough whimsy to mostly entertain children (the target audience), but adults might find themselves squirming as if they’d sat on a peach pit.

“James and the Giant Peach”
MSU Department of Theatre
Through Oct. 21
7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
$20 general/$10 students/$13 seniors, faculty/$8 children
MSU Pasant Theatre
Wharton Center, East Lansing

Real ‘Steel’

Starlight Dinner Theatre’s revival of “Steel Magnolias” promises to spin an original and homier take on the modern classic. They may be pretty in pink, but these Southern women have tough skin

The dramedy follows a group of women who work and live around Truvy’s Beauty Parlor, taking audiences through the ups and downs of life as a woman in the late 80s.

The show stars Winifred Olds, Marella Robinson, Linda Granger, Tina Brenner, Angela Dill and Sarah Sonnenberg, and, as always, Starlight provides dinner before the show.

“Steel Magnolias”
Oct. 19- 27
Waverly East Intermediate School
3131 W. Michigan Ave.
Fridays and Saturdays: dinner 6:30 p.m., show 7:30 p.m.
Dinner & show: $33 general/$28 seniors,students/$20 children
Show only: $15 general/ $10 children

Age of ‘Consent’

With less than a month of election coverage to go, Riverwalk Theatre is doing its part, bringing a slice of political drama to the stage.

Set during the Cold War, “Advise & Consent” unfolds as the president nominates a new secretary of state with a questionable political background. The choice sends the Senate into turmoil as they decide if he is the best man for the job.

Published in 1959, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Allen Drury was adapted into a play by Lori Mandel in 1960 and into a movie in 1962.

“Advise and Consent”
Riverwalk Theatre
Oct. 18-28
7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
$14 general/$12 students, seniors, military ($4 off Thursdays)
228 Museum Drive
(517) 482-5700

What’s Opera?

This weekend, the MSU Opera Theatre will preform a unique blend of classic opera and musical theater, and getting a little darker than operas usually go.

“It’s set in a post-9/11 America where terrorism has infected daily life,” said Melanie Helton, director of opera and theater at MSU. “The government evaluates citizens to decide who’s safe and who’s not.”

The experimental piece is based on German composer Kurt Weill’s “Mahagonny Songspiel,” but includes songs from his other works, including “Happy End,” “Knickerbocker Holiday” and “The Threepenny Opera.” “Songspiel” was written as a comment on the decline of social classes in the 1920s, but the storyline and the songs are left widely open to interpretation.

Helton said the story has been improvised by the students — who created their own dialogue and character names — and continues to evolve throughout the rehearsal process. To Helton’s knowledge, nothing like this has ever been created at MSU or anywhere else.

Even the project’s origins are unique. The theater Helton usually utilizes is under construction, giving her the opportunity to go off-campus. She settled on the MSU Community Music School Auditorium, built in the 1970s, to create a feeling of regression from the current political and social landscape.

“The thing we discovered is that, in the midst of hardship, people still deal with happiness, relationships and love,” she said. “People still go on living their lives.”

“Kurt Weill: 2012, But the days grow short … ”
MSU Opera Theatre
Oct. 19-21
MSU Community Music School Auditorium
841 Timberlane St.
East Lansing
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
$20 general/$18 seniors/$5 students