ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wendy Leverenz Barker remembers portraying one of the Angels in a touring production of “Anything Goes.”
“It was a bus-and-truck tour. We toured all over the East Coast, the Midwest. We even came to Ruidoso,” Leverenz Barker said. “The show was solid. Everyone cared. They worked hard; people were doing it as a job.”
That was 2000, the year after she had the role of Erma in an Albuquerque Civic Light Opera production of the same musical.
Now Leverenz Barker is standing offstage: She’s the choreographer for Landmark Musicals’ production of “Anything Goes,” which opens today at the University of New Mexico’s Rodey Theatre.
“Because I’ve done this show so much … I just know this show really well. I know the energy of the show, where the jokes are, where the highlights are. I feel very confident that I know what I can bring to the show,” she said.
Leverenz Barker created all new choreography, but she acknowledged that she was influenced by what she learned from Larry Aguilar, the choreographer for the ACLOA show.
And she said that Hal Simons, who is director of the Landmark production, has been a co-choreographer on all of the smaller dance pieces in the show.
Leverenz Barker said she enjoys working with Simons because “he’s so easy to collaborate with. He’s so supportive.” They’ve collaborated as director and choreographer on three other musicals in Albuquerque.
Simons added, “In many ways, I think we’ve become artistically inseparable.”
WHEN: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, March 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18. Repeats March 23-25 and March 30-April 1
WHERE: Rodey Theatre, Center for the Arts, UNM campus
HOW MUCH: $18, $20 and $22 general public, $2 discount for students and seniors in advance at ticket offices in the UNM Bookstore and the Pit, at area Albertsons supermarkets, at www.unmtickets.com, by calling 925-5858 or toll-free 877-664-8661 or at the door.
One thing Leverenz Barker likes to do with choreography is to use it to tell a story, and that especially holds true for the musical’s title song and for “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”
Some of the other famous songs from the show include “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “You’d Be So Easy to Love.”
“This cast has made my job so easy. They have an innate sense of style of this piece,” Simons said, “meaning the way the show is written is very similar to a Marx Brothers movie or any of the 1930s screwball comedies.”
“Anything Goes,” with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, premiered on Broadway in 1934. It presents the antics aboard an ocean liner heading to London from New York.
The main characters are nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Erin Warden) and gangster Moonface Martin (Dean Eldon Squibb). They help Billy Crocker (Michael Matthew Finnegan), a stowaway, in his quest to win the heiress Hope Harcourt (Kate Sarff), but she is engaged to marry Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Zane Barker).
Simons said he is using the version of the musical that was first staged in a 1987 revival at New York’s Lincoln Center.
“This is the version that came to Broadway last year, and it’s still playing,” he said.
The musical premiered as the country was slowly coming out of the Depression and despite those dire economic times, Simons said, people wanted escapist entertainment.
“I would say this is escapism at its finest. It’s very well crafted,” he said. “I’ve tried to point out to this cast that if you’re on this cruise, you’re doing OK, despite the Depression.”
British author P.G. Wodehouse developed the book, which Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse revised.
The production, Simons said, is using a unit set on the ship with scenes in state rooms. There’s also a prologue scene in a Manhattan bar.
The Landmark production has a cast of 24 and, he said, just about everybody is dancing at one point or another.
Dancing is a challenge for Bill Lang, who portrays Elijah Whitney, a tycoon who is heading to a regatta in England.
“I may have a voice, undeveloped perhaps … I don’t dance but I’m giving it the college try. Let’s say I’m not in the front,” said Lang, a veteran actor and retired judge who served on the state District Court and Bernalillo County Metro Court.
As Whitney, Lang sings “The Crew Song” as a solo. He sees his character as a funny guy who spends most of his time drinking.
“This was written at a time when drunks were considered respectable,” Lang said.