We gave it an A
Anything Goes has been going and going and going ever since Cole Porter’s bubbly musical about sophisticated mayhem aboard a swanky ocean liner opened on Broadway in 1934. Back then, the show was a champagne flute of fun to chase away Depression-era blues, as Ethel Merman raised the roof in the role of Reno Sweeney, a brassy evangelist-turned-nightclub chanteuse who likes an average guy named Billy, who loves a debutante girl named Hope, who is engaged, for financial benefit, to a comically highborn Brit named Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. And all of them are in the same boat.
But thanks to the show’s sturdy construction, its classic Porter songs (including ”I Get a Kick Out of You,” ”You’re the Top,” ”Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and the great title tune), and its essential, intangible, urbane joy even as it pokes gentle fun at society swells, Anything Goes has proved to be highly adaptable to any era. That’s why, when Patti LuPone raised her own roof as Reno in the Tony-winning, all-stops-out Lincoln Center revival of 1987, the show could be read as the funhouse mirror of an anything-goes, Bonfire of the Vanities moment in time.
Now comes a merry, sparkling 2011 production from the Roundabout Theatre Company. (The Stephen Sondheim Theatre location is fitting: In Finishing the Hat, Sondheim writes, ”Technically, in both music and lyrics, no one is better than Porter and few are his equals.”) And as Broadway golden girl Sutton Foster (Shrek, The Drowsy Chaperone, Thoroughly Modern Millie) blows the place down as Reno Sweeney, this gorgeously crafted revival is simultaneously sly and sweet: The show’s jokes at the expense of a celebrity-mad culture ought to jump out at a contemporary, reality-TV-glutted audience. This is especially true when Billy (Colin Donnell) is temporarily mistaken for a famous criminal and becomes a shipboard celebrity (and the ship’s captain leads the song ”Public Enemy Number One”). Yet, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall (Grease, Little Shop of Horrors), the gleaming, grown-up, witty, doodad-free production values of the show itself form their own deeply satisfying salute to the best traditions of Broadway. (Marshall gets an assist from the peerless music supervisor Rob Fisher, Derek McLane and Peter Kaczorowski’s sleek scenic design and lighting, and Martin Pakledinaz’s confection-like costumes.)
You won’t find two more different musicals on the boards these days than The Book of Mormon and Anything Goes — one a naughty story that could only have been created out of current comic freedoms, the other a charming farcical notion that Gilbert & Sullivan might have fiddled with a century ago. You won’t find two more self-confident, exemplary productions, either.
Speaking of self-confident and exemplary, let’s get back to Sutton Foster. The Tony-winning star, with her big, endearing smile and her characteristic openness — and happiness — has typically been cast in softer, more innocent roles. Well, look out, fellas. Draped in a slinky spangled number, coiffed in a platinum pouf, lips scarlet red and eyes flashing (giving her demeanor a touch of the Christine Baranski), the girl throws off the good-time sparks of a woman who has been around the block and knows how to negotiate the town.
At the same time, with no LuPone-prone camp to her capers, Foster stars — yet generously blends — with the rest of the assured cast. As the lovelorn Billy Foster, Donnell suggests a somewhat more compact Jon Hamm as a much less agonized Don Draper. Laura Osnes brings a crystalline grace to the role of debutante Hope Harcourt, pressured by her status-conscious mother (hooray for Jessica Walter) to marry into class — and money. Mama’s quarry, the audience knows, is Lord Oakleigh, a prime specimen of an upper-class twit, all foppish, repressed postures. What the audience doesn’t know is that British theater regular Adam Godley will, by the time he busts loose with Foster in ”The Gypsy in Me,” steal his crucial bit of the show and utterly delight the cheering house with his brilliant comic timing.
It’s worth noting that top billing in this Anything Goes goes to Foster and Joel Grey. The Broadway vet and everyone’s favorite Cabaret Master of Ceremonies plays the secondary role of Moonface Martin, a gangster who’s not nearly as big a deal as he wishes he were. He’s only Public Enemy Number Thirteen, as his sidekick gal pal Erma (a bouncy-bawdy Jessica Stone) always reminds him. As Moonface — the most time-dated character in the mix, with antics bordering on the enough already — Grey seems to be drawing on a vaudeville amalgam of Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Durante, and the shtick of Grey’s own late, famous comedian-musician father, Mickey Katz. Honestly, the stylistic mishmash looks like just that, a mishmash. Yet in a show as rooted in Broadway history as this one, we might be tempted to join Reno Sweeney and sing, ”I get a kick out of you.” A
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)