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It’s the Top

by B.A. Nilsson on July 10, 2013

Anything Goes
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, Proctors, through July 14

 

“Admit it: you’re nuts about me,” says sassy Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) in the opening scene of Anything Goes. From the moment she enters, she radiates star charisma. And as her character sings and dances and schemes and flirts, you see that she justifies that charisma with an agglomeration of talent that’s hard to find in the show-biz world any more. So, yes, I’m nuts about you.

Anything Goes

But I feel that way about the whole superannuated mutt of a show. Even before its 1934 opening, the book was rewritten, and it’s been fussed with for most revivals since. P.G. Wodehouse, who enjoyed a long songwriting partnership with Jerome Kern a decade earlier, populated the script with an array of characters familiar to any Wodehouse fan: star-crossed lovers, a bumbling Englishman, a formidable mother and a couple of amiable gangsters, all stuck on board an ocean liner with revivalist-turned-nightclub singer Reno, combining Aimee Semple McPherson with Texas Guinan.

It’s Guinan you’re seeing when you think Mae West, whose gruff delivery was only one of York’s character shadings. She was also Barbara Stanwyck seductive and Jean Harlow coy, and she danced like Eleanor Powell. Unfortunately, I must mute my admiration for this actress. You’re not going to see her. She has stepped out of the show for a long-scheduled break, to rejoin the cast when the production moves on to Toronto.

Based on the talent displayed in the rest of the roles, I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy the same caliber of dancing and singing dynamo in the replacement Reno. Because the title song, which closes the first act, is as lavish an arm-waving, tap-dancing extravaganza as you’re likely to see on stage.

The lovesick Billy Crocker’s pursuit of debutante Hope Harcourt sets the plot in motion. Whether exercising his comedic chops in the vaudeville-like dialogue or dueting with Hope or Reno—or singing a heartfelt “Easy to Love”—Josh Franklin was all easygoing charm.

It’s easy for the character of Hope to be overshadowed by Reno, but Alex Finke gave the ingenue a winning personality. In the character-acting realm, Fred Applegate and Joyce Chittick made an adorably cranky couple of crooks, Dennis Kelly was appropriately ditzy as financier Elisha Whitney, and Edward Staudenmayer’s “The Gypsy in Me” actually stole the scene from York, no easy task.

Another significant co-star is the Cole Porter score. As with many revivals, this includes songs cut from the original or written for other shows, but they were chosen well, consistent with Porter’s mid-’30s style. They advance plot and characterization not a bit, but a list song like “You’re the Top” has a power all its own. And nobody wrote cleverer lists, as “Friendship” and the title song also attest. If you don’t know who Irene Bordoni is (and shame on you!) it doesn’t matter—“You’re the Top” makes its statement loud and clear.

Which is not to slight Porter the balladeer. “All Through the Night,” “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” and “Easy to Love” are masterfully simple. And there’s still room for a novelty number like “Be like the Bluebird,” giving Applegate another chance to shine.

Anything Goes opened at the height of the Great Depression, but nevertheless put a cast of more than 60 on stage. The current cast is a little over half that size. The fine-sounding orchestra nevertheless had no strings. And you don’t think our current Depression is worse? Cheer yourself up. Fork over your hard-earned cash. See this show.