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Friday, March 22, 2013

Lush life: Anything Goes is a dazzling, old-fashioned romp

Posted by on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 9:10 AM

* * * * 1/2 stars
Through March 24

“Times have changed,” croons dazzling nightclub star Reno Sweeney in the title song of Anything Goes. “The world has gone mad today and good’s bad today.”

Maybe so, but the touring production of this Broadway revival shows that some good things have staying power. This comic tale of romance and madcap hijinks aboard a luxury liner originally opened on Broadway in 1934, starring the legendary Ethel Merman as Sweeney. Nearly 80 years later, Cole Porter’s delicious songs set against an updated book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman still add up to an escapist delight.

Do take the term “updated book” with a grain of salt. The show remains old-fashioned, featuring groan-worthy one-liners and a mostly nonsensical plot about Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin), a young financier who sneaks aboard a London-bound cruiser to pursue a lovely but betrothed debutante, Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke).

Also on board are Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate, who played The Producers’ Max Bialystock on Broadway), a charismatic gangster disguised as a priest; his tarty sidekick, Erma (Joyce Chittick); Hope’s very British and very wealthy fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (a hysterical Edward Staudenmayer); and the brassy, big-voiced evangelist-turned-showgirl Reno (a show-stealing Rachel York).

As these characters collide, all sorts of silly gags unfold, including a rather racist subplot involving two Chinese passengers that inexplicably survived the book's updating. Sometimes these jokes fall flat, but not to worry: Like any good, old-fashioned musical, the plot exists solely to couch show-stopping song-and-dance numbers—and there’s always a number right around the corner. Even if you don’t know Anything Goes, you’ll know these classic Cole Porter songs; “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top” and “It’s De-lovely” all appear in this musical.

And the dancing—oh, the dancing. Director Kathleen Marshall’s choreography, abetted by Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes, is ravishing. When the ensemble shows up full-force for “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” tapping and spinning and waving their hands in the air with military precision and unstoppable energy, you’ll find yourself transfixed.

Yes, times may have changed, but it seems the pleasures derived from well-executed Broadway excess have endured.

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Nearly 80 years after Anything Goes first appeared, Cole Porter's delicious songs are set against a (somewhat) updated book.


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