SHN's latest Broadway tour arrival, Anything Goes, is a good reminder of what purely pleasurable confections musicals once were. And this cast and production, fresh from a Tony-winning run in New York, shine with unironic love for Cole Porter's masterpiece. It's a glittering, smart, bubbly delight from start to finish, and as faithful as it ought to be to the era that it was born in, the 1930s.
Let's start with the music. Whether you know it or not, you know these songs. At least five songs from the first act of Anything Goes went on to become American classics that are woven through our cultural DNA like barbecue or The Wizard of Oz: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," "Anything Goes," and "De-Lovely." Cole Porter was an undisputed genius as a lyricist and melody craftsman, and this was him at the top of his game, writing the snappy, witty (and at times anachronistic) rhymes in the classic duet, "You're the Top," and the grand, jazzy gospel number "Blow, Gabriel Blow" that opens Act II and lets Reno Sweeney show the audience what she, the fictional show girl, is capable of on a real stage.
The original production in 1934 starred Ethel Merman as Reno. Later revivals, in particular one in the late 80s starring Patti Lupone, have cemented the show as a timeless hit, with a tight, funny plot and plenty of Shakespearean disguising and mistaken identity. You have Reno, a smart-talking, worldly showgirl living in New York City who falls for Billy, a young man employed by a comically alcoholic millionaire who still has plenty of money after the Crash. Billy, meanwhile, is in love with a debutante named Hope, and Hope, meanwhile, turns out to be betrothed to an Englishman named Evelyn. And they all end up on a ship together sailing for London, along with a notorious gangster named Moonface Martin and his moll pal on board.
In this production, Reno is played by the charismatic, big-voiced, and ridiculously long-legged Rachel York. She's a star, and it's a star-making role, and hopefully her success in the tour will bring her the attention of her predecessor in the role on Broadway, Sutton Foster, who took home the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical in 2011. We'll give you an example: At one point during opening night last night, at the close of the show-stopping Act 2 opener, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," the audience broke out into some loud, foot-stomping applause as the entire cast stood on the stage with York at the center, arms raised. She smirked at us all, and whether this is something they'd rehearsed or not, she indulged the ham in her and made pumping gestures with her arms to keep the applause going. It's the kind of move you don't see much in modern times, when our stars try to hard to feign humility, and not enough of them can rouse a crowd like this.
York is supported by the mellifluous and very funny Erich Bergen as Billy; the hilarious Fred Applegate as Moonface Martin, who benefits both from great timing and a serious resemblance to Nathan Lane; the goofy and fearless Edward Staudenmayer as Evelyn; and the fantastic Joyce Chittick, who reprises her role of Moonface's sex-crazed moll Erma, which she played on Broadway, and which she does with effortless sass and the brassy nasal voice of a textbook early Hollywood dame.
The gorgeous ship set, imported straight from Broadway, shimmers with excellent lighting design by Howell Binkley. And we can't neglect to credit the stellar direction and choreography by Broadway vet Kathleen Marshall.
If you have even the slightest musical-loving bone in your body, you will have a hard time keeping a smile off your face during the majority of this show. It's a romp back to the glory days of Broadway complete with some racial humor involving some Chinese guys on board the ship, and several ensemble dance numbers that are old-fashioned fun in the best possible way. And as our friend said just as the curtain fell on Act One and the audience roared, "Everybody still loves tap dancing!"
Anything Goes plays through February 3 at the Golden Gate Theater. Get tickets here.