By Gary Murray
Starring Rachael York and Fred Applegate
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original Book by P.G. Woodhouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Cole Porter is one of the greatest lyricists of the Great White Way. His music has influenced a generation of songwriters, both classic and modern. The songs in his catalogue have become a part of the lexicon that is America. Perhaps his greatest achievement is the musical Anything Goes. The Roundabout Theater Company has re-imaged this classic work and brings it to the Winspear Opera House as a part of the Lexus Broadway Series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
Gone is the introduction of the cast from some of the community versions of the show and a more intimate start begins the production. A smoky Manhattan bar is the local and Reno Sweeney belts out one of the most famous tunes “I Get a Kick out of You.” The standard was made popular by Frank Sinatra. The number puts in perspective the relationship between Reno and Billy. It also shows off the massive singing voice of Rachael York. She is easily the biggest, brightest star to appear at this venue. Where Sinatra delivers the song with smooth, subtle vibrato, Rachael puts a decided pep into the tune.
The set of an ocean liner is where almost all of the action takes place. We are soon introduced to the rest of the cast. The plot is almost mostly a trite farce. Billy loves Hope and Hope is engaged to Lord Evelyn. On board is a gangster and Billy is mistaken for public enemy #1. It is one of those plots that become secondary to the music and dancing.
Scene 3 is one of the highlights of the show. Reno and Billy sing “You’re the Top.” This is another song from the show that has become a standard. As a duet, the two voices blend together in a tight harmony. It is a charming and warming scene.
Gangster Moonface and Reno give yet another classic reading to a classic tune “Friendship.” The number is very much of the vaudeville traditions with nice choreography and a smooth glide across the hardwoods.
As much as the entire production feels like a showcase for Rachael York, one of the standards in the Cole Porter catalogue is “It’s De-Lovely” Billy and Hope give the audience the customary boy-girl number but do it with such a freshness that one would almost believe that it had never been done before. They are believable as a torn couple in love. The song wraps around the audience like the warmest of blankets. It is a charmer.
Easily the biggest number of the entire show is the last one of Act 1. “Anything Goes” has always been a big number but this cast turns it into a tap dancing feast. These young actors hit the stage with such glee. But it is the manic energy of the tap that brings the number to a boil. Almost the entire cast dons those steel-heeled shoes and brings a percussive melee to the stage. It is the kind of number that makes Broadway the Mecca of live entertainment.
The second act starts with Billy being honored in the ship’s nightclub. “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” becomes the show-stopping number of the night as almost every member of the cast takes a spiritual bend to this old chestnut of song and dance. It is a rousing number that gets the audience on its feet. The play flies to the end where every little bit of plot becomes unfurled and every couple that should be together gets together. The play ends with “Buddie, Beware” and a finale that had the audience cheering for one last encore.
Rachael York as Reno proves that she one of the greatest talents to be on a stage, touring or not. She has a winning presence in a role that requires massive amounts of talent in the singing and dancing departments. She is the consummate triple threat and the main reason to see this show. It is an amazing performance that she makes look as effortless as breathing.
There is a certain charm that Erich Bergen brings to the role of Billy. His voice is strong and he comes across as the type of character prevalent in musicals of that day, the nice guy who eventually wins the girl. The shows of that era were not complete without this character and Erich handles the role with a solid grace.
Anything Goes is a classic musical told with a modern feel. It is as perfect as a Broadway production, with everything just right. This production won 9 Tony Awards and 10 Drama Desk Awards. It is deserving of all the accolades it received. This is a great show. If one has the ability to go to only one show this season, make it Anything Goes. It is definitely worth the price of admission.