Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Whiz-bang celebration of legendary Cole Porter
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
“I might sing along,” I warned my editor before the Cadillac Palace lights dimmed and Anything Goes began. I’m no stranger to the musical, having seen numerous productions over a 20-year period. Still, I wondered why Kathleen Marshall chose to remount this particular musical at this particular time, first on Broadway with Sutton Foster, then in a national tour. After watching Cole Porter’s airy confection, I had my answer: it’s pure, unadulterated fun.
As the ship American departs New York for England, wacky antics are in store. Fresh-faced stockbroker Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin) promised his perpetually tipsy employer Elisha Whitney (Dennis Kelly) to sell some important stock – but ends up a stowaway after discovering his lost love Hope (Alex Finke) is not only on board, but engaged to stuffed shirt Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer). Meanwhile, Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate), also known as Public Enemy Number Thirteen, is on the lam with a violin case full of cash, a stolen passport and blowsy sidekick Erma (Joyce Chittick). And Billy’s pal, the showgirl turned evangelist Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) is ready for adventure on the high seas, saving souls with her four sexy Angels in tow. Mistaken identity, celebrity worship and general hijinks ensue to the tune of Cole Porter’s greatest hits.
Director and choreographer Marshall’s production team creates a thoroughly pleasing aesthetic. Derek McLane’s scenic design is the most bright and cheerful boat imaginable, and Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes flow and ripple like water, delivering plenty of glitzy glamour as well. Howell Binkley’s softly focused yet colorful lighting recalls old-time movie musicals – Act II’s “All Through the Night” feels like a beautiful dream. Michael Gibson’s orchestrations and Rob Fisher’s vocal arrangements bring out the best in Porter’s silly lyrics and simple yet soaring melodies. Marshall’s choreography is slightly underwhelming at times, but sharp and lovely at others (especially “Blow Gabriel Blow”).
Anything Goes’ ensemble is rife with skill, beginning with the dreamy, flexible chorus of sailors and Reno’s long-legged graceful Angel quartet. Kelly’s Elisha Whitney is a lovable lush, and his scenes with Hope’s uptight mother Evangeline (Sandra Shipley) positively glow. Chuck Wagner has some fun moments as the blustery ship captain, and Staudenmayer is perfectly prim-turned-outrageous as his Lord Evelyn struggles with American idioms, confesses dirty secrets and struggles not to submit to Reno’s charms. Chittick’s Erma is the quintessential moll, squeaky-voiced and shimmying, delightful from beginning to end. Finke hits brilliant high notes and makes Hope just sweet enough without going saccharine. But Franklin is the real standout – his Billy is alternately madcap and debonair, and his tenor voice slides easily through Porter’s music. It’s as if he were born to it.
With so much to adore about Anything Goes, it’s a shame I didn’t like Reno and Moonface more. I wanted to: I’ve loved York in other shows, such as Goodman’s Time of Your Life, and Moonface’s Act II solo “Be Like the Blue Bird” is one of my all-time favorite character songs. Sadly, both actors fall flat. Applegate seemed unsure of himself at times – his interpretation of the buffoonish gangster reads like a low-rent Nathan Lane without the energy. And York would be wonderful had she just slightly dialed back the intensity. Though she’s now saving souls, Reno is a showgirl through and through, full of vivacious spark, snappy quips and knockout appeal. However, York’s shouting and mugging crossed the line into “Saturday Night Live” territory. I’ve seen Cheri Oteri and Kristen Wiig play that exact same character, or caricature.
Weaker principals aside, Anything Goes is pure escapist enjoyment. The audience around me roared with adulation at everything from Porter’s classic songs to Marshall’s precise tap choreography. Musical theater has greatly evolved since Anything Goes was first produced in 1934. But as Marshall shows us, nostalgia is powerful. It’s always good to look back where you started, to see how far you’ve come. And as many would argue, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Anything Goes continues through May 5th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map). Tickets are $27-$95, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online at Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayInChicago.com and AnythingGoesOnTour.com. (Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Joan Marcus
Dennis Kelly (Elisha Whitney), Jeremy Benton (Fred, a bartender), Josh Franklin (Billy Crocker), Rachel York (Reno Sweeney), Chuck Wagner (Captain), Jeff Brooks (Ship’s Purser), Aaron Umsted (Reporter), Sean Watkins (Photographer), Gary Lindemann (Henry T. Dobson, a minister), Vincent Rodriguez III (Luke), Marcus Shane (John), Alex Finke (Hope Harcourt), Sandra Shipley (Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt), Edward Staudenmayer (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh), Michael Milton and Ryan Steer (FBI Agents), Joyce Chittick (Erma), Fred Applegate (Moonface Martin), Jan Leigh Herndon (Old Lady in a Wheelchair)
Ship’s Crew: Jeremy Benton, Gary Lindemann, Michael Milton, Bobby Pestka, Ryan Steer, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden, Aaron Umsted, Sean Watkins
Quartet: Jeremy Benton, Gary Lindemann, Aaron Umsted, Sean Watkins
Ship’s Passengers: Jeremy Benton, Jan Leigh Herndon, Gary Lindemann, Kristie Kerwin, Ashley Peacock, Aaron Umsted, MacKenzie Warren, Sean Watkins
Swings: Sara Andreas, Audrey Cardwell, Sean McKnight, Tony Neidenbach
behind the scenes
Kathleen Marshall (director, choreographer), Derek McLane (scenic design), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting), Brian Ronan, Keith Caggiano (sound design), Bill Elliot (additional orchestrations), Michael Gibson (original orchestrations), David Chase (dance arrangements), Rob Fisher (vocal arrangements), Seymour Red Press (music coordinator), Paul Huntley (Hair & Wig Design), Angelina Avallone (makeup design), Jim Carnahan, Stephen Kopel (casting), Aurora Productions (production management), Sean McKnight (dance captain), Vanessa Sonon (asst. dance captain), John M. Atherlay (production stage manager), Sarah A. Tschirpke (stage manager), Genevieve Kersh (asst. stage manager), Joan Marcus (photos)
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