While the musical "Cats" once touted the slogan "Now and Forever" it’s Cole Porter’s "Anything Goes" that has proven to have nine lives. The resilient and frequently performed musical has proven a staple of both professional and amateur theatre scenes since debuting on Broadway in 1934.
The show has been revived many times since then, and its 2011 Broadway update arrived in Los Angeles this week, where it will entertain audiences through the holidays at the Ahmanson. Based on the audience’s reaction on opening night, this bubbly production should be a welcome holiday visitor.
This Roundabout Theatre Company version was nominated for nine Tonys in 2011, winning three, for Best Actress (Sutton Foster), best musical revival and for best choreography, by director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall.
The romantic musical comedy is familiar to many theatre fans. A young man, Billy Crocker, stows away on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship in hopes of wooing Hope Harcourt, the girl he loves. But Hope is engaged to a pompous Englishman, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, whose primary appeal is his large bank account. Joining Billy and Hope on the ship are Reno Sweeney, a beautiful and talented lounge singer; Moonface Martin, a criminal on the run from the law; and a boatload of singing and dancing passengers and crewmen.
Broadway and stage veteran Rachel York is the star of the show here. Whenever her Reno Sweeney takes the stage, she does so with a beautiful, strong voice and lots of charm and charisma. It also helps that York gets to belt out such Cole Porter gems as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You’re the Top," "Friendship," "Anything Goes" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." York is such a bright stage presence she deserves a lighting credit.
She’s surrounded by plenty of other talented performers as well, especially Erich Bergen as Billy Crocker, Fred Applegate as Moonface Martin and the marvelously comedic and musical Joyce Chittick, as Martin’s moll, Erma. The choreography is energetic and era-appropriate, and the cast delivers well on the vocal front as well.
While most of the action takes place on the impressive, multi-level ship’s decks, a few other sets, including a bar, a brig and the ship’s nightclub appear effortlessly from time to time as well. There are no high-end special effects, which suits the production just fine. Mention should be made of Howell Binkley’s lighting design, which is marvelous but never distracting or showy.
"Anything Goes" is a very traditional musical comedy with lots of corny jokes and where more than one boy finds his gal by the show’s end. The show is filled with more than a dozen addictively catchy songs, plenty of beautiful costumes and several impressive dance numbers. The campy humor might be a little groan-worthy at times, but you can help but smile through most of the proceedings.
Fans of edgier, ground-breaking musicals like "Book of Mormon," "Fela!," "Spring Awakening" and "Once" might find "Anything Goes" a bit old-fashioned and tame, but there’s a reason why this winning musical has continued to set sail nearly 80 years since its debut.