Anything Goes Review. Cole Porter in Red, White and Blue
Born in the Depression, blessed with some of Cole Porter’s most popular songs, and featuring a book equal parts funny, dopey and embarrassing, “Anything Goes” is being revived once again, in a red, white and blue production starring Sutton Foster and Joel Grey.
Among the musical numbers bathed in red are “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” the mock gospel meeting sung in the nightclub of the S.S. American, where Foster as chanteuse Reno Sweeney presides over a slinky chorus she refers to as Fallen Angels as well as gyrating dinner-jacketed cruise ship passengers.
The blindingly white deck of the ship serves as the setting for most of the numbers, including the rousing title song “Anything Goes,” performed by 20 rabidly choreographed members of the cast.
The stage turns blue for such lovely Porter ballads as “All Through The Night.”
To Patti LuPone, who starred as Reno Sweeney in the 1987 Lincoln Center revival, “Anything Goes” is “this fantastic piece of American theatre history,” which is the way she put it in her recent memoir. It would seem almost un-American to find fault with a musical that introduced “I Get A Kick Out of You” and “You’re The Top” to the world, and has since also added Porter favorites “Friendship” and “’It’s Delovely.”
Indeed, the Roundabout revival, competently directed and spectacularly choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, offers plenty of entertainment from a cast that includes some reliable and beloved troupers as well as some delightful new finds.
They all play passengers on a cruise ship traveling from New York to London, and after much farcical or at least dizzying complications, most wind up in happy couples at the end.
Among the more satisfying performances are those of John McMartin and Jessica Walter, as an old, drunken Yalie and an elegant lady he decides to pursue even though her stockbroker husband just recently jumped out the window (Remember, it’s the Depression.) Joel Grey plays Moonface Martin, a somewhat low-grade criminal, Public Enemy Number 13, who carries a tommy gun in a violin case, and passes himself off as a minister.
Adam Godley is a revelation as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a gawky, inappropriate fiancé from Great Britain who collects American sayings and mangles them. Godley has had an apparently varied career on the London stage (His Playbill bio begins: “The National Theatre, London: a dog, a comedian, a Jewish neighbor, a Catholic saint, an eldest son, a youngest son, an only son.”) His show-stopping number, “The Gypsy in Me,” half-duet with Foster, half hammy solo turn, is sure to get him more work on this side of the Atlantic.
Sutton Foster is a game performer, whose gams – suitable for framing, 1940’s G.I.-style – get frequent exposure and a rigorous workout. There is no question that she owns the stage — indeed, owns Broadway these days — and when she belts out numbers less brassily than her predecessors in the role, LuPone and Ethel Merman, it seems by deliberate choice: When she slows down “I Get A Kick Out of You,” she is a sexy and sophisticated jazz stylist rather than a human trumpet.
Still there is something about “Anything Goes” that offers less than the promised sophistication of Cole Porter. The revival is in the Stephen Sondheim Theater, so let’s hear from Sondheim on Porter’s songs, (from his recent book “Finishing the Hat”): Porter’s lyrics “didn’t make you laugh so much as smile in admiration of the craftsmanship and in the contentment of having understood the sophisticated observations.” Also: “Cole Porter’s characters were all aspects of Cole Porter, or at least his public image: the worldy cosmopolitan with an aching heart.”
There is no question of the craftsmanship of such lyrics as:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes …
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
But this flavor of cosmopolitan inventiveness is hard to detect given everything else that is thrown into the stew, including harder-to-swallow sophomoric one-liners, corny sentiment, and calculated mayhem cooked up initially by four comic playwrights of the period, including P.G. Wodehouse, and updated two decades ago by two more (including Timothy Crouse, the son of one of the original writers, Russell Crouse).
Not updated enough: At its worst, there is a weird racist shtick involving two Chinese characters, which should be retired. But even when this production is at its best, there seems everywhere around it what lyricist Lorenz Hart called (in a different context) “the faint aroma of performing seals.” The dance numbers are not just the top (the Coliseum, the Met Museum, the Tower of Pisa, the smile on the Mona Lisa), they’re the over-the-top. There’s no question all that mass tap-dancing and arm-waving and coordinated leaping is exciting, but it is almost as if the show means to bludgeon us into forgetting our troubles.
“Anything Goes” began on Broadway in 1934, the depth of the Great Depression. The first Broadway revival opened in 1987, weirdly, on what’s now called Black Monday, the day in October when the stock market crashed. Was it the Great Recession that made this the right time to bring forth again a show that affectionately lampoons the rich, and distracts the rest of us with its razzmatazz?
at Stephen Sondheim Theater
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by P. G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall; music supervisor/vocal arranger, Rob Fisher; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Martin Pakledinaz; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; sound by Brian Ronan.
Cast: Sutton Foster (Reno Sweeney), Joel Grey (Moonface Martin), Colin Donnell (Billy Crocker), Adam Godley (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh), Laura Osnes (Hope Harcourt), Jessica Stone (Erma), Walter Charles (Captain), Robert Creighton (Ship’s Purser), Andrew Cao (Luke), Raymond J. Lee (John), John McMartin (Elisha Whitney) and Jessica Walter (Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt).
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Ticket prices: $97.00 to $137. Rush tickets: $30.00
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook