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Theater Review: "Anything Goes" On Broadway

Katie Buenneke |
November 23, 2011 | 9:01 p.m. PST

Theater Editor


 Joan Marcus)
Joan Marcus)
The 1934 musical "Anything Goes" is one of the staples of American musical theater. There is good reason for this; the music and lyrics (by Cole Porter) are sublime, and chock-full of standards, and the book (by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse, and new additions Timothy Crouse and John Weidmen) is quite funny. "Anything Goes" is emblematic of what musical theater used to be in America, with songs that went on to be pop hits, foiled romances that are ultimately resolved, and, of course, huge company dance numbers involving tap shoes.

Roundabout Theatre Company's current production on Broadway brings all of that to the table, albeit imperfectly. While the first act starts rather passively and the second act as a whole seems to lack the verve of the first, when everything settles into place, the show soars.

The musical follows the trials and tribulations of the passengers on a cross-Atlantic steamer to England. Reno (Stephanie J. Block) is in love with Billy (Colin Donnell), who, in turn, is in love with the newly destitute Hope (Erin Mackey). Hope is engaged to the English aristocrat, Lord Evelyn Oakley (Adam Godley). Billy stows away on the ship, hoping to win over Hope's heart, but he must avoid his boss, the perpetually inebriated Eli Whitney (John McMartin). Whitney believes Billy is back ashore, selling stocks for him. Billy finds help in the form of Moonface Martin (Joel Grey) and Erma (Jessica Stone), two criminals who are also stowed away on the ship. Pratfalls ensue, but, like a Shakespearean comedy, everything ends for the best.

Block particularly stands out as Reno Sweeney. This revival is essentially billed as a vehicle for Sutton Foster, who was away from the show for three weeks to shoot a TV pilot, but Block more than shines as Sweeney. Her vocal capabilities are astounding (though her style is a tad anachronistic for the 1930s), and she is a natural comedienne. While her dancing is the weakest part of her performance, her errors are small, and, more importantly, she looks like she is having a considerable amount of fun.

Joel Grey is another strong point in the cast. His Moonface Martin is quite possibly the most adorable public enemy ever, and Grey brings a considerable amount of vivacity to the role (at one point, he even licked Block's hand!). Both he and Block love hamming it up and tossing the fourth wall out the window, addressing the audience and orchestra conductor directly. While this can be objectionable under other circumstances, both pull it off with copious amounts of charm. Their rendition of "Friendship" is, quite literally, a show-stopper. Adam Godley adds to the fun onstage as the lovably odd Lord Evelyn, a chap in the same vein as Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster.

Colin Donnell and Erin Mackey are fine as star-crossed lovers Billy and Hope, if somewhat bland. The book doesn't give the actors much depth to work with, but one could hope the actors would spice it up a little.

The set (by Derek McLane) is quite effective and charming, and the orchestra (conducted by James Lowe) brings Porter's songs to life deliciously. The lighting (by Peter Kaczorowski) is very fun, most notably in "Be Like the Bluebird," when two blue lights bring the bird from the song to life, letting it play with Grey's Moonface Martin.

The ensemble is particularly strong, executing each dance move with precision and elation. The cast's joy to be onstage is infectious, especially during numbers like the title song and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and reminds the audience of what musical theater used to be, which is not to say that the current state of musical theater is flawed; it has merely evolved. Regardless, though, musical theater in the 1930s was very different, which this revival tries to replicate. At its best, "Anything Goes" is a truly magical experience, and even when it is less than that, it is still quite enjoyable, and, overall, "de-lovely!"

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