Monday, June 24, 2013

Anything Goes National Tour at the Kennedy Center

There is something refreshing about a revival of a musical, first produced in 1934, that is presented exactly as it was intended. Anything Goes is a wonderful piece of fluff musical comedy that has memorable characters, jokes that have actual punch lines, rousing choreography and, most importantly the incomparable score by Cole Porter. Roundabout Theatre Company's 2011 revival deservedly won the Tony Award for Revival of a Musical that season. The touring production preserves the high quality of the original revival giving audiences across the country the opportunity to see the same great show New York audiences saw.

Anything Goes is another one of those shows that has constantly had its libretto tweaked, including before the original 1934 production opened on Broadway. It also has had tunes added and subtracted from Mr. Porter's vast output, which Mr. Porter did himself in many other shows. This production preserves mostly the script update from the 1987 Lincoln Center revival which followed the basic premise from the 1934 production. The advantages of that script include making the central love story seem more plausible and fleshing out two supporting characters so that they develop into vibrant members of this wacky cast of characters.

Billy Crocker, who works on Wall Street for  the wealthy lush Elisha Whitney, laments that he can't find Hope Harcourt, a girl he spent a memorable night with just a few weeks ago. His pal, nightclub singer and evangelist, Reno Sweeney mentions that Hope is sailing to England on the S.S. American. Hope is marrying Sir Evelyn Oakleigh in order to save her mother's dire financial situation. Billy goes to the ship launch to find Hope. Traveling on board is the gangster, Moonface Martin and his moll, Erma. They await the arrival of their partner, Public Enemy Number One Snake-Eyes Johnson. When Snake-Eyes doesn't show, Billy takes his ticket and passport. Meanwhile the Captain of the ship laments that he doesn't have any real celebrities on board the ship, which disappoints his passengers. When Billy is discovered, the ship is thrilled to have their celebrity, but Hope is not. There is a lot of mad-cap scenarios before we achieve a rather silly happily-ever-after for everyone.

The ship design is based on the original scenic design by Derek McLane. Its' three stories are filled to the brim by director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall's terrific old-school dancing. Yes, this is a show that has real dancing in the choreography whether it is the Astaire-Rogers style romantic ballroom moves that accompany Billy and Hope's duets or the rousing tap that accompanies the title tune. Martin Pakledinaz' 1930's costumes perfectly complete the period setting.

If there is anything detrimental about the production it is minor. One is technical. As with all professional Broadway and touring production this cast is miked for sound. In the Kennedy Center Opera House it really sounds miked as opposed to simply enhancing the actors' voices. The other problem is with the script. It does contain two stereotyped characters in the Chinese Christian converts. Fortunately their names were updated in the 1987 revival to something less offensive and the actors playing the parts do not adopt a stereotypical Chinese dialect.

Despite these minor issues let the touring cast present for you this infectious revival. Sandra Shipley, as the overbearing Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt is channeling the great Margaret Dumont in her best comic pomposity. Paired with the unabashed lush Elisha Whitney, Dennis Kelly clearly relishes his comic moments. Joyce Chittuck as the man-hungry gangster's moll, Erma brings the house down when accompanied by the sailor boys in her big number "Buddy Beware."Fred Applegate has immense comic timing and do not be surprised if Public Enemy Number 13 brings tears from laughter to your eyes in "Be Like the Blue Bird."

Edward Staudenmayer's Lord Evelyn Oakleigh is more than an upper-class British twit. By giving the character the song "The Gypsy in Me", Mr. Staudenmayer cuts loose showing Evie's animal magnetism. His fate at the end of the show makes much more sense with this additional aspect to his character.Alex Finke has a clear, beautiful soprano and comes across as genuine as the ingenue Hope. Josh Franklin has much more of a classic leading man vibe than some of the more cad-like Billy Crockers of earlier scripts. He has a marvelous voice and well-matches his love interest in their duets and his friendship with the true leading lady, Reno Sweeney.

Rachel York is a tall glass of cool water. Her lanky, sensuous frame and legs that go on to tomorrow are perfect for our nightclub evangelist. She's a swift-talking dame that belts Porter's tunes vibrantly. Her dancing skills burn up the stage floor. She surely converts the audience to the religion of musical comedy.

Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Anything Goes is playing in the Kennedy Center's Opera House through July 7, 2013. For tickets and other performance information please visit For additional tour dates please visit

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