Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, June 24, 2018

NEW YORK – At 77, Cole Porter’s musical "Anything Goes" still goes. Although it falls into foolishness towards the end, it has more lift and bounce than many of the today’s Broadway musicals.

Most important, everyone sings the songs of old King Cole Porter expertly, and all the principal players and dancers have caught the antic, frantic spirit of the 1934 period, which has long made "Anything Goes" one of Porter’s favorite shows. It is only outdistanced in popularity by "Kiss Me Kate," which he wrote 14 years later.

The three main characters in "Anything Goes" are Billy Crocker (Colin Donnell), a young man struggling to get a girl; Public Enemy No. 13, Moonface Martin (Joel Grey), a foggy-headed criminal disguised as a minister; and Reno Sweeney (Sutton Foster), a nightclub singer and part-time evangelist.

Although Ms. Foster lacks the natural brassiness of Ethel Merman, creator of the role, and Patti Lupone, who starred in a successful 1987 revival, she more than holds her own as Reno by contributing enormous energy, an excellent voice and an amiable sense of humor.

The three leads race through the Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse script, which has been dusted off and punched up for today’s audiences by John Weidman and Timothy Crouse, Russell Crouse’s son. The writers create a mad mood of uninhibited nonsense right from the start, when all the characters are first assembled on the deck of the S.S. American and headed for Europe, and from that point on, this "Anything Goes" never stops or slows down.

Kathleen Marshall choreographed and directed this revival and has hired a fleet of dancers to match the speed of the three leads in celerity and high spirits. They tap and waltz and leap their way expertly through a series of dance routines, most of which look like they were lifted from Hollywood’s golden age of movie musicals.

Shows as old as "Anything Goes" usually seem silly now because of their sentimentality, which audiences no longer tolerate. But, thanks to Mr. Crouse’s and Mr. Weidman’s revisions and Ms. Marshall’s staging, this "Anything Goes" seems slap-happily fresh and funny.

Of course, Mr. Porter’s music helps enormously; his score includes such songs as "You’re the Top," "It’s De-Lovely," "I Get a Kick out of You," "Blow Gabriel Blow" and the show’s title song. All have the Porter signature mode: the sharp, nervous, clipped syncopated style of the ’20s and early ’30s. His lyrics are fresh, flippant and often ingenious. Some of the topical references might seem old-fashioned to the younger members of the audience, but most still smack of their creator’s intelligent, sophisticated brand of wordplay.

Ms. Marshall has added at least one Porter song, not in the original score, "Friendship" from "Du Barry Was a Lady" (1939). It gives Ms. Foster, Mr. Donnell, Mr. Gray an opportunity to let go in a lively song-and-dance vaudeville turn.

In that and other moments of concussive comedy, the expert and spry 79-year-old Mr. Gray shines; with eyes as wide as a child, he knows how to play the wickedest tricks of the trade with irascible charm, uttering some of the most appalling puns with such an air of innocence that they are hilarious.

A strong supporting cast full of adept musical comedy veterans like John McMartin, Jessica Walter, Adam Godley, Walter Charles, and a young soubrette, Jessica Stone, add to the "Anything Goes" fun. It is playing at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Stephen Sondheim Theater on West 43rd Street east of Broadway through the first of next year.

Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.