‘Anything Goes’ on a Steady Course
By Isa Goldberg
Aboard the S.S. American everything is perfectly in order. In a production that sparkles with energy, wit, and rousing orchestration, nothing could rock this boat.
And therein lies the dilemma in Kathleen Marshall’s revival of this wonderfully zany Cole Porter musical. The director/choreographer who brought comic idiosyncratic characters, quirky romances, and mismatched elements to the 20th century classics, “Wonderful Town” and “The Pajama Game,” has created a production that is simply too well blended, and too even keeled.
Regardless of the platinum wigs and a “glimpse of stocking”, Sutton Foster just isn’t broad enough for the role. She remains “Thoroughly Modern Millie” masquerading as Marilyn Monroe. If she fairs well, it’s because she tells a story in song with intelligence.
Nevertheless, Foster’s voice while vibrant is too small for the role. But perhaps Patti LuPone’s Reno is still ringing in my ears. Audiences that remember the 1987 production in which LuPone starred, will certainly miss her powerful edge. The role, originally played by Ethel Merman, begs for a ballsy singer who belts a song. Under her spell, Porter’s sophisticated wit, his mesmerizing lyrics and musical nuance, became an indelible part of the American songbook.
While the actors in this revival fit the bill neatly, one longs to see the characters pop out with the unpredictable traits described in the show’s titular song, “When grandmama whose age is eighty, In night clubs is getting matey with gigolo’s, Anything Goes.”
Joel Grey as Moonface Martin, “public enemy 13,” plays it straight; he is understated to the point of deadpan. But when he sings “Friendship” with a cartoon-like quality, he sparkles with comedic charm. Finally, he talks the talk in the ship’s brig with a wordy number, “Be Like the Blue Bird.”
Still, John McMartin as Eli Whitney, the ageing businessman with a risky stock account (the year is 1934), singularly demonstrates the broad comedic strokes that propel the show into high gear. And Adam Godley as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a rubbery-legged dancer, provides us with a visible paradox in his portrayal of the stiff, awkward duke. As his fiancé Hope, Laura Osnes has some polish, but she screeches off-key on a few notes when the heat is on. And Colin Donnell is a clean-cut romantic lead who sings and dances with aplomb; his Billy Crocker looks like a cover boy for Esquire. Yet once again something is missing. There is just not enough chemistry on this stage for anything dangerous (thrilling) to ignite.
It’s the chorus numbers with vigorous tap dancing that carry the pizzazz. Better yet is the Fosse-inspired choreography for “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” in which the all male chorus leaps from their knees into midair. That gives us the old razzle-dazzle.
Indeed, “Anything Goes” was conceived as a farce about the depression-era when men on Wall Street hurled themselves out of windows. Its jazz rhythms and art deco style remain captivating. Fortunately (or not), this is entertainment that never looses its flair.
The staging here is open and spacious. Derek McLane’s sets reflect the blue of sea and sky. And Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes lean toward gaudy. In this case the show is lots of fun, even if you don’t leave the theater floating on cloud nine.
“Anything Goes” is at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. For tickets call 212-719-1300, visit www.roundabouttheatre.org/joinnow or go to the box office.