Story: Fledgling Wall Street stockbroker Billy Crocker is entrusted by his boss, Yale man Elisha Whitney, to sell Whitney’s vast number of shares in a company he’s been tipped is going to tank. When Whitney boards the S.S. American for a luxury cruise to London, Billy decides to stow away aboard the vessel in order to be near the woman he loves, Hope Harcourt, even though Hope is engaged to be married to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.
Performing on the cruise ship is nightclub singer and Billy’s good friend Reno Sweeney, a former evangelist who harbors a crush on her pal. When she spots Moonface Martin, aka Public Enemy #13, disguised as a minister, along with his dim-witted friend Erma, Reno enlists the two to help hide Billy, who now is being identified as Snake-Eyes Johnson, alias Public Enemy #1.
Will Billy win over Hope? Will Reno snare him before he does? Will Whitney rekindle his old romance with Hope’s widowed mother, Evangeline Harcourt? It could be a momentous voyage.
Highlights: Cole Porter’s timeless music and lyrics, coupled with a very witty story originally penned by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, has entertained audiences since its debut way back in 1934. It’s enjoyed revivals on and off Broadway several times since, in 1962, 1987 and 2011, garnering Tony Awards for Best Revival of a musical the last two times.
That most recent version, courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company, was directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who also won a Tony for Outstanding Choreography. When you see the national touring production of that edition, which currently is being performed at the Fox Theatre, you’ll quickly understand why Marshall was honored for her choreographic efforts.
This edition, which includes a new book by Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) and John Weidman, is fresh, invigorating and intoxicating, a fun-filled romp that breezes by in a deceptive two hours and 45 minutes, including its 15-minute intermission. The music is memorable, the dancing is explosive and the comedy is constant, even if some of the humor is a bit dated. All in all, it’s a grand time.
Other Info: The new musical incorporates many of the tunes from the original memorable score, including standards such as You’re the Top, I Get a Kick Out of You, Blow, Gabriel, Blow and the title tune, as well as other Porter classics like It’s De-lovely and Friendship, which were added in subsequent revivals.
One point is certain: Rachel York, who stars as Reno Sweeney on this national tour, is seemingly in the middle of every sensational and exhausting dance number. In addition to belting out Porter’s tunes with the flair and panache of a throaty troubadour, she expends incredible doses of energy in every exhilarating terpsichorean adventure, elevating the entire production while doing so.
One could wish that she would drop the Mae West-style approach to dialogue, but it’s hard to quibble with her prowess as a dancer and singer or her deadpan delivery of comic lines.
The numbers conceived by Marshall are dazzling and breath-defying, so much so that York turns around to “conduct” her colleagues near the end of the rousing Act I show-stopper, Anything Goes, apparently to catch her breath before sending the audience into the lobby in fervor. Who can blame her?
The supporting cast is superb as well. Josh Franklin as Billy pairs smoothly with York for a delightful rendition of You’re the Top as well as dancing divinely with Alex Finke as Hope on a moonlit romp for It’s De-lovely. Fred Applegate shows his deft comic flair with York in the humorous number, Friendship, as well as cavorting as minor league gangster Moonface Martin.
Dennis Kelly is amusing as Billy’s inebriated boss, Whitney, pairing off nicely with Sandra Shipley as the gold-digging Mrs. Harcourt (on opening night, ensemble player Jan Leigh Herndon was a splendid and seamless replacement for Shipley). Joyce Chittick hams it up with the ship’s sailors as the lusty Erma, Chuck Wagner has fun as the Captain in search of celebrities to mollify the star-gazing passengers and Jeff Brooks is the fastidious ship’s purser.
Nearly stealing the show is Edward Staudenmayer as the proper Lord Evelyn, whose fascination with American idioms keeps the crew guessing as to what he really means with his quirky sayings. Staudenmayer also is sensational in the hilarious The Gypsy in Me duet with York as Evelyn professes his love for the chanteuse in an especially funny number.
The abundant action, silly comedy and high-kicking dances precisely guided by Marshall all take place on Derek McLane’s nautical set, which is bathed in Howell Binkley’s rich palette of lights. The late Martin Pakledinaz designed the spiffy 1930s period attire, and Jay Alger conducts a lively orchestra that features 13 local musicians.
Porter’s brilliant touch with lyrics and music is amply apparent throughout this rollicking romp, with York leading the way as the most vibrant and exuberant Reno Sweeney you’re likely to encounter. All aboard!
Musical: Anything Goes
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through June 9
Tickets: $15-$66; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus