Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Anything Goes" at the Ordway Center

The 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes had a successful revival on Broadway in 2011 and won several Tonys, including Best Revival. That production is on tour and is currently playing at St. Paul's Ordway Center for one short week. I was invited to see it opening night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a terrific new production of a classic musical, with many great songs, fun characters, clever one-liners and bad puns, a full orchestra, and a talented ensemble performing fantastic choreography.

Anything Goes takes place almost entirely on a cross-Atlantic voyage on a ship (which is how people traveled before the days of air travel, and it sound so much more fun). The cast of characters includes a lounge singer/evangelist named Reno Sweeney and her pal Billy, who stows away on the ship to prevent the woman he loves, Hope, from marrying a rich Englishman named Evelyn. Also on board is a low level mobster whom Reno and Billy befriend. The voyage is filled with mistaken identities, high jinx, romance, and of course, music.

Highlights include:
  • Rachel York is perfectly cast as Reno Sweeney. She has a rich and dusky voice, both singing and speaking, that is perfectly suited to the character and the time period. Her performance is breezy and effortless.
  • As Reno's pal Billy, Josh Franklin is quite dreamy - tall with a gorgeous voice and a charming way about him. From my seat in the last row of the theater, he reminded me of a taller Chris Messina (which is a good thing).
  • Jeff Brooks is a hoot as Moonface, aka Public Enemy #13, especially in the nonsensical song "Be Like the Blue Bird."
  • I love this score. Anything Goes was one of two musicals for which I played in the pit orchestra for my high school production (remember the Great Halloween Blizzard of '91? it preempted our opening night), so hearing that gorgeous pit orchestra brought back memories. After seeing the show I downloaded the 2011 cast recording and am enjoying listening to it; I'm not sure how I survived so long without it! "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," "It's De-lovely," "Anything Goes," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" - hit after hit after hit.
  • Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall won a Tony for the choreography of the Broadway production, and it is quite fantastic, especially the prolonged tap sequence to the title song at the end of Act I. It goes on and on as more people join in. Tap dancing is as much music as it is dancing, as it creates a rhythm that captivates the audience and carries us along. And as a general rule, I approve of dancing sailors in tight white pants.
  • The set depicts the deck of a ship, with several levels and moving parts. The cute and tiny rooms move onto center stage when needed. The costumes are divine, especially Reno's wardrobe of gorgeous gowns.
  • My one complaint is that if I wrote this show, I would have Billy end up with Reno instead of the bland Hope. I don't know how any man could notice another woman when Reno is in the room, and she deserves better than that weird Brit Evelyn. Billy and Reno are my ideal couple.

It's quite remarkable that a piece written in 1934 is still fresh, funny, and entertaining almost 80 years later. Now that's a classic. Playing through this weekend only at the Ordway - so get your tickets now!

the show-stopping tap dance "Anything Goes"

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