Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Doing it Right: “Anything Goes” polished, like new
The American songbook is heavily laced with work born during the time of the classic American musical. Those musicals, often little more than platforms for those songs, offered a particular entertainment: great music, energetic dancing, romance and laughter, and that indefinable element of performance known as star quality. This is the era of “you went on a chorus girl, but you’ve got to come off a star.” It is also the era of Porter, and Gershwin, and Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart – again, the great American songbook.
Now a better-than-original version of that great Cole Porter hit “Anything Goes,” which lit up Broadway this past season, has barreled its way into the Ahmanson. It sports a newly revised book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman which tidies up the vagaries of the original – itself an amalgam of scripts by four writers including Crouse’s father – and creates the crispness a modern audience expects. Yet, these same revisionists also went back to the original score, reinstating songs tossed in later versions, and tossing out songs originally from other Porter hits. It works, from beginning to end.
Add a sharp cast, replete with a reasonable amount of that star quality, and the charm of the original shines like a beacon.
Leading the charge is Rachel York, whose wry and experienced Reno Sweeney sings with classic Broadway bravura and dances like a 20-year-old. It’s a star turn of the old school, and sets the tone of excellence for the rest of the production.
Erich Bergen’s chiseled good looks and muscular style give the earnest Billy Crocker the boyish appeal of the show’s slightly silly romantic lead. Alex Finke’s gentle and genteel ingenue, Hope, makes an interesting balance to York’s brass – as much a contrast as the two women’s physicalities – as they engage in occasional battle over Billy’s heart. Dennis Kelly gives Billy’s millionaire boss an appropriately cartoonish quality, while Sandra Shipley, as the mother of heiress Hope, provides entertainingly lively counterpoint.
Some of the best news comes from Edward Staudenmayer’s version of the often overly ridiculous Sir Evelyn, the man Hope is to marry. Staudenmayer makes the man silly, but charmingly so, making him far more attractive than in most productions. LIkewise, the crisp performances of the traditional comic relief – Joyce Chittick as an unabashedly trampy gangster’s moll, and Fred Applegate as a most ineffective Public Enemy – take the entire proceeding up a notch from the norm. That all these folks are backed by an impressive chorus makes the entire production a true delight.
Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall gets this kind of entertainment. The enhancements, whether the crispness of performances, or the sweep of dance sequences, or the elaboration of stage pictures, are all totally in character for the piece. The show-stopping tap numbers are stunning, if exhausting to watch. The sense of energy and joy which moves the piece along leaves an audience wanting more, while nearly vibrating with the transmitted fire from the stage.
In short, for those of us raised on civic light opera productions, or the semi-professional works done on smaller stages around the southland, not to mention the high school or college versions, this “Anything Goes” is a reminder. Once upon a time the best singers, dancers and, well, stars gathered on Broadway to make sheer, unadulterated, lighthearted entertainments. I am sure that in those days audiences left the theater humming, skipping and smiling just as those do leaving the Ahmanson. You can’t help it, when such a classic thing is all done so well.
What: “Anything Goes” When: Through January 6, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, added 2 p.m. performances Thursday December 27 and January 3. No performances December 25 or January 1. Where: The Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $20 – $120 Info: (213) 972-4400 or http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org