Friday, April 26, 2013

'Anything Goes' Blissfully Takes Me To Another Time and Place -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Anything Goes
Music & lyrics by Cole Porter
Directed & choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru May 5

Watching Anything Goes at the Cadillac Palace on Tuesday night, I felt terrifically happy.

With a blissful Cole Porter score--including such standards as "I Get A Kick Out of You," "You're The Top," "It's De-lovely" and the title song--wonderfully executed by a 32-member Equity cast led by the gorgeous Rachel York, the top-notch touring production, highlighted by a knockout tap-dance routine (to "Anything Goes"), left very little not to like.

Yet I couldn't help but to also feel a sense of wistfulness.

While those gathered at the Palace seemed to appreciate this mirthful piece of anachronistic entertainment--and an aunt of mine in attendance quite affirmatively did--on the first night of a two-week run in Chicago, the balcony was no more than half-full.

And though I, born in 1968, recognized nearly all the lyrical references made in "You're The Top," I couldn't help but imagine that whatever rather small percentage of today's "masses" still cares about the majesty of Cole Porter's music and this terrific show--originally produced on Broadway in 1934--it is largely at risk of dying off within the next couple decades.

Yes, one hopes, there will always be some younger folks who love musical theater and are willing to look backward, or appreciate revivals of shows from another time and place.

After all, nearly 80 years after its creation, Anything Goes continues to sail on, as it has through the advent of Bebop and Elvis and the Beatles and disco, punk, hip hop and more modern theatrical songsmiths like Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, plus eminently "hipper" shows like Spring Awakening and The Book of Mormon.

In fact, this tour is derived from a rather successful Roundabout Theatre Company 2011 staging on Broadway, where I saw it with the remarkable Sutton Foster and a cast that included Joel Grey, John McMartin, Laura Osnes, Kelly Bishop, Colin Donnell and Adam Godley. The production won a Tony for Best Revival--Anything Goes was also revived on Broadway in 1987 with Patti LuPone--and earned Foster a Tony as well, while running for 521 performances.

So I am not here to give last rites to such a joyous piece of American entertainment. I just fear that in an age of ever-more-fractionalized and superficial interests, and a willful obliviousness to the past, the stage works of Porter, George Gershwin and others of their ilk may go the way of the dinosaur even more rapidly than an appreciation of Rogers & Hammerstein, Sondheim and Webber.

And I am prattling on about this because I think it would be a real shame.

I certainly can't claim to have been fully enamored with musical theater until after the age of 30, and my musical tastes range from hard rock to jazz, blues to bluegrass. But it's hard for me to imagine that anybody who gives a show like Anything Goes an open-eared, open-eyed and open-hearted chance wouldn't find it delightful.

Though the lovely and rich-voiced York, who I've seen in several shows, doesn't quite have Sutton Foster's charisma and Fred Applegate--a likable Producers veteran--isn't nearly as legendary as Joel Grey, the touring production is about 95% as good as I recall the Broadway version being, with similar sets, a full orchestra and wondrous singing and dancing.

The story is hokey, but in a way that also seems timeless.

York stars as Reno Sweeney, a singer who boards the S.S. American cruise ship from New York to London.

Joining her is Billy (Josh Franklin), on whom Reno has a crush, but who is in love with Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke), also on board with her fiance (Edward Staudenmayer) and her parents. Throw in gangster Moonface Martin (Applegate), his sassy companion, Erma (Joyce Chittick), Billy's Wall St. boss Elisha Whitney (Dennis Kelly) and plenty of 1930's gags and misdirections--some more recently updated--and well, you've got a boatload of enjoyable entertainment.

With most of the best songs in Act I, which ends with the sensational "Anything Goes" production number, Act II feels a bit like an afterthought, but the whole show is well worth your time and money. (Discounts for all performances should be readily available on HotTix and Goldstar.)

I certainly can love a great new show as much as I do a great old one. But in a Broadway in Chicago season that has presented Peter Pan, Jekyll & Hyde, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Catch Me If You Can and  Big Fish, this is by far the best musical I've seen on stage in 2013.

So don't miss the boat. Anything Goes is that delightful, delicious and de-lovely.

And hopefully, no time soon at risk of being decommissioned.

This is a promotional clip featuring the recent Broadway cast, but should give you some sense of Anything Goes:

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