Anything Goes: Theater Review

Joan Marcus
Smart and wise revival of 1934 musical: unalloyed pleasure

A rousing Broadway revival of the Cole Porter musical comes to Los Angeles.

Cole Porter’s transatlantic crossing provides its old-fashioned pleasures in shipshape style in this gorgeously wrought touring production of the 2011 Tony winner for Best Musical Revival. The retooling of the book for the 1987 Lincoln Center version (which ran twice as long as the original hit) remains a matter of nipping and tucking the grande dame with a sensitive respect for her beauties rather than tarting her up to underline her age.

Above all, the glories of the Porter songs are bounteous: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-lovely,” “All Through the Night” and the title tune are secure standards of wit, internal rhyme and sinuous melody. Move over, Schubert and Schiller, these persist as songs to rival any era. Sure, they have grown over-familiar and elaborately reinterpreted, but experienced in their original context, they gave me goose bumps, every one.

There’s nothing more transcendent in American musical comedy tradition than the wisecracking love duet enhanced by the elemental steps of a pas-de-deux. Director Kathleen Marshall appreciates the distilled delight of these encapsulated four minutes of bliss, and her choreography is savvily unshowoffy, show-dance close to its roots in ballroom, coordinated movement as democratic courtship ritual.

Where media dance has now shattered itself into indecipherable quick-cut bits of incoherent movement, the integrity of grace on the proscenium stage seems more blessedly pure than ever. It doesn’t take much: a lot of the best work on view here is clean and simple, and even the socko production numbers resist acrobatics and wondrously resuscitate classic moves and patterns.

So, too, the antique comedy, which was plenty vintage even in 1934, has been spiffed up without imposing any distancing irony, and while creaky, manages to secure all the laughs it needs. The cast has no fear of the silly plot, instilling every stock bit of farce and predictable reversal with enough conviction that the sentiment and humor remain grounded in the belief that this is an art form worth executing with love and gusto, without condescension or distance or a scintilla of camp. There isn’t a whiff of road-company tattiness in this crack corps.

Rachel York plays saloon singer Reno Sweeney with the requisite brass but also considerably amped sex appeal which enriches the undercurrent of rue, singing the tunes in a distinctive style that may not truly be period but brings the feeling of the period accessibly to modern ears, and she dances effortlessly, obscuring the mechanics by using the steps as expressions of character. Also unimpeachable, Erich Bergen excels in the most difficult role as the bland leading man, whose stolidity masks the depth of his emotions that can only be conveyed by song and dance. He nails that elusively archaic idiom and wins the hearts of all, onstage and in front of it. As the secondary soubrette Erma, Joyce Chittick relishes every ounce of stereotype of her promiscuous moll with infectious bombast.

Anything Goes represents an apogee of the kind of musical swept into oblivion by Oklahoma! with its integrated book and dramatic ambitions. It represented essential progress in the form, but this revival, in the best of the word, allows us full appreciation for what was lost.

Venue: Ahmanson Theatre (runs through Jan. 6)

Cast: Rachel York, Erich Bergen, Alex Finke, Edward Staudenmayer, Fred Applegate,Joyce Chittick, Sandra Shipley, Dennis Kelly, Chuck Wagner

Director and Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall

Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter

Original Book: P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse

New Book: Timothy Crouse & John Weidman

Set Designer: Derek McLane

Lighting Designer: Howell Binkley

Costume Designer: Martin Pakledinaz

Sound Designer: Brian Ronan & Keith Caggiano

A Roundabout Theatre Company production

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