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article imageReview: Frothy summer fun with a Cole Porter classic Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Jul 23, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - "Anything Goes" is a fun, lively time at the theater. For jazz lovers especially, it's a heavenly ride. The touring production of the music, on now in Toronto, offers great singing, glamorous costumes, and dazzling dance numbers.
The 1934 work, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, has a long list of writers; the original book was by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse, while the new book is by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. While this may make for a water-logged narrative, it must be said, the music more than makes up for any weaknesses. The story, for all its rewrites and edits, is surprisingly simple, a sort of song-and-dance fairytale at sea. Lovestruck Wall Street broker Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin) hides on a cruise liner bound for England to try to woo beloved New York debutante Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) away from her promised groom, a poncey British lord named Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer), with the help of his friend, sexy singer Reno Sweeney (Rachel York). On the same ship is gangster Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate), who is hiding out along with his ditzy gal pal Erma (Joyce Chittick). Identities are assumed, parts are played, costumes are switched... it's hijinks on the high seas. Sure, it's all very corny (what musical storyline isn't, really), but Porter's sweeping, romantic music is the tie that binds the disparate elements together.
Containing such well-known tunes as "I Get A Kick Out Of You", "You're The Top", "Easy To Love", "It's De-lovely", and the musical's title, this Tony Award-winning revival (from New York's Roundabout Theatre Company) is aided by strong performances, captivating choreography, and great casting. Currently running in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre through August 25th, director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall has blatantly organized the ramshackle elements of the original story -a cruise, a planned marriage, gangsters on the run -as a series of song-and-dance routines, allowing a more meta-theatrical approach and opening the way for unique stagings and special audience-performer moments. Set pieces, set against a portico-dotted set, roll in and out with ease, and there's plenty of room for the ensemble to break out into dance numbers. Whatever fourth wall / suspension of disbelief technique is at work is tenuous at best, with the production filled to the brim with winks and nods (tangible and not) at the audience. The first act number "You're The Top", in which Reno and Billy toss complements at each other (amidst simple choreography and minimal props) is filled with anachronisms which contemporary audiences may find mystifying; however, it's not the words but the expressions and skill of the performers that make it so mesmerizing, with Franklin and York trading smiles, winks, and swishy dance moves.
Roundabout Theatre Company’s ANYTHING GOES. Pictured: Alex Finke  Erich Bergen and Company.
Roundabout Theatre Company’s ANYTHING GOES. Pictured: Alex Finke, Erich Bergen and Company.
Joan Marcus
With Porter's rousing, toe-tapping music (gorgeously conducted by music director Jay Alger), rich, elegant costuming by Martin Pakledinaz, a rich, art-nouveau-like three-tiered set by designer Derek McLane, and impressive, eye-catching choreography by Marshall (the dance/tap routine closing Act One is especially good), Anything Goes is a musical in the classic sense, hitting all the right notes, in all the right places. Great performances -leads and supporting players alike -hilariously bring its glammy 1930s world to toe-tapping life. Chittick, as the sexy gangster moll, is a sweet mix of Betty Boop, Louise Brooks, and a very young Lucille Ball; sure she's cartoonish, but she blends beautifully with the light, puffy nature of the work, one populated by stock characters (the ingenue, the keener, the wisecracking older woman, the rich businessman, the snobbish mother, the gangster, even -awkwardly -the Orientals). Chittick, together with Rachel York and Alex Finke, imbue the show with wonderful, womanly energy and strength. Likewise, the men do very well, surprising (and delighting) with great depth and commitment. Staudenmayer, as the stuffy groom-to-be Evelyn, is an utter delight, perfect in his comic timing and wonderful in physicality, alternating awkwardness and grandiose passion. He adds a surprising pathos to what could be an otherwise boring role, grandly embracing his second act number "The Gypsy In Me" with an energetic zeal that clearly references some of the Marx Brothers' zanier musical moments. Stage veteran Fred Applegate is lovably gruff as the shifty, wise-cracking Moonface Martin, his "Be Like The Bluebird" number filled with winks to the audience and meta-theatrical moments that, like so many moments here, lift the production out of its traditional-musical trappings.
Anything Goes is a fine piece of fun summer fare for Toronto-area audiences, a reminder of the power of great music and dance in an age before high-tech gadgetry and social media. it is entertainment in the truest, best sense. May I propose you see Anything Goes? It's delightful, "de-lovely" -and so much more.
More about anything goes, cole porter, Musical, Broadway, Mirvish
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