The score which has been drawn from the four previous New York productions of Anything Goes plays like a Cole Porter greatest hits parade and almost all of the songs are among his most popular masterpieces. Played by a three piece combo expertly led by Christopher Stephens, the show has just the right syncopated thirties sound, while the perfect diction on the part of the large cast makes every lyric a gem. The dazzling production numbers which often evolve into precision tap dances with most of the 18 member cast tapping in unison are as dazzling as Jack Maisenbach’s brightly colored, coordinated costumes. This excellently cast production has dancers, singers, comedians and character actors all working at the top of their game.
The book for this 1934 shipwreck romance was originally written by the famous team of Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse who had been writing shows together since 1917. However, with the sinking of the S.S. Morro Castle, the show needed a quick update which was handled by the newly minted team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, a pairing which endured for the rest of their writing careers. The plot is the kind of lightweight fluff typical of thirties musicals which allowed for eccentric characters and comic setups for terrific songs and dances.
Anything Goes is set on an unnamed ocean liner from New York to London. Among the passengers are evangelist-turned-nightclub entertainer Reno Sweeney, and stockbroker stowaway Billy Crocker who has followed his secret love, debutante Hope Harcourt, on to the ship. The only problem is that Hope is engaged to marry English Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Billy’s boss Eli Whitney is also onboard, thinking that Billy is back in Wall Street tending to his stocks. To complicate matters even further, also on board is Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13, and his moll Erma (disguised as a minister and a missionary), having mistakenly left behind their boss, “Snake Eyes” Johnson, Public Enemy #1.
Since Billy has no papers, Moonface gives him Snake Eyes’ passport, ostensibly making him a gangster. When his cover is blown, one of his masquerades is as a sailor to keep from being arrested. Although Hope has also fallen in love with Billy who keeps finding ways to cross her path, she insists that she must marry Lord Evelyn (as she and her mother believe they are bankrupt). Realizing that Billy will never love her, Reno goes after the stuffy English lord succeeding in making him more human. After a great many complications and confusions, and sumptuous musical numbers, all works out happily in typical musical comedy fashion.
Although she is not a belter as was Ethel Merman who originated the role of Reno Sweeney, Meredith Inglesby is a song stylist who is perfect as a cynical, world weary sophisticate. She leads sensational dance numbers to “The Heaven Hop,” “Anything Goes” and “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and gives a beautiful rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Jeremiah Ginn makes Billy Crocker a brash, bold leading man while Allegra Leland, one of several beautiful blondes, appears as a demure Hope. Together they sing an incredible counterpoint of “Night and Day” and “All Though the Night” in Stephens’ remarkable vocal arrangement, as well as a notable, “It’s De-lovely,” climaxed by a soft-shoe and ballroom dance number. Ginn and Inglesby have a duet with “You’re the Top” that leads to another one of Colgan’s first-rate dance numbers.
Among the comic characters are the audacious Carlos Lopez as Moonface Martin and beautiful and shapely blonde Jessica Moore as his moll Erma. Moore also has a show-stopping number with “Buddie, Beware,” backed by the male chorus as very fit sailors in states of undress, while Lopez’ “Take Me Back to Manhattan” with four chorus girls who join him in the Brig sizzles in a sort of dream sequence. As the snooty Mrs. Harcourt, Hope’s social climbing mother, Alison England is often the butt of the jokes but gives as good as she gets.
Danny Vaccaro does a great deal more with the stuffy Lord Evelyn than you would have thought possible and joins Inglesby in a spirited rendition of “The Gypsy in Me.” Stuart Marland as the often inebriated Wall Street broker has a fine abbreviated “Let’s Misbehave.” Nic Thompson, an excellent tap dancer who headlined Colgan’s revival of Oh, Kay!, plays an animated captain and leads several rambunctious songs and dances. Other popular Porter songs include “Easy to Love” sung by Ginn, reprised by Leland, and “Friendship,” with a competing Inglesby and Lopez.
Reno’s night club act is backed by two gorgeous blonde showgirls played by Becky Elizabeth Stout and Alexandria Van Paris, while the two bored English ladies on ship are played by luscious brunettes Briana Fallon and Caitlin Wilayto, all of whom suggest that they have had modeling careers. The large male singing and dancing chorus continues to reappear in various combinations. Devin I Vogel who also plays the real minister who is left behind in New York is responsible for the very useful unit set with its blue walls and eight portholes, as well as the lighting which turns into cabaret-style atmosphere for many of the musical numbers. The bright, bouncy score is played with verve by Stephens on synthesizer, Adam Kiefer on drums, and Scott Ritchie on bass.
While Anything Goes is light comedic entertainment and not the kind of concept musical one expects today, Casey Colgan’s superior revival for Musicals Tonight! is a fast-paced razzle-dazzle show spreading hilarity and cheer. Using a large cast many of whom have worked with him before, he reinvigorates this old chestnut and makes it as bright as a new shiny penny. The Cole Porter songs enchant and the dancing wows. Even the jokes still land. As Ira Gershwin once said, “Who could ask for anything more?”
Anything Goes (through March 26, 2017)
The Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call, 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.musicalstonight.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission