No 1930s musical has achieved the enduring popularity of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. A grand total of five Broadway, off-Broadway, and West End revivals, a pair of movie adaptations, a TV special, and more national and international productions than even the most dedicated Porter aficionado could possibly count.

For those who wonder why Anything Goes just keeps on ticking, there’s no more compelling evidence than the National Tour of its 2011 Broadway revival now spending the week at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts, a Broadway tour that guarantees SoCal audiences one show-stopping number after another in an Anything Goes that tops any other production of it you might happen to have seen.

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES Rachel York and Company 3. Photo by Joan Marcus 2012 Like its fellow pre-Oklahoma! musicals, Anything Goes forgoes three-dimensional characters, serious plotlines, and any trace of the dramatic, and why not? It was, after all, the height of the Great Depression, and who needed any of that providing a show’s zany characters made you laugh and its songs had you humming along?

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES. Pictured Rachel York and Company. © Joan Marcus, 2012 “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “All Through The Night,” “You’re The Top,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and the title song are the best known of the Porter classics featured in Anything Goes, with “Easy To Love” added to the 1987 and 2011 revivals.

As for storyline, it’s not that there isn’t one. There are, in fact, quite a few lighthearted plot threads tying the abovementioned songs together for madcap, screwball, slapstick, farcical fun and laughs aboard the S.S. America, bound for England from New York City.

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES. Pictured Rachel York and Company. © Joan Marcus, 2012 Among those sailing the Atlantic are rising young Wall Street whiz Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin), on board to drop off the passport his boss Elisha J. Whitney (Dennis Kelly) has left behind; wealthy young debutante Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke), traveling with her hoity-toity society mom Evangeline (Sandra Shipley) and Mrs. Harcourt’s pet pooch Cheeky; Hope’s English fiancé Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Saudenmayer), a David Niven type who is fascinated by all things American, particularly our slang; and evangelist-turned-nightclub chantoozie Reno Sweeney (Rachel York), accompanied by her quartet of showgirl Angels: Charity (Marla McReynolds), Chastity (Katie Hagen); Purity (Audrey Cardwell), and Virtue (assistant dance captain Vanessa Sonon).

Also on board are Public Enemy Number 13, aka Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate), in disguise as a minister; his redheaded girlie-girl Erma (Joyce Chittick); real-life man of the cloth Henry T. Dobson (Gary Lindemann) and his two Chinese converts Luke (Vincent Rodriguez III) and John (Marcus Shane); and of course the ship’s Captain (Chuck Wagner).

When Billy saves Moonface’s hide by telling the FBI that Dodson is none other than the Public Enemy Number One they’ve come on board in search of, Moonface rewards Billy with a ticket and passport intended for said Public Enemy, who has deliberately missed the boat, and whom Billy will hereafter impersonate, that is when he’s not pretending to be a sailor or a matronly passenger or a bamboo-hatted Chinese, all the while trying to convince Hope to ditch her fuddy-duddy of a fiancé for the young man she once shared a midnight kiss with in Central Park, i.e. our handsome hero Billy Crocker himself.

Like original book writers Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Anna Crouse, and Howard Lindsay, 1987/2011 revival scribes Timothy Crouse and John Weidman need only the slightest of pretexts to introduce one Cole Porter hit after another. (Probably the only reason Anything Goes’ writers made Reno a former evangelist is to give her a reason to belt out the show-stopping gospel hymn “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”) Crouse and Weidman’s new book also ingeniously rearranges songs and rewrites dialog to give Anything Goes a more contemporary sensibility than previous versions while maintaining its madcap 1930s style.

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES Rachel York and Company. Photo by Joan Marcus 2012 In fact, the only weakness in this most recent revival is a second act that follows the most sensational “Blow Gabriel Blow” ever with one small-scale specialty number after another. (Couldn’t the writers have figured out a way to add one more full-cast number to Act Two instead of giving the pre-finale to one of the show’s more minor characters?)

There can be no nitpicking whatsoever about Marshall’s inspired direction and choreography in Anything Goes’ half a dozen show-stopping, full-cast song-and-dance sequences, most of them performed on all three ship decks.

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES Ryan Steer, Bobby Pestka, Rachel York, Jeremy Benton, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden. Photo by Joan Marcus 2012 Neither can there be quibbling about York’s phenomenal performance as Reno Sweeney, a bit of Merman, a lot of Mae West, a voice to caress the ears and reach the rafters, dance chops and legs that just won’t quit, and glamour to the nth degree—all of the above a master class in what turns a triple-threat into a Broadway star.

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES Rachel York and Edward Staudenmayer. Photo by Joan Marcus 2012 Supporting performances are all as good as it gets, from handsome, velvet voiced, fleet-footed leading man Franklin to scene-stealing gangster Applegate to the divine Chittick, who redefines dumb with her smart and sassy turn as the quintessential gangster’s moll. Finke’s gorgeous soprano makes her an ideal Hope, Staudenmayer is a delightfully droll Lord Evelyn and a splendid dance partner to York in “The Gypsy In Me,” and Kelly proves a bona fide laugh-getter as multimillionaire Elisha opposite an equally terrific Shipley as his senior citizen crush. A good-humored Rodriguez and Shane poke affectionate fun at 1930s Asian stereotypes (at least the new book writers changed their names from Ching and Ling), with Jeff Brooks doing a nifty turn as the ship’s purser and Lindeman amusing in his cameo as the hapless Reverend Dawson. As Reno Sweeney’s backup girls, Cardwell, Hagen, McReynolds, and Sonon are as stunning to look at as they are splendid dancers.

And then there is the indefatigable ensemble, each one the very definition of triple-threat. Sarah Agar, Leslie Becker, Tyler Foy, Derek Hanson (Fred, Quartet), Kristie Kerwin, Koh Mochizuki (Quartet), Ryan Steer, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden, Aaron Umsted (Quartet), Mackenzie Warren, and Correy West are all stupendous, with swings Sara Andreas, Sean McKnight, and Tony Niedenbach backstage to step into various roles in a pinch, as Cardwell did on Opening Night for Ashley Arcement, who usually plays Purity.

I’ve never seen an S.S. America like scenic designer Derek McLane’s spectacular three-deck ocean liner, with properties coordinator Kathy Fabian/Propstar providing vintage knickknacks galore. Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are as stunning as they come, as is Howell Binkley’s lighting design, bathing the ship in an endless variety of iridescent rainbow hues. Paul Huntley’s hair and wig design are the kind of perfection only a Broadway budget can ensure, with Angelina Avallone’s make-up design turning every cast member into a stunner. Brian Ronan & Keith Caggiano’s sound design makes sure that we hear every voice and every instrument of the great big 1930s-style pit orchestra under the expert baton of music director-conductor Jay Alger.

John M. Atherlay is production stage manager, Sarah A Tschirpke stage manager, Genevieve Kersh assistant stage manager, Jennifer Savelli associate choreographer, and Marc Bruni associate director.

Having seen and enjoyed a number of regional productions of Anything Goes, I wondered how much more special Broadway’s Anything Goes could be. Now I know. Kathleen Marshall’s Anything Goes is truly in a class by itself.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
September 24, 2013
Photos: Joan Marcus

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