Saturday, October 6, 2012

Anything Goes, PlayhouseSquare

At the beginning of every new theater season, we are reminded of how lucky we are to have Broadway touring companies docking at our splendid PlayhouseSquare venues.

For indeed, there are particular pleasures that can only be attained by watching sumptuously costumed professionals do their thing on a stage replete with three-level sets and monstrous banks of lighting. On the other hand, there are some glitches that these touring shows often trip on, from time to time.

A ton of the good and a faint smattering of the not-so-good are on display in Anything Goes at the Palace Theatre.

This production, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company and winner of Tonys in 2011 for Best Revival and Best Choreography, is a visual delight. From the first scene in a cozy Manhattan bar to the deck of the luxurious ship crossing the Atlantic, you’re bathed in a bygone world of cosseted consumption. (Bygone that is, except for the 1%,.)

But the star of the show is, as always, the timeless tunes featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter, the master of the dry musical quip. Those songs—“It’s De-lovely,” “Friendship,” and “I Get a Kick Out of You” among them—are sufficient for any show to be a success.

As for plot, suffice to say it’s a grab bag of casual happenstances, mistaken identities and romantic dust-ups. These swirl around Reno Sweeney, an evangelist turned nightclub singer and Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street hotshot who’s smitten by Hope Harcourt who happens to be engaged to wealthy Brit and twit, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.

The strong cast sings Porter’s numbers with the right amount of 1930s panache. And the whole company hoofs a couple rousing ditties—the Act One closer “Anything Goes” and the Act Two opener “Blow, Gabriel Blow”—with astounding precision and verve.

And the script, penned by a gaggle of fine humorists over the years and through several revisions, offers a rich mother lode of cringe-worthy japes and time-tested zingers.  

In the central role of Reno, Rachel York exudes supreme confidence and dances well enough to keep director Kathleen Marshall’s ambitious and rousing choreography on track. Erich Bergen is a tall, handsome and affecting Billy, pursuing his love while impersonating a celebrity criminal.

Edward Staudenmayer has plenty of fun with the Lord Evelyn character, botching American slang (“I say, anyone have hot pants for a game of shuffleboard?”) at every turn. And speaking of hot pants, Joyce Chittick as Erma is a one-woman sailor relief program as she cuts a sensuous swath through the ship’s crew.

The small glitches show up when sturdy pros wind up mailing in some of their scenes. This is particularly true with Fred Applegate in the featured role of Moonface Martin, “Public Enemy No. 13.” In his “Friendship” duet with Reno, and at other times, you can see him consciously hitting his marks instead of being fully absorbed in the part.

Applegate is experienced enough to nail his laugh lines with exacting timing, but his casual approach at other moments bespeaks the downside of “touring company” mentality. Since this is the first stop on the show’s 25+ city tour, maybe he’s saving himself.

Anyhow, this is another chance to see and hear those great Porter songs, and another opportunity to see ensemble tap dancing that virtually lifts you out of your seat. And should be worth a ticket in anyone’s budget.

Anything Goes
Through October 14 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1615 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000.

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