In 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, Americans were looking for escapist entertainment and they found it in Cole Porter's frothy, screw-ball comedy, Anything Goes. Since then the show has seen many updates and revivals, the latest of which won the 2011 Tony for Best Revival. Now touring the country, the plot remains a zany farce set on a cruise ship where disguises, mistaken identities and malapropisms along with love, gangsters, hunky sailors and delightful dames contribute to a very de-lovely evening (how often does a critic get to say that?). Playing now through February 3 at the Golden Gate Theatre, go see Anything Goes before it sets sail for distant ports.
Tony winning director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall sets a fast-paced tone for this rollicking show, with a kick-up-your-heels insouciance that is refreshing to say the least. The entire cast is in on the fun and seems blissfully determined to set aside the problems of a weary world for a night of frivolity and fun. They succeed.
Music director Jay Alger, sporting a sea captain's hat, leads a stellar team of musicians who nimbly make their way through Michael Gibson's orchestrations as well as those of the talented Bill Elliott's additional orchestrations. It's really one of the best orchestras that I've heard so hats off - or should I say hats on - to them.
Of course it can't be forgotten that their source material is that of the incomparable Cole Porter whose songs ("You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's De-lovely" and "Anything Goes") are part of our collective memory. But what a treat to hear them sung by Rachel York, that sultry singer and divine diva of the theatre who plays Reno Sweeney, the nightclub star who's booked to sing on the S.S. American from New York to London.
She has the hots for Wall Street broker Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen) but he's crazy mad for a girl he met in a cab who turns out to be an heiress named Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke). Hope is head-over-heels for him too but sadly, she's engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (the hilarious Edward Staudenmayer). As dumb luck would have it Crocker's boss (a delightful Dennis Kelly), Hope and Lord Oakleigh are all passengers aboard the same ship. Crocker decides to stow away (of course). Gangster Moonface Martin (the wonderful Fred Applegate) and his moll (scene-stealing Joyce Chittick) also tag along for the ride and as you might guess, high jinks ensue.
Master costume designer Martin Pakledinaz (the national tour is dedicated to his memory) outdid himself, creating crisp white-linen and navy blue cruise apparel along with the swank evening gowns and tuxedoes of the era. Derek McLane's inventive set design (he won the 2011 Tony) is dominated by the immense cruise ship. He also gives us peeks into well-appointed staterooms. The nightclub where York sings the show-stopping "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" is a lavish vision of period art deco ornamentation.
Anything Goes will make you forget the world outside for a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes - that's a pretty good deal if you ask me. Here's something else I've always longed to write as a critic - gosh it was swell.