BWW Reviews: Kathleen Marshall Directs a Splashy ANYTHING GOES at Ahmanson
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by Don Grigware
Anything Goes/original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and/Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse/new book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman/music & lyrics by Cole Porter/directed & choreographed by Kathleen Marshall/Ahmanson Theatre/through January 6, 2013
After seeing Anything Goes one may ponder why it took so many writers to come up with such a weak, empty, silly book? If it were not for Cole Porter's glorious score and Kathleen Marshall's electric staging and choreography, and, to be sure, a great set design by Derek McLane, lighting by Howell Binkley and deliciously beautiful costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, there'd be no show, no story to tell...well, not anything worth remembering anyway. Now onstage at the Ahmanson through January 6, 2013, there's a tremendously delightful cast tapping their behinds off to some pretty unforgettable Cole Porter tunes.
It's been many years since I first saw Rachel York essay Reno Sweeney, for Reprise! This gal still delivers the goods. Tall and gorgeous, stunningly displaying Pakledinaz's scrumptious gowns, York is a dynamic triple threat, and make no mistake about it, she is one of the main reasons to see this production. Not that the rest of the cast are not up to it, they are, but Rachel York glimmers and glows. Fred Applegate is deliriously droll as Moonface, and Erich Bergen, if not the best singer and dancer for Billy Crocker, really comes through with great comedic timing and flair. The best support in the evening comes from Edward Staudenmayer as Lord Evey and also from Joyce Chittick as Erma. Staudenmayer is a brilliant comic actor adding so much panache and memorable dynamics to "The Gypsy in Me". Chittick is Kristin Chenoweth and Faith Prince in one package, tied up with a bow. She is so good, one almost forgets Hope and the fine performance from Alex Finke. Other fabulous support comes from Dennis Kelly as Whitney, Sandra Shipley as Mrs. Harcourt and Chuck Wagner practically unrecognizable as the Captain. The entire ensemble playing sailors, passengers and Reno's Angels are superb, dancing joyously throughout.
Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You", "You're the Top", "Easy to Love", "Friendship", "Its De-lovely", "Blow, Gabriel, Blow", "All Through the Night" and of course the title song are jubilantly rendered. There was one number I don't recall from past productions "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye" sung nicely by Finke.
There are an overabundance of corny, dated jokes and broad gaps in the clumsy book - if Reno is the lead, why is she used on stage so sparingly? And one sidenote on the new book: it is somehow bigger and better when the splashy "Bon Voyage" and the entire cast open the show rather than a small intimate bar scene and the great "I Get a Kick Out of You". It's OK to focus in on Reno and Billy from the top, but an opening is an opening, and "...Kick..." fits better a couple of numbers in.
Alas, overlook the goofy plot, inconsequential storyline, as they are not the reasons to see this production of Anything Goes. It's the cast, particularly York and Staudenmayer, Marshall's astounding choreography- especially the Act I tap finale and glittering "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" at the top of Act II - and Cole Porter's tunes... that make it all "De-lovely"!