It seems like everyone I know loves Anything Goes. My best friend in college was madly in love with Patti Lapone when she played Reno Sweeney back in 1987 and Mel Brooks says he decided to go into theater after seeing the 1934 production with Ethel Merman. The 2011 Tony winning production by Roundabout Theatre Company is making its St Louis premiere now through June 9th at the Fox with a glittering and ebullient Rachel York at the helm, channeling a bit of Mae West from time to time. The story is silly and campy with lots of puns and old jokes that are still fun. Who knew “cherry cheesecake” could be the punch-line of a really funny joke? The Roundabout company, under the clear, beautifully executed direction of Kathleen Marshall, gives this show the proper energy, spirit and schmaltz required and the result was a very happy audience and cast by the end of opening night.
Ms. York is delightful as Reno Sweeney and she is backed by an equally talented cast. The first act gives her four of Cole Porter’s gems to sing, “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” an adorable version of “Friendship, ” sung with Fred Applegate’s amusing Moonface Martin, and the first act showstopper, “Anything Goes.” The second act starts out a touch disappointing. You return from intermission with “Anything Goes” and the vision of the cast dancing their taps off running in your head only to be introduced to a very lukewarm, second act opener “Public Enemy Number One.” Thank goodness the scene immediately heads into “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” or it might have lost me there, which would have been a shame because the second act really allows many of the ancillary characters to shine.
There are so many wonderful characters in this show but I was particularly struck with Joyce Chittick’s cheeky gangster’s moll, Erma. Adorably resourceful, she can charm the pants off a sailor, literally. I found myself looking forward to her return every time she left stage. Josh Franklin’s Billy Crocker is handsome and appropriately besotted with Alex Finke’s ingénue, Hope Harcourt. Finke has a beautiful voice, gets a lovely song, and is a gorgeous girl but the character of Hope is lackluster next to Reno and Erma.The set looks like a vintage travel poster of a cruise ship, the three smoking funnels even lean a bit, giving an impression of movement. Martin Pakledinaz’ costumes are splendidly delicious although a few times the glitzier gowns picked up so much light it was hard to see the women’s faces. Director Marshall also did the choreography and it was top notch! If you enjoy big, splashy musicals, you should jump on board this cruise liner. Anything Goes plays through June 9th at the Fox.