For a holiday treat overflowing with joy, fun, and some of Cole Porter's greatest classics, run to the Ahmanson theatre where the tour of the 2011 Tony Award winning production of Anything Goes sails through January 6, 2013.
The 1934 musical was a grand respite from the depression era in which it found itself, not unlike the dire economic and political climate in which we find ourselves today. In the show, Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) a revival stomping, scorching cabaret singer along with her best friends Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate) and Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen) are traversing the Atlantic aboard the S.S. American.
Akin to early twentieth century musical style the book contains all the necessary love triangles. Reno loves Billy, Billy loves Hope Harcourt (Alex Fincke). However, Hope is being forced by her mother, Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (Sandra Shipley), to marry Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer). To "top" it all off, Lord Evelyn realizes that he is in love with Reno. Meanwhile, after being underwhelmed by the lack of celebrities on board, upon discovering that Public Enemy #1 (who is actually Billy Crocker disguised) is on board, the captain rolls out the red carpet for him and thanks him "for putting this boat of ours on the map" (a relevant poke at the celebrity obsession in our culture today).
As a flagship musical for its time the book does not run as deep as the ocean on which it travels (even with updates from the 1987 revival). Rather, it is light fare (much lighter than the cost to travel by ship in 1934) on which to let sail Cole Porter's classics ("I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's De-Lovely," "Anything Goes," "All Through the Night") and Kathleen Marshall's ebullient choreography. The latter being the true star of this production, though, some of the direction leaves us wondering why these people fall in love with each other, and why we should care. It all happens too quickly without a lot of contextual layering.
York soars as Reno. She's charming, graceful, and sassy. However, there are moments in which the direction leaves actors around her underwhelmed, like when Billy just sits in the opening bar while she belts her heart out on "I Get a Kick out of You. Also, these two lack chemistry until Hope arrives. Studenmayer, although seemingly one dimensional for most of the show, almost steals it when he finally belts out his hilarious, "Gypsy in Me." One of the shows best performers is Joyce Chittick as Erma, she has great comic timing, and she is perhaps having the most fun.
The production is supported by a superb ensemble cast, especially the sailors. With their keen ability to execute on Marshall's choreography and Rob Fisher's stellar vocal arrangements, the sailors indeed get this ship where it is going. By the Act I finale I dare you to not be tapping your toes and humming the Porter tunes that are sure to entertain for centuries to come.