Anything Goes | The Fox Theatre

anythinggoes 75From the minute Rachel York took the stage, she was as dazzling as the sequins on her first costume.

 


anythinggoes 500

 

I’m a fan of vintage. Blame it on having parents twice the age of my peers, but I have an appreciation for most things created in the first half of the 1900s. It’s fueled a love for thrifting, early Americana music, old movies, early 20th century artists, and musicals such as 1934’s Anything Goes. Or I should say, musicals like it, because prior to this national tour debut at St. Louis’s Fabulous Fox Theatre, I had never seen nor read this classic production, now in its new Broadway revival. Despite that, I know nearly every gem of a tune contained therein—again, all thanks to parents reared during the Great Depression.

There’s certainly not a depressing moment to be found within this delightful tale of romantic shenanigans and mobsters on the lam, all aboard a cruise ship filled with travelers desperate for a glimpse of celebrity. Derek McLane’s set design is sharp and smart, and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz has me longing for the playfulness, romance, and clean lines of 1930s fashion to make a huge comeback. Indeed all of the elements of production were shipshape.

The real stars of the show are Cole Porter’s songs, which have the same qualities of 1930s fashion that I mentioned above. However, it takes a certain caliber of performer to bring them to life, especially the ones involving character Reno Sweeney. While not familiar with this production, I am familiar with some of the great ladies who’ve played the role, from Ethel Merman to Sutton Foster. I am a huge fan of the latter, and wondered prior to the show if I would just keep wishing it was her on stage. Boy, was I in for a surprise, because Rachel York didn’t just fill those shoes, she owned them. From the minute she took the stage, she was as dazzling as the sequins on her first costume. She has a fantastic voice that filled the theater and an obvious understanding of the nuances of the dialogue within and outside of the songs, as well as the moxie needed to play this role. There’s often a bit of fakery that clings to a character in a musical that many actors and actresses can’t seem to shake. Not so for York; she made Reno Sweeney real.

Other standouts include Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer), especially in the hilarious second act number “The Gypsy in Me,” in which he and York reminded me of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard one moment and then, in the next, Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett. Then there’s the most adorable gangster there ever was, Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate) and his hyper-sexual assistant Erma (Joyce Chittick), whose vocal choices fit her clichéd character like a snug bustier and made me laugh time and again.

This brings me to something that has really bugged me about past reviews of this show and their fixation on all the clichés and cultural insensitivity within it. Almost any musical made prior to the 1980s is filled with clichés in both dialogue and character. Often you have to suspend disbelief, embrace clichés as archetypes, and check your political correctness at the door if you want to enjoy them at all. Characters like Erma might come to mind immediately if you want to focus on stereotypes, but if you think further, you’ll realize that nearly every character in the show, from Girl-Getting-Married-to-Rich-Guy-but-in-Love-with-Another, Hope to Yale Man, Eli Whitney to “Old Lady in a Wheelchair,” is a cliché. As for political correctness, I’m not going to touch that one with a 10-foot bamboo pole other than to say that the point of Anything Goes isn’t to give a well-rounded insight into world cultures or a dissertation on the complexities of human existence and personality. Its sole purpose is to entertain and take us out of ourselves for a while.

For me, it always comes back to those songs. Songs I heard my mom humming throughout my childhood, saw featured on 1970s musical variety TV programs, and then performed by fellow theater students during auditions in college: “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-lovely,” and “Buddie Beware” stand the test of time. It was a joy to finally see them performed all together as they were intended. Anything Goes is the show you should plunk your hard-earned dough down to see. Just “buddie beware,” because afterward you might find yourself talkin’ with a short, clipped, wise-gal accent and annoying a few friends by overuse of the term “de-lovely” to describe everything around you. | Janet Rhoads

Performances of Roundabout Theater Company’s Anything Goes, directed by Kathleen Marshall, plays at The Fabulous Fox Theatre through June 9, Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.; there is also a matinee Thursday, June 6, at 1 p.m.

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