“Anything Goes”: My FT Review

Here’s what I thought of the new hit production of “Anything Goes,” just opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theater on Broadway. Full text also after the jump.

Though Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, now in intermittently exciting Broadway revival from the Roundabout, roared into New York in 1934, its fizzy whoop-de-doo retains the giddiness of the previous decade and the sophomoric overtones of the years before the first world war, when Porter was writing still-popular ditties at Yale.

In addition, this work, directed here with choreographic dexterity by Kathleen Marshall, retains a signal quality of prewar musicals: a ridiculous libretto. Like the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, who co-wrote the original Anything Goes book, the show demands that we overlook the paltriness of plot for the rewards of wit.

But this approach only works if the production is so flawlessly cast and the farce so impeccably brisk that we have not a moment to fixate on the silly story, which involves a transatlantic voyage peopled by Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer; Billy Crocker, a stowaway in love with ingénue Hope Harcourt; and Moonface Martin, a third-rate gangster.

The sly old pros here make us forget the flimsiness. As Moonface, Joel Grey retains the elastic facial expressions of an expert vaudevillian and as the boola-boola Yalie Elisha Whitney, John McMartin reminds us that not all funny drunks are named Arthur.

The production, which is slow getting out of port, achieves cruising speed at “You’re the Top”. With its gallimaufry of pop culture references, the number introduces us musically to Colin Donnell’s Billy. Donnell has a more than passable voice and smooth dance moves, especially in “It’s De-Lovely”, a duet with Laura Osnes, who imbues Hope with the evening’s loveliest singing.

Sutton Foster is a head-scratching choice to play Reno. No Broadway bible dictates that the role must be brayed with the brass of Ethel Merman, its original interpreter, or of Patti LuPone, star of the last hit Broadway revival in 1987. But we must believe that Billy would reject Reno’s amorous advances not just because he covets Hope’s money but because he finds her sexier. With her attractive figure, Foster would win that match. The performer lacks impeccable low-comedy timing, yet her brilliance in the title number, which closes the first act in spectacular fashion, is palpable.

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