Rachel York gives a dazzling performance as Reno Sweeney in Kathleen York's delightful revival of the classic musical.
It has been over a half century since Anything Goes set sail on Broadway, but Kathleen Marshall's Tony Award-winning revival for the Roundabout Theatre Company – now at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre as part of its national tour -- proves this old cruise liner is still worth boarding. What makes this voyage particularly pleasurable is the dazzling performance of Rachel York as slinky evangelist Reno Sweeney.
Much of the credit for the show's success is due to the vivacious Cole Porter score, including such songs as "De-lovely," "Friendship," and "Easy To Love," and a slightly bawdy, often witty script (revised in 1987) that's still appropriate for the kids. (Adults know that gangster's moll Erma is doing more than playing patty-cake with the two half-dressed sailors in the lifeboat late at night, but the children might not catch on.)
The show revolves around Reno, and any actress who plays her must have the pipes of the role's originator, Ethel Merman. York definitely fills the bill, but it's not just her singing that makes her a perfect fit for the part. Instead of just standing around during the title song as her angels tap around her, York tirelessly time-steps with the rest of the cast, all of whom move effortlessly in tap shoes that could wake the dead.
The primary supporting cast also displays great comedic timing. Erich Bergen and Alex Finke are not only charming in the thankless roles of the lovers Billy Crocker and Hope Harcourt, but they sing and dance well. Edward Staudenmayer appears to have fallen off the truck from Monty Python's Flying Circus as Hope's seemingly stuffy fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Brimming with manic energy and delightfully clueless aplomb, he actually becomes the hero of this piece. Fred Applegate is hysterical as the buffoonish but adorable criminal Moonface Martin (aka Public Enemy #13). And as the always naughty and never nice Erma, Joyce Chittick threatens to turn the proceedings into a porno film, oozing sex as she turns the sailor's club into her personal gymnasium.
Praise is due to Marshall, whose knack for directing the script's farcical elements, as characters come and go with sometimes dizzying speed, is matched by her choreography of the show's roof-raising, foot-stomping numbers. What's particularly impressive is not just the joyful noise made by the syncopated tapping of the chorus in the show-stopping title number; it's how she weaves people in and out of formations in "Blow Gabriel Blow" that truly illustrates her mastery.
In the end, though, it's both Marshall's sharp direction and York's striking performance that give this 75-year-old musical a fresh kick to delight new audiences.