`Anything Goes` revival makes a de-lovely evening

Last Updated: Apr 08, 2011, 09:38 AM IST

New York: So delightful, so delicious, so de-lovely are Cole Porter`s classic songs in "Anything Goes" that reviewing this show becomes an exercise in avoiding the temptations of wordplay.

But we`re above such a thing. No, not from us will you hear that this 1934 musical is the top! (Oops.) The Colosseum! The Louvre Museum! (Sorry.) A Bendel bonnet! A Shakespeare`s sonnet! (Did we say that?) It`s Mickey Mouse!

Suffice it to say, though, that if you`re a musical comedy fan, you`ll not go home from this affectionate and satisfying Roundabout Theatre revival with "the smile on the Mona Lisa" on your face — for that smile is equivocal, uncertain, gloomy even. Chances are rather that you`ll be leaving the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, where "Anything Goes" opened Thursday night, grinning broadly and humming.

Unlike some recent revivals, this one, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, does not aspire to pare down the original. That`s a good call, because "Anything Goes" needs to be big — lotsa sailors, lotsa gals dressed in lotsa silk and satin, lotsa tap shoes in those ensemble numbers. And this production, the first on Broadway since Patti LuPone headlined a revival in 1987, has all that — plus an excellent cast led by the indefatigable Sutton Foster.

As Reno Sweeney, the sassy but kindhearted nightclub singer looking for a good man aboard the ocean liner S.S. American, Foster`s job is pretty much to carry the show. She`s in almost all the best numbers — "You`re the Top," "Friendship," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and the second-act crowd-pleaser, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Plus, of course, the exuberant tap number "Anything Goes."

The multitalented Foster has often played the wide-eyed girl, and she isn`t the sultriest, brassiest or hardest-edged of Reno Sweeneys. Strong, athletic and blonde here, with a huge, cheery grin, Foster`s Reno might have arrived at her nightclub gig via a stint on the college cheerleading squad.

But the Tony-winning actress, who by the way looks smashing in all those silky and sparkly costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, is the very definition of a Broadway triple threat. And she shows it all off in the title song, which closes the first act with a cascade of tapping feet reminiscent of "42nd Street." After what feels like 10 minutes of tap dancing, you imagine there`s just no way that Foster, leading the pack, can still belt out the rest of the song. But she manages it.

She`s backed up by a mostly terrific supporting cast, including Colin Donnell as the young stockbroker, Billy Crocker, who stows away on the ship in a bid to woo the girl of his dreams (not Reno, to her chagrin.) Donnell sings beautifully and projects a quiet sexiness not unlike that of Jon Hamm in TV`s "Mad Men," to whom he bears more than a passing resemblance.

As Hope Harcourt, the winsome heiress he loves, Laura Osnes ("Grease," "South Pacific") has a lovely soprano voice that serves her well in her duet with Billy, "It`s De-lovely" (originally from the Porter show "Red, Hot and Blue") and in the mournful "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye." Hope is hardly a complex, fleshed out character, but Osnes makes the most of her.

Then, of course, there is Joel Grey, appearing here almost a half-century after he won a Tony (and later, an Oscar) for "Cabaret."

As the pixieish gangster (if a gangster can be pixieish) Moonface Martin, Grey is far from the strongest singer in the show, and many of his corny jokes fall flat. But most people won`t care — at 78 he throws himself into his comic role with humor and a sense of mischief, and he and Foster have fun as they come up with ever-stranger ways to express their devotion in "Friendship" ("If you ever lose your teeth and you`re out to dine; borrow mine.")

Jessica Stone lends sass to the role of the sailor-crazy Erma, and the delightful John McMartin ("Into the Woods," "Sweet Charity") has a ball as Elisha Whitney, the millionaire who is never sober. So does fellow Broadway veteran Jessica Walter as Hope`s aristocratic mother, who is determined, naturally, that her daughter marry upward.

The intended groom is the simpering, whimpering (sorry, that`s from another show) Lord Evelyn Oakleigh — awkward, sexually repressed, and played to the hilt by Adam Godley. This British actor, who`d be at home in a Monty Python movie or perhaps an episode of "The Office" — the original one — brings a welcome zaniness to his number with Reno, "The Gypsy In Me." (And check out his very funny bio in the Playbill, too.)

Marshall`s choreography in the big numbers is exuberant, as it was in "The Pajama Game," the hugely successful 2006 revival, also by the Roundabout, that won her a Tony for best director. Outside the ensemble numbers, though, when her actors are singing alone, one feels they sometimes could be moving in more interesting ways.

As for the book (originally by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse), well, it is mainly a vehicle to push along the classic songs. And there`s a positively cringeworthy Chinese stereotype that pops up briefly toward the end of the show.

But happily, the real star here is Cole Porter and his wonderful music and lyrics.

And so, one night soon, you could head to the Palace Theatre and hear the famous drag queens of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" effort the rhyming of "hormone" and "whore moan."

Or, you could spend a few hours with the man who found the nimblest of ways to get from "Fred Astaire" to "Camembert." Your choice.

Bureau Report