When I last set sail on the S.S. American of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, Sutton Foster was in the role made famous by Ethel Merman and later by Patti LuPone. Now, Rachel York is playing nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, and she is a revelation in the part.
Dating back to 1934, Anything Goes is a classic musical comedy where gangsters, singers, businessmen, poor families, and the rich all meet and fall in love on a publicity-starved voyage across the seas. Reno thinks Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen) is in love with her, but he’s head over heels for Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer). Billy isn’t supposed to be on the ship, but he gets onboard when an extra ticket and passport comes his way via gangster Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate – significantly better in this role than Joel Grey was) and his moll Erma (Joyce Chittick). Along the way such classic tunes as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” and of course the show's titular song ring out.
Ms. York has star power, sex appeal, and charisma to spare. She doesn’t have the belting power of Merman or LuPone, but that isn't necessary here. It's easy to see why men would fall for her and everyone would want to hear her sing. Her comedic chops are also spot-on. Mr. Bergen has a beautiful voice, but he shamelessly mugs his way through the show. In “It’s De-Lovely,” his romantic duet with Ms. Finke, there was no chemistry between them. Contrast that with “The Gypsy in Me,” a duet with Ms. York and Mr. Staudenmayer (who impressed greatly); you can feel the heat right away.
Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall keeps the show afloat with plenty of crowd-pleasing dance numbers, but I wish that she had been more inventive with her choreography. Throughout the show, too many dances feature similar or even identical actions. More counterpoint also would have helped tremendously, but the dance team in this show is terrific.
The original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton with Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse has been updated by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. It is fresher and more enjoyable than most of what passes for musical comedy today. Cole Porter believes “There’s No Cure Like Travel.” Your plans before January 6th should include a voyage with Anything Goes. It's the perfect antidote to holiday blues and the depressing news.