‘Anything Goes’ brings the flair of years gone by

There is a moment in the new production of “Anything Goes,” now anchored in San Francisco, which feels so fresh, so organic, and tells a much larger story.
Without giving too much away, the moment happens at the end of a number. Rachel York, the star of the show is front and center. Once she and the cast bring the final note home on this particular song, the opening night crowd roared their approval. And when they were done roaring, they roared some more. And York kept it going, soaking it all in, letting the audience know there is no hurry to end the adulation. Some of her fellow cast members seemed to be having themselves a time as well, finding humor and spilling some impromptu laughs on the stage. And when York finally wrapped up the love for that moment, a message came through loud and clear – Bay Area, you’re gonna love us. And we’re gonna love you right back.
And so it went on opening night of the Cole Porter hit parade. A deadly, robust combination of the Kathleen Marshall directed dance party and the heavy artillery of some Broadway muscle filled the Golden Gate Theatre with a classic show of years gone by.
To be certain, these are the kinds of shows that don’t seem to always have a place in today’s Broadway houses. With musicals having more edge, more snap nowadays, a musical as campy as “Anything Goes,” is a delectable departure, with Cole Porter’s never ending quest to rhyme the heck out of anything close enough to a rhyme. But the brilliance of this production, which won the Best Revival Tony in 2011, is that it feels so damn fresh. Bits and shtick, which might be considered hokey in today’s theatre world, were laugh-out-loud funny on this night.
The plot and denouement of “Anything Goes” was probably what the Greeks had in mind when they coined the term “Deus Ex Machina.” Briefly, it is time to set sail on the U.S.S. American, heading out from New York to England. We meet a bevy of zany characters, including ex-evangelist Reno Sweeney (the dazzling York), broken down broker Billy Crocker (a return to San Francisco for a joyous Erich Bergen), the fair Hope Harcourt (a most genteel portrayal by Alex Finke) and her fantastically foppish fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakley (a hugely committed turn by Edward Staudenmayer). Of course, there is also Public Enemy number 13 Moonface Martin (a rich performance by Fred Applegate) and his devilishly delicious moll Erma (a playfully sensuous portrayal by Joyce Chittick).
While there is no rhyme or reason why any of the characters do anything that makes sense, it doesn’t matter, and Marshall does wonders to shape the material with tongue firmly rooted in cheek: Sailors run around doing nothing more than looking hunky and looking for action, while other characters lose their spectacles and immediately become blind beyond reason. And of course, the pure thrill of sharing the high seas with the number one murderer and burglar in the land. Oh, the joy!
While there was much joy in the enchanting ensemble cast, the stars of the show are most certainly the numbers themselves. It starts off with a most joyous rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You,” the great Porter standard, made famous by Frank Sinatra, among others. What is so magnificent is York’s voice, which has a quality and timbre that transports the listener back to the 1930’s in the spirit of voices such as the Andrews sisters and Helen Forrest.
Other numbers were just as wonderful. A dynamic and irresistibly silly version of “Friendship,” which was a cheeky carousal by both York and Applegate, a warm-and-fuzzy rendition of “De-lovely” by Bergen and Finke,” and a riotous “Be Like the Blue Bird” by Applegate, complete with some playful and witty spotlight action.
The large production numbers were quite spectacular. A strong ending of act one, complete with some snappy tap-dancing in the title number definitely gives out the vibe of classic Broadway. And “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” which practically demands the audience to rid the world of sin at that very moment, is what a Broadway production should be – boisterous, loud and full of energy.
What makes “Anything Goes” work so well is that it is such a gem of the American theatre. Plays like these are a way to connect with the history of the Great White Way, a powerful urge to return to a magical, mystical time, when names like Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein ruled the Broadway landscape. And as much as I love what today’s Broadway has to offer a new generation of theatre goers, it’s always nice to take a step back to see a show the way it used to be done. Sheer, brilliant stuff.


Shorenstein Hayes Nederlander of San Francisco presents “Anything Goes.”

Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) brings the house down in the SHNSF production of "Anything Goes," through Feb. 3rd at the Golden Gate Theatre (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) brings the house down in the SHNSF production of “Anything Goes,” through Feb. 3rd at the Golden Gate Theatre (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company of New York
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Written by Guy Bolton, Russel Crouse, Howard Lindsay and P. G. Wodehouse
Directed by Kathleen Marshall
The Word: They just don’t make ‘em the way they used to. A delightful, brilliant trip on the high seas, a Cole Porter hit parade.
Stars: 5 out of 5
The Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Jan. 9th – Feb. 3rd, 2013
Tickets range from $40 to $200
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit http://www.shnsf.com.

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