Anything Goes at The Kennedy Center

The touring version of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2011 Tony Award-winning production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, which originally premiered on Broadway in 1934, has everything one would expect from a musical comedy of that era – complicated romantic relationships, wacky hijinks and mistaken identities on a ship traversing the Atlantic, a gangster or two, a scandalous woman, a good girl, and more – along with multiple production numbers featuring peppy choreography.

Although the original book by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsey, and Russel Crouse is not used in this version – it uses the rewrite that Timothy Crouse and John Weidman did in 1987 – this take on the musical theatre classic, now playing at the Kennedy Center, maintains a lot of the ‘light and fluffiness.’

In an era where many directors are trying to find new ways to present older theatrical pieces to make them more palatable to 21st century audiences – and sometimes epically fail at doing so – one can appreciate Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s nostalgic-filled production, which wisely resists any attempt to modernize the piece.  Amazing tap sequences (as featured in the Act 1 closer “Anything Goes”), jazz and gospel-infused production numbers (“Blow, Gabriel, Blow”) and tender, exquisitely-staged romantic ballads (“It’s De-lovely”), expansive sets (Derek McLane) that transport audiences to the maritime world, and colorful and period-specific costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) are just some of the features that demonstrate the production’s timelessness.

"Blow, Gabriel, Blow" from Anything Goes (Photo Credit: © Joan Marcus, 2012)

“Blow, Gabriel, Blow” from Anything Goes (Photo Credit: © Joan Marcus, 2012)

A hard-working triple-threat cast and brass-heavy hugely talented 16-piece orchestra – directed by Jay Alger, using the 1987 orchestrations by Michael Gibson with 2011 additions from Bill Elliot – bring Cole Porter’s quite diverse score to life with ease.  Although I found the energy to be lacking in some of the non-production number scenes in comparison to what I witnessed in the Broadway production shortly after it opened and just before it closed, one still has to admire the skill of all involved.

The production comes most alive in the ensemble scenes – particularly those taking place on the ship’s nightclub and featuring song and dance numbers like the sassy “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and the comedic “Public Enemy Number One” – but several principals have standout moments that deserve mentioning.

First and foremost is Rachel York as the bold evangelist-turned-nightclub singer Reno Sweeney. Many a strong Broadway/West End belter – from the likes of Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, and Elaine Paige to Sutton Foster and Stephanie J. Block more recently – has taken on this role.   York is among those who are triple threats, which adds something special to this production.  Sassy and bold when necessary and also exhibiting great natural comedic timing, she’s as strong of an actress as she is singer/dancer.  Her Reno Sweeney, unlike some of her contemporaries, is both weary and wise.  Although I did miss some spectacular and fierce belting moments in the title song that were found in the most recent Broadway revival – although this may have been a result of poor sound in the back of the Kennedy Center Opera House – she sang each song exquisitely.  I’ve followed York throughout her career and to say that she’s versatile is an understatement.

Recommended
Anything Goes
Closes July 7, 2013
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $25 – $115
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
 
Oddly lovable gangster Moonface Martin, played here by Fred Applegate, and his sidekick Erma (Joyce Chittick) have historically been roles filled by great comedic actors who can leave the audience in tears with their knack for comedy. Although Applegate fell a bit flat for me in the initial moments of the show when Moonface is introduced, he came alive with Rachel York in the delightfully comedic number “Friendship” where we learn that Moonface and Reno Sweeney are quite a pair. From there, he steadily improved and eventually won me over. The appropriately shrill Chittick, on the other hand, had my attention from beginning to end. I remember being impressed with her on Broadway in recent productions of Sweet Charity and Wonderful Town and here she continues her trend of being one who stands out amongst the crowd.

Rounding out the list of standouts are Josh Franklin (Billy Crocker) and Alex Finke (Hope Harcourt) – two star-crossed lovers who become entangled in the shenanigans on the ship from the more colorful characters. Franklin’s well-trained voice is perfectly suited for dreamy ballads like “Easy to Love,” “All Through the Night,” and of course the better known duet with his love interest, “It’s De-lovely.” Finke is also the perfect ingénue and her “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” was tender and sweet in addition to being superbly sung.

At the end of the day this Anything Goes is silly and fun and might just be what Washington, DC needs right now.

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Anything Goes  . Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter . Original book by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. New book by Timothy Cruise and John Weidman . Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall . Featuring Rachel York, Fred Applegate, Josh Franklin, Jeff Brooks, Joyce Chittick, Alex Finke, Dennis Kelly,  Vincent Rodriguez III, Marcus Shane, Sandra Shipley, Edward Staudenmayer, Chuck Wagner, Sarah Agar, Sara Andreas, Jeremy Benton, Jacqueline Burtney, Audrey Cardwell, Jan Leigh Herndon, Kristie Kerwin, Gary Lindemann, Sean McKnight, Marla McReynolds, Michael Milton, Tony Neidenbach, Bobby Pestka, Courtney Rottenberger, Vanessa Sonon, Ryan Steer, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden, Aaron Umsted, Mackenzie Warren, and Sean Watkins.

The creative team includes music direction by Jay Alger with additional orchestrations by Bill Elliot, original scenic design by Derek McLane, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, lighting design by Howell Binkley and sound design by Brian Ronan and Keith Caggiano. Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company . Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Jennifer Perry.

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Other reviews:

Diane Holcomb Wilshere . Accidental Thespian
Connor Hogan . BrightestYoungThings
Patrick Folliard . Washington Blade
Doug Rule . Metro Weekly
Chuck Conconi . Washington Life
Trey Graham . City Paper
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
Terry Ponick . Washington Times
Tim Smith . Baltimore Sun
Elliot Lanes . MDTheatreGuide
David Friscic . DCMetroTheaterArts
Rebecca Maynard . BroadwayWorld
Sophia Gilbert . Washingtonian
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post

 

 

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