Sunday, October 07, 2012

ANYTHING GOES, dynamic dancing, fanciful farce and great music at The Palace

Cleveland may not have great athletic teams, but it is a pennant contender when it comes to theatre.  The local area is one of the top subscription sales stops on the Broadway series tour.  Often the shows start their treks to other venues by opening here.  Such is the case with ANYTHING GOES, which unleashed its 25 city tour last Friday at the Palace Theatre.

You’ve seen ANYTHING GOES before?  Well, maybe yes, maybe no, depends on where and when you did the viewing.  No less than four official versions of the Cole Porter show exist.  The original 1934 version, a 1962 revision,  and a 1987 revival which further altered both the story and the score.   In 2011 another face-lift was done with songs cut, other reassigned to different scenes and/or given to different characters to sing.  Porter songs from other shows were added.  (The newest revival starred Sutton Foster and Cleveland native Joel Grey.) It’s the latest version of the script that is lighting up the stage at The Palace.

Interestingly, even before the show opened in New York in its original form, changes had to be made.  The initial plot involved a bomb threat on an ocean liner, a shipwreck, and fun and games on a desert island.  A couple of weeks before the show’s opening a fire broke out on the cruise ship SS Morro Castle, which caused the deaths of over one hundred passengers.  Obviously, that was not a good time to use an ocean disaster as a plot for a light-hearted musical.   So, the idea was scrapped and the new story line developed. 

Since shows of the day were escapist, not like the well-made musicals of today where storylines drive the plot, and songs and dancing meld flawlessly, making the change was no big deal.

ANYTHING GOES takes place on an ocean liner bound from New York to London.  Handsome, young Billy Crocker stows away in order to pursue his attempt to win over his love, Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to uptight Brit, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.  Also on board is Moonface Martin who is Public Enemy #13, Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer and “evangelist,” two Chinese sinners, a “minister,” four “angels,” an airheaded floosy, Crocker’s wealthy boss, and lots sailors and passengers.

The story?  Billy pursues Hope, whose mother wants her to marry Oakleigh for his money, while Reno pursues both Billy and Oakleigh, the passengers want to sail with celebrities and are thrilled when they find out Public Enemies # 1 (well, not really) and #13 (for real) are on board. 

Get the idea that this is just fun stuff that requires no thinking and little will be learned?  You are right.  And you are along for one heck of a fun ride, while listening to such great Porter classics as I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re The Top, Easy to Love, It’s De-lovely, All Through the Night, and The Gypsy in Me.  Yes, all these are part of this version of this script.

But, that not all. The first act show closer, Anything Goes, explodes into an exciting long tap dance number that brought the audience to its feet.  To add to the enjoyment, early in Act Two Blow Gabriel, Blow becomes a prayer meeting song and dance extravaganza that caused so much excitement that the show actually had to pause because the audience wouldn’t stop clapping.

The touring show is dynamically directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall.  She misses no chances to excite and delight the audience.

Tall, beautiful, talented Rachel York makes Reno into a singing and dancing marvel.  This is one talented performer playing a role that appears to have been written for her. The dynamic York played Fantine in LES MISERABLES on Broadway, and Marguerite in the second Broadway version of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.  In a one-on-one interview, York, who declares that she is “a perfectionist,” shared that she finds that “touring, and living out of a suitcase is going to be an adventure” as she is a new mother and will be bringing her child on the tour. She finds that “every opening night in each city is a major challenge. The different audiences and new venues present an interesting challenge.”

Fred Applegate convulses the audience as Moonface Martin.  He is the consummate stage comedian, with a mobile face and light-up-the-stage presence.  His version of Friendship, sung and mugged with York, is one of the show’s many highlights.

Leading man handsome Erich Bergen has the right boy next door presence, sings and acts well, but appears a little dance challenged, finessing some of his moves.

Alex Finke makes for an adorable Hope, Sandra Shipley is properly uptight as her mother, and Edward Staudenmayer is a total delight as Lord Oakleigh.  Dennis Kelley, makes for fun, as Eisha Whitney, Billy’s near blind boss.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  ANYTHING GOES is a total delight and a must see!  You’ll come out of the theatre thinking of the show that “It’s De-lovely,” that “I Get a Kick Out of You” because “You’re The Top,” and so “Easy To Love.”