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Forever Fabulous - Anything Goes

April 4, 2011 - by Griffin Miller

Like most musical theatre lovers, I carry a special torch for the classics -- the more retro the better. When I first heard about the Roundabout Theatre's new revival of Anything Goes and the high-wattage cast and creative team committed to the project -- director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, Tony winner Sutton Foster, Tony/Oscar winner Joel Grey, John McMartin, Jessica Walter, and on and on -- all I could think was, "Now here's a standing ovation waiting to happen."

Then I was invited to a press preview where a handful of numbers from the Cole Porter score were performed. No costumes, no props, and not the merest suggestion of a set -- we weren’t even in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. And yet, number after number added up to everything you could possibly want from this delicious (or should I say, “De-Lovely”?) musical set onboard a luxury ocean liner.

In a nutshell -- a very small nutshell, since this vintage gem of a farce has more twists and turns than a corkscrew -- the story follows Billy Crocker’s (Colin Donnell) infatuation with debutante Hope Harcourt (Laura Osnes), which leads to his stowing away on the S.S. American, whose passengers include his friend, evangelist-turned-nightclub-singer Reno Sweeney; his boss, Elisha Whitney (McMartin); Hope’s mother (Walter) and fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Adam Godley); and Moonface Martin (Grey). Suffice it to say, shenanigans runneth overboard as Reno and Moonface team up to help Billy win Hope’s affection.

Regarding the scope of the show, Todd Haimes, Roundabout’s Artistic Director, notes, “Like many musicals of its period, it’s not exactly what you’d call a chamber musical. It’s a big ensemble piece, and that’s exactly what makes this show such a joy. I don’t think you can do Anything Goes properly without embracing its size.”

Haimes goes on to remark on how much it meant to land Foster to play a role that clearly demands an oversized talent who can put her own stamp on Reno. “She’s one of Broadway’s most versatile and funny women -- a true triple-threat who [can] act, sing, and dance this role as no one else could,” he says.

And sing and dance she does, without losing a beat or breath during even the most audacious tap numbers. “I run through the tap choreography in my head,” says Foster, who admits to being taunted by tap routines -- and Porter’s ultra-catchy tunes -- even in her sleep.

But just to give you a taste of what the cast and theatergoers can’t stop humming, the score, in addition to the totally contagious title song, includes “You’re the Top,” “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

One final note: do not under any circumstances short of a rogue elephant charging down the aisle miss Foster and Grey’s “Friendship” duet. The two are so in tune with each other’s humor and timing it’s like they’re kids on a playground. Musical theatre just doesn’t get any better than this.

Anything Goes is playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or click here.

Anything Goes Trivial Pursuits

A smattering of facts and scuttlebutt about Cole Porter’s first iconic musical, with much emphasis on the current Broadway production!

• The original 1934 musical starred Ethel Merman as Reno Sweeney. The last revival, with Patti LuPone in the role, picked up three Tonys and one wonders whether, had the Tonys been around in the ‘30s, the Merman version would have been as successful. Certainly the 2010 edition has dibs on the Tony fast track.

• Russel Crouse -- along with P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay -- penned the show’s original book; Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) wrote the current book with John Weidman.

• Both Sutton Foster (Reno) and Laura Osnes (Hope) played the role of Sandy in Broadway revivals of Grease -- Sutton in 1996 and Laura in 2007.

• Actors Joel Grey -- celebrating his 60th anniversary on Broadway -- and John McMartin (celebrating his 50th) are old friends.

• Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall began her career as an assistant to her brother Rob Marshall, with whom she collaborated on Roundabout Theatre Company’s very first musical: She Loves Me in 1993.

• It is rumored that the show’s name and title song were the result of a lengthy production meeting during which someone testily asked, “How the hell are we going to end the first act?” to which an exhausted producer blurted, “Anything goes!”

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