It’s time for hilarity and “high-jinks on the high seas” in The Kennedy Center’s current production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Possessing equal qualifications to be classified as glossy escapist fare, a retro trip into the past and – most especially – a music-lovers parade of classic standards by the legendary Cole Porter, this production of Anything Goes (originating from the acclaimed Roundabout Theatre Company’s New York City Revival) chugs along on just enough amiability, technical polish, vocal chops, and choreographic skills to avoid sinking under the problematic book (that has undergone several permutations from P.G. Wodehouse to John Weidman, and Timothy Crouse). that it is saddled with.
The show’s book aims for a screwball comedy appeal for, indeed, aboard this ocean liner we have a group of characters including the sweet ingenue, the haughty matron, the eccentric British Lord, the vacuous sexpot, a stowaway, and a minister. Yet the straight scenes with the various cast of characters do no really have any spontaneous life of their own and only seem to serve as set-ups for the next musical moment.
Under the superb Musical Direction and Conducting of Jay Alger and the Music Supervisor James Lowe, the musical numbers are the standouts here – abetted by the Anything Goes Orchestra and The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.The glorious, witty, and verbally intricate Cole Porter score includes standards (that have been covered by various recording artists for decades) like “You’re the Top,” “Friendship”, “I Get a Kick out of You,” “It’s De-lovely,” and the rousing title song “Anything Goes.”
The standout voice in this group is Josh Franklin (Billy Crocker) who possesses a rich and full range which is displayed to superb effect in his duets “You’re the Top” with Rachel York (Reno Sweeney) and the lovely and lilting “It’s De-lovely” with Alex Finke (Hope Harcourt). Finke is a bit too bland in the ingenue role but one can only marvel at what a beautiful and soaring voice she has. The two performers who have a sense of spontaneity and the requisite comic aplomb to really create fully-realized characters are Edward Staudenmayer (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh) who brings down the house wit his inspired rendering of “The Gypsy In Me” and Sandra Shipley (Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt), who has expert comic timing and just the right air of audacity and befuddlement.
Director and Choreographer Kathleen Marshall outdoes herself with pulling together this large troupe of performers with a vast array of movement including stylistic thrusts and syncopated arm extensions, full-throttle tap dancing and lovely romantic dancing duets replete with lifts and swirls. Marshall has not done such exciting and vivid choreographic work since the well-received production of Wonderful Town with Donna Murphy in New York several years ago.
Rachel York (Reno Sweeney) is the linchpin of this show and she has created a cool, sassy and confident Reno Sweeney. Lithe, agile, and attractive, York is every bit the consummate professional. She moves like a dream and clearly knows how to work with a large ensemble. York has an enjoyable full-bodied singing voice and a nice plaintive tone in her lower register. She takes full command of the more intimate numbers but is especially effective in the rousing ensemble numbers such as the title song and the spiritually uplifting “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Her delivery of the show’s spoken dialogue shows just the right combination of sass, charm, and sarcasm. Often she sounds like a combination of Eve Arden and Mae West in her speaking delivery. I have delighted in York’s appearances twice before on Broadway and she does not disappoint.
As mentioned earlier, the technical aspects are one of the highlights of this Anything Goes. Scenic Design by Derek McLane utilizing Ocean Liner and Art Deco elements are top-notch. Well-deserved kudos to Martin Pakledinaz for the appropriately flashy Costume Design and to Howell Binkley for the effective Lighting Design.
If you want to hear a glorious Cole Porter score and escape into a world of music and dance, make sure you have your passport for a trip to this production of Anything Goes.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and fifteen-minutes, with one fifteen-minute intermission.