"Anything Goes" -- Goodspeed

By David A. Rosenberg

Time was, a luxurious overseas voyage was considered successful and prestigious only if a celebrity were on board. That’s the initial premise of “Anything Goes,” where, since no movie star can be found, celebrity status is bestowed on a gangster. Complications ensue. Cole Porter’s most produced musical, now in a Goodspeed Musicals revival, sings and dances with glee but doesn’t much rise above the silliest of plots and gags that were probably old back in the 30s (the show dates from 1934).

While waiting for the next musical number, you might find yourself wishing for a stiff drink. Then the numbers come, some from the original production, some patched in from other Porter shows. Any evening that begins with “I Get a Kick Out of You” and powers through “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and the title song just has to have its head on straight. Not to mention those Porter rhymes: “Gandhi/brandy,” “cocaine/Champagne,” “higher/fire,” “lamp/scamp.”

The plot revolves around several characters on their way from New York to London aboard the “S. S. American.” Reno Sweeney (the Ethel Merman role), an evangelist turned nightclub entertainer, is traveling with her bevy of girls with whom she belts “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Aboard is her one-time beau, Wall Street trader Billy Crocker, who’s pursuing Hope Harcourt, who’s engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a Brit obsessed with American slang. (Got that?)

Anxious to get daughter hitched, Hope’s mom, Evangeline, doesn’t take kindly to Billy, who disguises himself as both a sailor and a gangster. Also on board are Billy’s boss, Elisha J. Whitney, Moonface Martin (a.k.a.Public Enemy No. 13) and Erma, Moonface’s randy moll ready to seduce every sailor in sight.

Into the mix are the ship’s captain, a bishop and a couple of Chinese. Although once the butt of ethnic jokes, Orientals are here off the hook, replaced by an easy-to-laugh-at effeminate man in the person of Patrick Richwood’s mincing purser. The original book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse was revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Recent productions use a further revision by Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) and John Weidman.

As Reno, Rashidra Scott has a mile-wide smile and taps up a storm while, as Evelyn, Benjamin Howes gets his every laugh and delivers big with “The Gypsy in Me.” As Billy, David Harris is excellent, handsome, possessed of strong pipes and much the center of attention.

That’s what the usually adept Stephen DeRosa as Moonface wants to be. Yet, instead of playing to his own strengths (he was much the best thing in Westport’s “Sing for Your Shakespeare”), DeRosa channels Groucho Marx, awkwardly mugging his way through the evening and not above upstaging. (Does he have to play the violin during “All Through the Night”?)

As Hope, Hannah Florence is bland; more suitable are Denise Lute as Evangeline and Kingsley Leggs as Whitney; Desiree Davar’s Erma has fun with “Buddie, Beware”; Jay Aubrey Jones’s Captain has been directed to say every line with his hands behind his back.

Daniel Goldstein’s direction misses the boat in almost every way, but Kelli Barclay’s choreography saves the day. Her staging of both the title song and “Gabriel” is galvanizing, while the swoony “It’s De-Lovely” fits its title.

Wilson Chin’s multi-tiered set, Brian Tovar’s lighting and Ilona Somogyi’s costumes are deliciously period. The always reliable musical director Michael O’Flaherty’s seven-piece orchestra, perched on the top deck, does just fine by Cole Porter.

And Porter is the chief reason to see this production. His music triumphs over a by-the-numbers presentation in which each cast member seems to be doing his or her own thing. When that score caresses the theater, however, all is right, all through the night.

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CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE