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Review: 'Anything Goes' is 'the top' at the Ahmanson Theatre

November 29, 2012|By Margaret Gray
  • Despite chemistry like this, Billy (Erich Bergen) and Reno (Rachel York) are not lovers in "Anything Goes."
Despite chemistry like this, Billy (Erich Bergen) and Reno (Rachel York)… (Joan Marcus )

Could tap-dancing possibly be as fun as Rachel York makes it look?  She and the cast of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony-winning Broadway revival of “Anything Goes,” now stopping at the Ahmanson Theatre on its national tour, perform the show’s exuberant title number with such saucy, effortless flair and megawatt smiles that I found myself thinking, “I’m signing up for lessons” — I, who get winded riding an escalator in heels.

A brief respite from reality — whether a restrictive society or bunions — is both the theme and the promise of Cole Porter’s madcap shipboard 1934 musical, which introduced many of his most famous songs (“You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-lovely” and of course, “Anything Goes”) via a gleefully silly story of star-crossed lovers and inadequate disguises.

P.G. Wodehouse co-wrote the original book, along with Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (it was significantly restored and revised in 1987 by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman), so Bertie Wooster fans will feel right at home with the characters on this ship of (lovable) fools.


FOR THE RECORD:
"Anything Goes": A review of the Ahmanson Theatre production "Anything Goes" in the Nov. 30 Calendar section said that the Cole Porter song "It's De-Lovely" was introduced in that musical. The song first appeared in the 1936 musical "Red Hot and Blue" and was added to "Anything Goes" in a 1962 revival. —

Newcomers will be surprised at its pertinent satire of a craven, celebrity-mad society. As it turns out, anything that went in 1934 still goes. (Well, almost anything: One exception is the musical’s portrayal of Chinese people, which has been softened from the original but still rings with gongs and other dated stereotypes.)

York plays Reno Sweeney, a tough-talking nightclub star whose act uniquely blends evangelism with striptease. (We get a delicious taste of it in the gorgeous second-act gospel/blues showstopper “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”)  She has a crush on stockbroker Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen), who thinks she’s “the top” but loves the debutante Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) instead. Hope returns Billy’s affection; unfortunately she has agreed to marry the foppish Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer, all floppy hair and wonderfully ungainly dance moves) to placate her fortune-hunting mother.

The engaged couple, as well as Billy’s alcoholic boss (Dennis Kelly), are off to England on the same cruise on which Reno has been hired to perform. Billy skips out on an important job assignment to get on board too, buying a ticket from gangster-in-disguise Moonface Martin (the endearing Fred Applegate), which somehow leads to his being mistaken for the police’s “Public Enemy Number One.” This mix-up, along with his efforts to hide from his boss, complicates Billy’s efforts to stop Hope’s marriage.

But Reno gamely teams up with Moonface to help Billy win her rival. That his preference for Hope remains perplexing has nothing to do with Finke, who’s lovely. It’s just that the audience falls so hard for York that Billy’s failure to do so seems like a character flaw. Bergen’s love scenes with Finke are sweet, but they’d be more convincing if they didn’t follow the frisky, crackling rendition of “You’re the Top” he does with York.

York replaced Sutton Foster, who won raves for the role in this production on Broadway. I didn’t get to see Foster, but I don’t feel shortchanged. York is a true star, in a lush, larger-than-life Old Hollywood mode, demonstrating with every note, step and smile a deeply generous commitment to entertaining us. The same dedication is evident in most aspects of the production, especially Derek McLane’s stylish Art Deco ocean liner set (I especially like the cramped staterooms that slide on the stage for interior scenes) and Martin Pakledinaz’s luscious costumes. Kathleen Marshall, who both directed and choreographed, has dazzlingly reinvigorated a classic escapist treat.

“Anything Goes.” Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions. Ends Jan. 6. $20 to $120. Ticket prices subject to change. (213) 972-4400 or www.centertheatregroup.org. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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