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'Anything Goes': First-cabin talent makes Broadway opener a winner

October 12, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 12--The merriment of "Anything Goes" is palpable.

From its fizzy Cole Porter music to its high-stepping dance moves, the Best of Broadway season opener is well-acted, well-danced and a breezy good time.

"Anything Goes," which debuted in 1934, is an excellent example of musical comedies from the era. It's madcap and quick-witted, with terrific music and high-spirited dance numbers. If some of the references send you scrambling to Google on your smartphone (Fatty Arbuckle, anyone?), it's a minor annoyance.

The play is set aboard the ocean liner the S.S. American. On board is a young debutant, Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke), her mother Evangeline (Sandra Shipley), Hope's fiance, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Joey Sorge), businessman Elisha Whitney (Dennis Kelly) and his young employee Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin). Billy's friend Reno Sweeney (Rachel York), an evangelist-turned-nightclub singer, is there as well, along with her backup singers The Sinners. Then there's the gangster Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate) and the gangster's moll, Erma (Joyce Chittick).

The story is a classic boy-meets-girl farce. Billy wants to marry Hope, who's being married off to Oakleigh to ease her mother's money woes. Meanwhile, Reno has a sweet spot for Billy, but is happy to help him win the girl of his dreams. To do that, he stows away, pretending to be a notorious gangster, with the help of Erma and Moonface. What follows is a series of mistaken identities, bad disguises, double entendres and snappy dialogues.

York is clearly the star. Her Reno Sweeney is a wise-crackin' dame with a head on her shoulders. She's on the lookout for love, despite her tough-girl persona. York plays Sweeney with a sparkle in her eye and a quick swish of the hips. York is having a blast, and taking us along for the ride.

The tap routine that ends Act I is set to "Anything Goes," and York and the chorus do themselves proud. It's energetic and exhausting, and a lot of fun to watch. But it's the Act II number "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" that sets the house on fire. It's jazzy and sexy, with Sweeney and her Sinners at their best. York is simply fabulous.

Applegate, as Moonface Martin, nearly steals every scene he's in. His solo number "Be Like the Bluebird" is hilarious. He does wonders with facial expressions as well, conveying much with a sly grin and a tilt of the head. It's a great performance.

Also a standout? Chittick as the vamp, Erma. Her number "Buddie, Beware" with a chorus of sailors near the end of Act II is playfully raunchy.

The only problem Thursday was that Finke's microphone seemed to be turned a bit low. She has a lovely voice, but when compared to the big, brassy performances by York and Chittick, she comes off as quiet. Turn her mic up a bit so she can be heard over the orchestra and let her voice shine through.

Really, the whole cast is top-notch, as is the orchestra, conducted by Jay Alger. What makes "Anything Goes" so special is the sheer level of talent on stage. The principal actors, save for Finke, all have impressive Broadway resumes. For fans of Broadway-quality theater, "Anything Goes" is one not to miss.

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(c)2013 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

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