Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anything Goes Theatre Review

Emma Stratton (center) stars in Anything Goes

A Nautical Swell of Classic Comedy
by Josh Simon (Contributing Editor)

According to the “rules” of farce, when one door closes, another door must open immediately. This rule is impeccably followed in Anything Goes (at Warner Theatre through February 26), with the delightful addition of portholes and a cache of classic Cole Porter tunes.

The tour is helmed by director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall, who directed the Tony-winning Broadway revival in 2011. Despite updates to the libretto across the decades, the original plot remains largely unchanged since the musical’s 1934 debut. Reno Sweeney (Emma Stratton) leads the way as the chanteuse on an ocean liner woefully devoid of “celebrities” to entertain its passengers. Her pal Billy Crocker (Brian Krinsky) stows away, when he discovers his true love Hope (Rachelle Rose Clark) is on the ship with her foppish fiancĂ© Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Richard Lindenfelzer), who may have wandering eyes for Sweeney. Added to the mix is Moonface Martin (Dennis Setteducati), a bumbling gangster disguised as a preacher. Mistaken identity, slapstick, and plenty of tap-dancing ensues.

Emma Stratton and Brian Krinsky (r)

Stratton channels her inner Mae West as Reno, providing the full package of musical comedy: She acts, sings, and dances wonderfully, and delivers well-timed zingers. She spearheads the show-stopping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” leading a cast of talented dancers through an endlessly stunning routine. Billy and Hope are sweetly-voiced and played with wide-eyed wonder by Krinsky and Clark respectively; but the characters soon become one-dimensional and are easily overpowered by their comic foils.

And what foils they are! As “Public Enemy Number Thirteen,” Setteducati relishes his hammy role as Moonface. It's hilarious to watch him bungle his every move, while talking the talk of a dangerous criminal. Lindenfelzer’s bumbling Brit Evelyn has a standout physical comedy sequence with Reno during the hilarious “Gypsy in Me.” Mychal Philips is excellent as Martin’s right-hand-dame Erma. Her back pocket, full of one-liners, Erma flirts her way through a sea of men and wins the hearts of the audience in the process.

Yet, despite updates to the book and some lyrics in the late 80s, the show can still feel very dated. Certain cultural references, from the aforementioned “Gypsy” number to some cringeworthy Asian disguises donned by the leads, are uncomfortable at best and offensive at worst. Still, a classic is a classic; and it's easy to be carried along by the familiar tunes of “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the tap extravaganza of the title song. To all fans of Cole Porter, it’s anchors aweigh!

Grade: B