Regional Reviews: San Francisco
An Intoxicating Production of
My love for this classic goes back to 1962 when I first saw the Off-Broadway revival at the Orpheum Theatre with Eileen Rodgers playing Reno Sweeny. Later I saw the 1987 Lincoln Center revival with Patti LuPone and the 1989 West End revival with Elaine Paige and John Barrowman.
The action involves the misadventures arising from the collision of brassy Reno Sweeney (Rachel York); a low-rank gangster who is Public Enemy 13 Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate) in disguise of a padre; a handsome stowaway named Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen), who is in love with a person completely out of his league; an unobtainable heiress (Alex Finke); and an awkward British lord (Edward Staudenmayer) all on an ocean liner in the Atlantic during the jazz age.
Yes, the 1934 zingers are vintage one-liners, but they have been spiffed up and still get laughs. What makes this musical exciting is the singing and vibrant, boundless dancing ending with the adrenaline-charged ensemble tap dancing to the title song, closing the first act, which sends patrons dancing up the aisle for intermission. All of this is choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Every duet and ensemble number delivers new, astonishing delights, like Joyce Chittick singing "Buddie, Beware" and Fred Applegate singing "Be Like the Blue Bird" with a clever blue spotlight as the bluebird.
Rachel York is sensational in the role of Reno Sweeney. She owns every song she touches with her blithe, jazzy original phrasing. She belts, taps, waltzes and makes "You're the Top" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" delicious, and she blows the audience away with an elaborate dance number built around the song "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" (on opening night she got an extended ovation).
Old school comic Fred Applegate gives a perfect performance as Moonface Martin and shines his brightest singing "Be Like the Bluebird." Even his old-fashioned zingers get laughs from the audience. Erich Bergen excels as Billy Crocker; the charismatic leading man displays fine singing on "It's De-lovey" and "All Through the Night." He is also excellent in the dancing department, waltzing with Alex Finke in "It's De-lovey". Finke has a mellifluous voice singing "Easy to Love" and "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye." Joyce Chittick is wonderful as the rapaciously uninhibited Emma, especially when she sings with a host of hunky athletic dancers in "Buddie, Beware." She relishes every ounce of the stereotype of the promiscuous moll with infective bombast. Edward Staudenmayer is sidesplitting as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, particularly in the wild and funny "The Gypsy in Me" tango with Rachel York. Dennis Kelley gives an engaging performance as the nearsighted millionaire Elisha Whitney, and Sandra Shipley shines as Hope's mother.
Credit also goes to musical director Jay Alger and his fine orchestra, who make every Cole Porter song a gem. This is a swell-looking production with Derek McLane's multilevel ocean liner and snug compartment, gleaming with art deco style, Martin Pakledinaz's costumes trimmed in superiority and wit, and Howell Binkley's lighting casting a moonlit radiance on many of the numbers and bright shining lights in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and "Anything Goes." The bottom line is, there isn't a whiff of road company raggedness in this crack corps.
Anything Goes plays at the Golden Gate Theatre through February 3rd. For tickets call 888-746-1799 or on line at www.shnsf.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.anythinggoesontour.com/. Up next is Wicked at the Orpheum Theatre opening on January 23 and running through February 17, and Jersey Boys on running March 9 through April 28.