Sound Advice Reviews
"Times have changed, and we've often rewound the clock since" 1934 when the musical Anything Goes first burst upon the Broadway scene and it's been about a quarter of a century already since the last major New York City revival. Whether you're recalling the spiffiness, splash and sparkle specific to this score, or just the oldest old-school class of cheerful musical comedy that's peppy and bursting with love songs, the zingy new cast recording brings back real or imagined times "in olden days." If you're looking for high-energy musical romps both raucous and rosy, cozy cooing, happy harmonizing and dance breaks, this very bright and sunny Anything Goes goes a long way towards fitting the bill.
It's a show that's been rethought and retooled, going back to its very beginnings when the original plot was revamped before it went into rehearsal. The book has been tweaked again for this ship-set story to aim for even smoother comedic sailing down the Great White Way. (Very few lines of the dialogue are heard on this new cast album.) Over the years and through various productions and film versions, songs have come and gone and come back in, with interpolations from other scores by its composer-lyricist, Cole Porter. Thus, the different recordings of the score are not identical in songs included or sequence. (When so much of the original was changed or discarded for one of the two movie versions starring Bing Crosby, even the show's title was changed.) Times haven't changed as far as the policy of add-and-subtract-from-the-original-version and re-doing orchestrations and arrangements, and the new Roundabout Theatre Company Broadway production features much of what Porter originally wrote, intended for the showused and cutand interpolations woven into prior mountings. It sure seems that with this show, that there's almost an "anything goes" policy. But don't send out an S.O.S.: most of the original score (and more) is here, and the breezy, madcap merriment associated with this piece come in waves and waves.
Our musical captain for the high energy is James Lowe, conductor and musical director, with ping!-pop!-pow!-pizzazz percolating orchestrations. The earlier Michael Gibson orchestrations are used, with additional ones by a master of getting the sense and sensibility of past eras even as he adds a spanking-bright new coat of paint, Bill Elliott. Dance arrangements are by David Chase, and we hear some lengthy instrumental sectionsnotably the title songwhere we can easily imagine or recall the dazzling dances choreographed by the director, Kathleen Marshall. Vocally, some of the most pleasing moments come from the harmonies, such as with a quartet of sailorsthe vocal arranger and overall Music Supervisor is the super Rob Fisher who brought mucho fizz and pure joy to a series of revisits of vintage shows in the Encores! series. I'm starting with these names whose work I like so much before I even get to the cast's likeable stars because I think, in many ways, the orchestra's sound and orchestrations are very much the stars. They are prominently front and center, very much in the spotlight on the recording and its mix, produced by Fisher and Joel Moss, with Ghostlight/Sh-K-Boom's Kurt Deutsch as executive producer, adding another aurally dazzling, crisp cast album to the label's army. There is a lot going on in the 15-person orchestra (augmented by some synthesizer programming) all the time, whether or not there's singing going on. I admire and enjoy it all to a great degree.
You almost don't need stars to sell this high-caffeine content, with the different instruments' musical "personalities" well exploited and exploding bits of blasts and sparks and chirps. Nothing's muddy or murky, as musical punctuation predominates. Not that clever Cole Porter's famously splashy melodies and wit/wordplay-filled words need "help." They are so solidly packed with punch and craft, alliteration and sauciness, long-lined melodies for ballads, ricocheting machine gun rounds for the upbeat numbers, they run with power of their own. Embellishment is its own fun-filled reward and the icing on this already tasty cake may just make for a bigger banquet. Dig in.
Sutton Foster is a somewhat different kind of Reno Sweeney in the lead role of the nightclub singer/evangelist originated by Ethel Merman, whose brassy manner and sound were matched by the ultimate brass player sung about in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." That all-stops-out showstopper retains the belting blast, but the new leading lady brings other qualities to the character, too. Using some of her own brand of youthful cheery chipperness, she's game for some gleeful gallivanting, with a touch of the goofball. Not mocking the material, she revels in some moments, clowning here and there, such as singing a word or a few in an exaggeratedly amused low-voiced dopey way. Spinning out a bit of incidental gentleness instead of grit, she can be quite disarming. Gamely jumping into material, she often sounds like she's having a ball, like a kid splashing in puddles. With a loveable but somewhat limited bag of tricks, in the CD listening-only experience, a sense of diminishing returns may set in as this character/performer is meant to anchor things on most of the big and best-known numbers. Pluck and perkiness and strong singing are strong suits for Sutton and they are on full display. There's no reason to think that the potential lurking in "I Get a Kick Out of You"frustrations of unrequited love/attraction, set up by the opening lines of the verse ("My story is much too sad to be told, but practically everything leaves me totally cold")are really on the table. The high priority seems to be high energy. And it kicks in in "I Get a Kick Out of You" and elsewhere. Those who might be hoping for the extra or encore sets of words for "You're the Top" and "It's De-lovely" should know that these versions aren't necessarily for completists. (The booklet does not contain the lyrics, but many color photos, full-page and smaller. There's a plot synopsis, too, and a piece with quotes from the creative team about their approach and changes.)
Billed second, above the title, is Joel Grey as the likeable unlikely gangster. He's quite wonderful, both endearing and hammy but not ever savvy, so very much the vaudevillian-style veteran who nails his moments. I wish there were more moments andas long as they hadn't reverted to just the original '34 scorethey'd plucked some other Cole Porter song for him. He and the star have a field day pledging to be perennial pals in "Friendship" (itself borrowed from another score). And, for his showpiece, Grey graces "Be Like the Bluebird," the ultimate determined ray of sunshine to banishes grey skies. What could be a trifle is a triumph. And when he shows up for a solo chorus on the last track as the company reprises "It's De-Lovely" (another number not in the original score), I again regretted that he didn't have more to do.
Colin Donnell, meanwhile, provides balance, making a dashing leading man as Billy Crocker, with an appealingly clear voice. With the sincere love ballads, he's vibrant and warm in his singing rather than cardboardly amorous or sticky-gooey. And the warmth informs his work on the duet version of "It's De-lovely," sung with Laura Osnes as the lady he hopes to court but who is otherwise betrothed. Her performance is less distinctive but winsome without turning coy. She gets a solo on "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye," a 1936 song cut from two later scores before it found a home. Its history was that it was deemed too serious and sad for its intended settings and may seem out-of-sorts heavy here, too, and that may be why it seems both that and glossed over, too, so as not to get too tragic and tearful. John McMartin and Adam Godley have featured roles and one-shot numbers, each a broad and even buffoon-like suitor where the writing and characterization can be a struggle to remain brightly buoyant rather than ham-flamboyant overkill. They succeed to some degree, but inevitably must play the camp card dealt.
Anything Goes is anything but low-key. If you want to step into pep, board passage here.