The difference between a successful production of Anything Goes and a competent but unremarkable one is the presence of Jason Graae. Graae has an extraordinary talent for making old jokes seem funny and fresh. He can take a stale joke and perk it up with some silly physicality, quick timing that outpaces the line's predictability, or a delivery that slyly winks at the audience. Anything Goes is a bunch of great Cole Porter songs strung together in a goofy plot about passengers on an ocean liner in 1936. Graae plays Moonface Martin, a third-rate gangster who attempts to hide his identity on the cruise by posing as a clergyman. It's hard to say his character is supposed to be the comic relief in the show, as the entire piece is pretty silly. But Graae's performance is a genuine relief from the rest of the cast's attempts at the comedy in this show's book, which is generally of the guy-steals-a-uniform-from-a-sailor-only-to-find-the-pants-are-too-short variety. The cast tries its best and gets a few modest chuckles, but only Graae makes this sort of thing actually play.
While the company may have trouble playing the book scenes, it is much more successful with the Cole Porter score, which is the real reason to revive Anything Goes anyway. Whether ensemble members or principles, the entire cast sings well. Porter's lyrics are crisply and clearly conveyed, the big numbers are infectious, the gentle numbers are lovely, and the funny numbers are witty.
Rachel York, who owed Reprise audiences a show after she dropped out of Threepenny Opera in order to do The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway, takes on the role of nightclub star Reno Sweeney. York plays Reno with a huge grin and a sassy delivery that says Reno doesn't take anything all that seriously. York has a huge voice, but wisely tones things down just enough for the small house in which Reprise plays. She sings big enough to let you know Reno is always the center of attention, but not so big that you think York is.
Brent Barrett, York's Kiss Me, Kate co-star in London, is delightful as Billy, the young man who Reno has her eye on, but is himself attracted to a pretty young blonde. Barrett looks all of twenty years old with his all-American boyish haircut. When he smiles, you half expect a glint of light to sparkle off his teeth. Barrett sings beautifully, and has an easy presence, particularly when joking his way through "You're The Top" with York. The object of Billy's desire is played by Anastasia Barzee. Barzee has the thankless task of portraying rich ingenue Hope, where pretty much all she is required to do is sing beautifully, be confused, and be in love.
The two big dance numbers in the show are somewhat disappointing. In the first, the show's title number, it is painfully apparent that only about half the cast is part of the dancing ensemble. The others stand around uncomfortably, occasionally waving an arm, tapping a toe, or shouting out a yelp of encouragement. Choreographer Dan Mojica did good work with his dancers, but he and director Glenn Casale should have come up with something better for the non-dancers to do. The same pattern repeats with the second act's "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," with the added problem that York has now been costumed in a floor length feather-trimmed dress which prevents her from joining in the dance with much beyond strutting across the stage and posing. It isn't that Reprise needs to put more dance into the production; it's just that its dance numbers look awfully thin when more than half the cast is standing on stage watching the minority of its members perform.
In sum, the Reprise Anything Goes is cute, but not particularly memorable. It is a bunch of well-sung, if not necessarily well-staged, Cole Porter songs thrown together on a thin reed of a plot, with a show-stealing performance by Jason Graae.
Reprise! Broadway's Best; Marica Seligson, Producing Artistic Director; Jim Gardia, Managing Director; presents Anything Goes. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter; Original Book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse; New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman; Originally Produced by Lincoln Center Theatre, New York City. Scenic design Bradley Kaye; Costume design Steven Howard & Rob Miller; Lighting design Tom Ruzika; Sound design Philip G. Allen. Associate Music Director Thomas Griep; Technical Director Peter Falco; Stage Manager Jill Gold; Casting Director Bruce H. Newberg, C.S.A.; Press Representative Davidson & Choy Publicity; General Manager Kelly Estrella; Managing Director Jim Gardia. Produced by Marcia Seligson; Music Direction by Gerald Sternbach; Choreographed by Dan Mojia; Directed by Glenn Casale.
Anything Goes played at the Freud Playhouse through September 29, 2002. For more information on Reprise's upcoming shows, see www.reprise.org.