Review: ‘Anything Goes’

Sailing into a new season, the Paper Mill Playhouse is taking no chances, opening the frame with a revival of the 1934 musical comedy "Anything Goes." In addition to the buoyant Cole Porter score, the Millburn stage is graced with the presence of Chita Rivera. The combination makes for a bright and lively cruise of durable song, sprightly dance and giddy humor.

Sailing into a new season, the Paper Mill Playhouse is taking no chances, opening the frame with a revival of the 1934 musical comedy “Anything Goes.” In addition to the buoyant Cole Porter score, the Millburn stage is graced with the presence of Chita Rivera. The combination makes for a bright and lively cruise of durable song, sprightly dance and giddy humor.

While the book has gone through several revisions and updates, the current production is essentially a well-groomed remounting of the l987 Lincoln Center version. The focus remains on the shipboard shenanigans of stowaways and romance on the high seas.

One may groan at some of the scattered vintage gags and vaudeville hokum, yet the loony formula shtick serves as acceptable filler between the familiar tunes.

The one constant and binding force is Porter’s bountiful score, peppered with a half-dozen or more memorable songs that have comfortably endured seven decades and become landmarks in the repertoire of American popular song. The songs are more than well served, and they return to the stage like old friends.

Rivera is the show’s vibrant centerpiece, serving her own heady mixture of sass and brass. At 67, she remains a vivacious presence on the boards and on deck. She sings “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top” and the title tune with her familiar throaty trumpet of a voice, and when she officiates at a hot gospel meeting belting “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” she converts every sinner in the house.

Her dancing is still marked with high extensions and graceful body language. As Reno Sweeney, a former evangelist and nightclub entertainer, Rivera also reveals a keen comic talent not always evident in such landmark Broadway roles in “West Side Story,” “The Rink” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

George Dvorsky, as the errant Wall Street errand boy, is a virile leading man and brings acceptable distinction to “All Through the Night.” Stacey Logan is fine as the pretty porcelain ingenue, and Bruce Adler garners most of the yuks as the stowaway crook and bogus minister who spouts fractured Latin blessings.

Colleen Hawks, as the stereotypical squeaky moll, revives the age-old dumb, sexy platinum blonde. Patrick Quinn nicely parries some strained but generally amusing bits as a pompous Brit.

Martin Lichtefeld’s choreography showcases tap-dancing gobs swabbing the decks and some delectable chorines. Michael Anania’s seaworthy set of portholes and pennants frames all the fun handsomely, and there’s even a quick opening peek of a posh city bar backed by a breathtaking Manhattan skyline.

Lee Roy Reams’ lively staging is well steeped in ageless musical comedy tradition and technique. When it works, as it most certainly does here, it’s delovely.

Anything Goes

Paper Mill Playhouse,Millburn, N.J.; 1,200 seats; $60 top

Production

A Paper Mill Playhouse presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton, and Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse; new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. Directed by Lee Roy Reams.

Creative

Musical director, Tom Helm. Choreography, Michael Lichtefeld. Set, Michael Anania; costumes, Liz Covey; lighting, F. Mitchell Dana; sound, David F. Shapiro; orchestrations, Michael Gibson; stage manager, John W. Caler III. Artistic director, Robert Johanson. Opened, reviewed Sept. 8, 2000. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast

Reno Sweeney - Chita Rivera Moonface Martin - Bruce Adler Billy Crocker - George Dvorsky Hope Harcourt - Stacey Logan Lord Evelyn Oakleigh - Patrick Quinn Elisha J. Whitney - Ryan Hilliard Captain - Dimitri Christy Purser - Don Stitt Reporter - Peter Cormican Photographer - Mark MacKay Lusk Rev. Henry T. Dobson - James Darrah Luke - Keong Sim John - Randy B. Ballesteros Purity - Yasuko Tamaki Chastity - Tara Radcliffe Virtue - Mia Price Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt - Eleanor Glockner Erma - Colleen Hawks Old Lady - Melodie Wolford Attendant - Becky Berstler
With: Eric Gunhus, Matthew LaBanca, David De Rienzo, Danca Lee Polise, Peter Cormican, James Darrah, Anthony Frisina, Julie Kenyon, Melissa Lone, Tommar Wilson.
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