Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” has sailed into the Ahmanson Theater, its physical production a nearly exact art deco replica of what theatergoers recently enjoyed on Broadway. The cast is another story, but under Kathleen Marshall’s snappy direction this ship of fools falling in and out of love remains very sea-worthy, even if fond memories of Sutton Foster and the very underrated Colin Donnell linger.
It’s an odd love story right from the get-go. Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) is infatuated with stock broker Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen), but he only has eyes for a young heiress, Hope (Alex Finke), whom he just met. Reno and Billy aren’t right for each other, and neither are York and Bergen. Intriguingly, both perfs don’t really catch fire until they meet their respective true loves on stage.
For Bergen, that’s just a few minutes into the first act. At first glance, he’s a bland goodlooking leading man. But his stolidity has a slow comic burn to it, and when he sings “Easy to Love” to his heiress love, there’s real fire here. Imagine Fred Astaire with a really great singing voice, and you’ve got Bergen. It’s a clear, pure tenor with lots of head voice that is absolutely true to the period. Neither he nor Finke are polished hoofers, but one of Marshall’s major talents as a choreographer is her ability to create effective pas de deux for actor-singers who aren’t necessarily trained dancers. Meanwhile, when she’s working with the real thing, her hand-picked chorus of ace tappers, she delivers two showstoppers, “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” that absolutely sizzle.
York’s Reno Sweeney takes some getting used to for those theatergoers who know this classic tuner. She’s got the voice, and she’s a pretty good dancer. But York seems to be channeling Mae West through Olive Oyl’s body. It’s a concept that’s more intriguing on paper than realized here on stage. But when she finally discovers love, with the insipidly English Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer), the two of them turn “The Gypsy in Me” into a camp classic.
The much-revised “Anything Goes” book is wise to eschew political correctness and fashion its best jokes around Asians, alcoholism, blindness and same-sex affection. Much of that humor is carried by a supporting couple of scoundrels, Erma and Moonface Martin, played by Joyce Chittick and Fred Applegate, who are comic perfection from the moment they step on stage.