by Steve Nardoni
Since 1998, Musicals Tonight, under the auspices of Mel Miller, has revived 98 musicals, both obscure and well- known in off-Broadway venues. In addition to Anything Goes, this season showcases The Boys from Syracuse and Calamity Jane.
So, yes, there’s another revival of Anything Goes. . . again. . . and off-Broadway.
But not so fast! Yes it has had numerous revivals on Broadway, most recently in 2011 with Sutton Foster and in 1987 with Patti Lupone. And yes “The Merm” (Ethel Merman) originated and claimed forever the role of Reno Sweeney on Broadway in 1934. (She is quoted as saying “Cole Porter wrote Anything Goes and four more hits for me”). And wasn’t “Anything Goes” the background song for Mart Crowley’s 1970 film “The Boys in the Band’? It has been soooo done!
But I would insist that Cole, Ethel, Patti, Sutton, and Mart see this production at the 88-seat Lion Theater. Here is a venue with a stage the size of a large studio in Manhattan, bare-bones staging, and an orchestra pit that is not a pit but hidden in the ceiling of the stage, obscured to the audience, accessed by a fire ladder. How could this amazing show be enjoyed there? How could Cole Porter’s songs be featured here? How could over 20 performers, in this theater, dance and sing their way into our hearts as this show has done over the years???
I saw both productions with Foster and Lupone, and I can tell you that neither captured the soul of this show as well as it was done here. The intimacy of the theater changed all perspective for audience, for the company was able to highlight, through its exuberance and simplicity, the sheer talent of each and every performer.
Mel Miller introduced the show with snippets of stuff going on in 1934: FDR was president and unemployment was at 22%, And we know this show features truly iconic Porter classics such as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,’ “It’s De-lovely,” and “Friendship”. And we’ve heard these songs over and over again. But it was like hearing them for the first time.
In particular, Meredith Inglesby, in the role of Reno Sweeney, was perfection in her sassiness, voice and dance, and she looked fab in the flashier costumes (the costumes, by the way, were really quite good. I wanted to grab one of the suits and ties worn by Brian Ogilvie in his role of Lord Evelyn Oakley).
Other notables in the cast were Nick Walker Jones, perfectly suited as the love-struck Billy Crocker, and Jessica Moore played Erma Latour (“a broad”) hilariously. But as Lord Oakley, Brian Ogilvie practically ran off with the show: he posed, pouted, pontificated throughout, and no matter who was on stage, your eyes were drawn to him. Another major highlight was the duet between Billy and Hope (lovely-voiced Beth Stafford Laird) which cleverly combined “Night and Day” sung by Billy, with Hope counterpointing “All Through the Night.” When melded, the beauty of both those songs was enhanced.
Each and every performer exuded in all the dance numbers. When the company was on stage hoofing, it was a sight to behold, and one could actually feel the rumble of the dance steps from the stage through the floor. Nic Thompson, as the Captain, and Blake Spellacy, as the purser, athletically led sailors galore into heart-stopping tap numbers.
One could truly hear the cast singing and dancing their hearts out! One could see the crestfallen expressions of disappointment and subtle winks from double entendres! One could feel the soul of the music!
It’s worth spending $45 on this show and get $500 worth of better-than classic Broadway musical.
Presented at Theater Row. February 27 – March 11, 2018. Book: Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. Music and lyrics: Cole Porter. Director/Choreographer: Casey Colgan. Music Director: Christopher Stephens.