The 5th Avenue Theatre opened its staging of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes on October 17 under the direction of Kathleen Marshall. Marshall’s Tony Award-winning choreography kept the classic 1934 musical fresh and lively, and the singing and dancing deserved the standing ovation on opening night.
The musical is a classic, feel-good love story in which all’s well that ends well and each beloved character makes it out alive and in love—but perhaps not with the person the audience first expects. As the story begins, the young, hard-working Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin) is doing his best to please billionaire boss and bachelor Elisha Whitney (Dennis Kelly)…and also falling in love at first sight with a young woman who shares his taxi. Whitney sets sail for London from New York, sure that all his players are in check down on Wall Street, but when Crocker sees the same enchanting woman board the boat, he takes a chance and stows away. With Crocker gone, Whitney’s whole fortune is put at risk, unbeknownst to him.
The darling debutante whom Crocker wishes to woo is Miss Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) and is already engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Joe Sorge). The patrician Oakleigh is particularly charming with his haughty yet inquisitive wit and his fascination with American lingo, and Sorge does a spectacular job of letting his full character come to light with surprise and pizazz throughout the musical.
The catalyst for the main action among the new money and old money archetypes is everyman Crocker, but the soul of the story comes from the demimonde. Former evangelist turned cabaret singer Reno Sweeney is the charismatic ringmaster, played by Rachel York, whose shimmering, sultry voice makes Sweeney’s seductions all quite believable. That is saying a lot in a story so over-the-top in its idealization of the stratified classes that even the criminals are harmless and lovable. Gangster Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate) is considered rather cuddly, being only Public Enemy #13.
Porter famously defied his wealthy, patriarchal grandfather to become a musician. It took years for Porter to achieve his success, but achieve it he did, from the bottom up. Musicals like Anything Goes may be seen by some contemporary audiences as escapist idylls—or even as whitewashed propaganda for “simpler times” that never were—but for Porter these characters could be tributes to people at all tiers, the best of them that he knew on his rise to fame. Anything Goes has had staying power simply because of those timeless tunes and well-rounded characters, especially Oakleigh and Sweeney, whose romance of high culture and low-culture is a parable of the genre and so much art. As a showcase for the talents of the performers and the director, the show is a great success, an explosion of color, style, musical integrity and tap shoes, and it will delight fans of the genre. It might even win over some new fans of musical theatre. Anything is possible in Anything Goes.
Anything Goes plays the 5th Avenue Theatre through November 3.