Much like Dixie Wilson-the character she played in Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's Turn of the Century at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2008-actress Rachel York, the clarion-voiced leading lady whose timeless appeal has made her one of Broadway's most beloved stars, might be a time traveler. For certain, the woman who now plays Reno Sweeney in the national tour of Roundabout Theatre's acclaimed revival of Anything Goes, readily admits she could very possibly have been born in the wrong era, any and all science fiction possibilities notwithstanding.
Scratch that: Rachel York knows she was born at the wrong time, even if her particular vintage has enabled her to take on some of musical theater's most compelling and memorable roles, including the aforementioned Reno Sweeney (she's played the role twice in regional theater before embarking on the national tour, directed and choreographed as it was on Broadway by Kathleen Marshall), Kiss Me, Kate's Lili Vanessi, City of Angels' Mallory Kingsley, Victor/Victoria's Norma Cassidy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' Christine, Turn of the Century's Dixie, and the quintessential villainess Cruella DeVil in 101 Dalmatians: The Musical.
"I was born in the wrong era," she admits, during a phone interview from East Lansing, Michigan, where the Anything Goes company sets up shop prior to moving to Nashville for another week-long stand October 23-28. "I grew up watching old movies and I always wanted to live inside of those movies: I love the music, I love the innocence and romance of the period. And I know there are other people out there like me."
"When I play Reno, I like to think of famous actresses like Bette Davis, Mae West and Barbara Stanwyck-they all had such charisma, strength, wit and sensuality. They were goddesses and you couldn't help but look up to them. They were beautiful and had this radiance that was hard to define."
Anything Goes-set upon an ocean liner in the mid-1930s, a time wherein the words "trans-Atlantic crossing" were filled with romantic possibilities, with the added fillip of unexpected adventure and inherent danger-captures the same magical ambience of those cinematic musical extravaganzas that enthralled a young Rachel York as she grew up in Florida, thousands of miles away from the Great White Way and a lifetime away from the very movie musicals that fueled her dreams and aspirations. And it is that sense of theatricality, set to Cole Porter's memorable score and incessantly clever lyrics, that places Anything Goes into its own musical theater category, appealing to audiences of all ages.
"It appeals to any demographic," suggests York, who is on tour with her 20-month-old daughter and her nanny in tow. "My daughter loves the show, she's bouncing up and down during the tap numbers, so obviously kids love it, college students love it, adults love it, older people love it."
"It appeals to everybody, it allows us to escape from the daily routine, the realities of our economy and everything that we don't want to deal with," she suggests. "It's a fun show, but it's also a family show that is very smart-it's not like you're watching a kid's version of a family show-the wit of Anything Goes appeals to an older generation."
In fact, it's that sense of wonder and innocence, of nostalgia and romance-the very ability of the theatre to provide transport to another fanciful, whimsical world-that has made Anything Goes such a hit with theater-going audiences for the past 78 years. After countless productions around the world (if I had a dollar for every person who's admitted that the tale of the S.S. American was their introduction to musical theater, I'd be a very wealthy man) and numerous Broadway revivals since the show's 1934 premiere, it's one of the theater's most venerable vehicles, providing a starry cavalcade of actresses-from Ethel Merman to Patti LuPone, from Mitzi Gaynor to Sutton Foster-with the opportunity to play the show's central, and delightfully unconventional, character.