If I were to die very soon, there's no doubt that I would go to heaven, because Rachel York and the all-singing/all-dancing company of Anything Goes took me and a couple of thousand other people up to the heavenly gates with their spectacular opening night performance of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." In a show brimming over with some of musical theater's very best songs-a veritable cavalcade of American pop standards composed by the legendary Cole Porter-that one particular number, so confidently and knowingly staged by director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, fills you with its deeply emotional and richly felt gospel fervor in such a way that you leave the theater with more spirit in your soul.
That the number virtually brings Act Two to a halt (right after it has revived the waiting audience following intermission) is a stunning example of why and how musical theater can be so deeply affecting and so incredibly transformative. It takes the audience unawares, as in their collective mind they are still reeling from the Act One finale-the eight-minute performance of the show's title tune that features the entire company paying tribute to a past theatrical era via some eye-popping visuals and extraordinary tap dancing-that so exemplifies everything that is the quintessential Broadway musical.
Make no mistake about it, this touring production of Roundabout Theatre's Tony Award-winning Anything Goes (which opened for an eight-performance run at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall on Tuesday night), manages in just over two hours to give its audiences exactly what they need. It's an escapist lark that is so smartly written, so beautifully mounted and so expertly performed that if you've never been a fan of musical theater, you'll be singing a different tune afterward. And if you're an undying fan of the genre like me, you'll be singing hosannas to the theatrical gods for blessing us with such a timeless, supremely entertaining work of art that is so uniquely American.
If the aforementioned Mr. Porter, who still personifies the phrase "urbane and sophisticated" well into the 21st century (and long after his death), has taught us anything it is that times have indeed changed since the show first premiered at Broadway's Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) in 1934. But, if that's the case-and who among us could ever question the wisdom of the clever Mr. Porter (after all, he was a Yale man)-how do you explain the continued popularity of his classic musical, which it can justifiably be argued is the musical of the 1930s.
Hilarity and hijinks abound aboard the S.S. American as it embarks on its journey, taking a motley crew of randy sailors and an almost celebrity-free group of passengers off to England. Thankfully, the scandalous Reno Sweeney, the drop-dead gorgeous evangelist cum nightclub entertainer, and her bevy of sexy Angels, are making the crossing along with a smattering of demi-celebs including debutante Hope Harcourt and her fiancé Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, Wall Street financier Elisha Whitney, public enemy #13 Moonface Martin, a priest with two Chinese converts, an errant stowaway and assorted other lesser -known personages. Even before the ship weighs anchor, it's guaranteed that unlikely, if endlessly humorous, antics are in store.
Timeless and so engaging that you'll want to register your china patterns, Anything Goes is tuneful, madcap and sunny, it's an unmitigated stage spectacle that whisks you away to an earlier, simpler time-one in which the cocktails were potent, libidos were aflame and the very notion of crossing the Atlantic onboard an ocean liner was the very epitome of glamour and elan. Thanks to the skilled artists who bring this sparkling revival to the stage, you can book your own passage to a world you've only imagined or seen through the lens of classic screwball comedies. Just buy a ticket and let the delicious Rachel York, the handsome Erich Bergen, the hilarious Fred Applegate and company take you there.
With an original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, updated by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, Anything Goes could easily be a crazy quilt of crummy jokes and bad puns, but thanks to some judicious editing and skillful writing, the book remains somehow fresh and ridiculously funny. Likewise, Porter's original score (well, the one that was first played in 1934) has been submitted to some updates, interpolating songs originally written for Anything Goes that were cut or changing the order of performance of some of the best-known tunes in the score. Frankly, that's why the musical remains so enormously fresh today and that's why audiences will always flock to see Anything Goes. It just never grows old.