Sutton Foster, Joel Grey and Laura Osnes blissfully sail away in Cole Porter’s classic shipboard musical
BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
An enjoyable cruise to musical comedy heaven, Roundabout’s new staging of “Anything Goes” boasts a splendid passenger list that offers a thoroughly dazzling Sutton Foster blazing about in Ethel Merman’s former glad rags as a red-hot evangelist, Laura Osnes (a long way from “Grease”) singing Cole Porter’s sweetest hits and impish Joel Grey being a one-man cabaret.
Opening on Thursday at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, director Kathleen Marshall’s shipshape revival of the classic 1930s musical about a screwball transatlantic crossing expertly packs some of Porter’s best songs, plenty of spirited choreography and, as noted, a terrific company making the most of it.
This production employs the 1987 version of the show by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman (tweaked with a few fresh gags) that features several songs taken from other Porter scores like “It’s De-Lovely” – here used for Fred & Ginger-style romantic dancing rather than as a comedy number – and the hillbilly duet “Friendship,” brightly exploited by Foster and Grey for all of its comical upstaging possibilities.
Whatever, the plot remains a blissfully silly confection that’s likely to be familiar to many theatergoers, so let’s skip those deets. Long after viewers forget the story, they’ll recall with pleasure the infernally catchy title number as choreographed by Marshall into an exuberantly tap-happy extravaganza that involves nearly the entire 28-member company led by Foster’s saucy Reno Sweeney.
She’s the tops, this coltish and classy Foster, whose strong, clear pipes and long-legged litheness proves tireless and her personality ever so likeable. Radiating good-natured carnality as Reno, the blond-coifed Foster dances better than Merman ever did and is vocally surer of the demanding range of songs than was Patti LuPone, Broadway’s last (and wonderful) Reno.
Foster is a cheerful match for Grey, who drolly depicts Moonface Martin (Public Enemy Number 13) as an elfin charmer by way of Damon Runyon with a wheedling voice and a woebegone air.
New to Broadway, Colin Donnell confidently possesses the Arrow Collar looks and sporty charm required for Reno’s crush, Billy. Smooth indeed as the musical’s leading song-and-dance man, Donnell ably comes across like Bing Crosby when wooing a dream of an ingénue exquisitely rendered by Osnes.
Others perfectly in tune with the 1930s period include frisky John McMartin as a tipsy tycoon, a properly ripping Adam Godley as a British nobleman (who tears into “The Gypsy in Me” hilariously) and cutie-patootie Jessica Stone as the gun-moll who slays most of the crew. Speaking of whom, the ensemble is uniformly fleet in performance and sweet both to the eye and ear. Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz dresses everyone beautifully according to their characters and physical types. (Loved Reno’s perky halo hat worn when she boarded the boat!)
Purists regarding Porter’s brilliant score may quibble a little – according to the songwriter himself, the word “deluxe” should be pronounced “dee-looks” rather than “dee-lucks” – and theatergoers with long memories may fondly recall how “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” literally rocked the boat in the 1987 revival, but Marshall’s energetic production presents plenty of sure-fire fun and old-fashioned frolic, all decked out with airy sets designed by Derek McLane and colorful lighting from Peter Kaczorowski.
“Anything Goes” continues at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.