Theater review: ‘Anything Goes’ National Tour is the Tops

Anything Goes 1Musical comedy is one of America’s greatest gifts to the world of entertainment. And Anything Goes, which served as the template for so many musical comedies to follow, has docked in Nashville with a de-lightful national tour.

A wait-and-see energy was in the air as opening night subscribers and other patrons assembled in Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall Tuesday for the first show of the 2012-13 HCA/TriStar Broadway at TPAC series. That soon dissipated as Rachel York and her castmates danced, sang and joked their way through the 1934 classic that brought Cole Porter’s fun-loving tunes together with a light-hearted book that bears the sharp-witted contributions of P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, Timothy Crouse and John Weidman.

Anything Goes 2Okay, even if you don’t know the story, I’m not worried about giving you the romantic complications and other plot points because they’re not the ultimate point of the evening – this show is about enjoying some wonderful song-and-dance numbers. After all, when you’ve got such memorable standards as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-lovely” and the title song, who could ask for anything more (with no apologies to the late, great Gershwin brothers for that “I Got Rhythm” reference)?

Roundabout Theatre Company’s successful 2011 Broadway revival – which was headlined by Sutton Foster – forms the basis for this tour production. Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall (Nice Work if You Can Get It, Grease, Wonderful Town) shows respect for the original look, feel and order of this show, which was notably altered in a 1962 revival but for the most part restored in a 1987 version. For example, “I Get a Kick Out of You” opens the show as it did in 1934 but not in 1962.

Anything Goes 3York performs that number with her shining trumpet-of-a-voice and takes command of the proceedings whenever she’s on stage as Reno Sweeney. That’s no surprise to Nashville audiences that have seen her triple-threat talents in tours of Kiss Me, Kate and The 101 Dalmatians Musical – she has the gift of all-eyes-on-her presence that no acting class can teach. And there’s a classy element to her bearing reminiscent of great yesteryear stars that makes her perfect for this show.

The “Anything Goes” Act I finale and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” in Act II’s first scene are the real tests for any cast doing this show. All pass with flying colors here, as York and her colleagues – an ensemble that includes Springfield product Jeremy Benton – basically blow the roof off with sharp singing and dynamic dancing.

Anything Goes 8There’s strong work from the dashing Erich Bergen as young lover Billy Crocker, particularly in duets like “You’re the Top” with York and “It’s De-lovely” with the charming and lovely Alex Finke as Hope Harcourt, the object of Crocker’s affections. His voice and his dance moves are smooth; his acting is equally polished.

There are moments in the first act where Fred Applegate’s gangster Moonface Martin can play his moments bigger, but his timing is good and he settles in nicely to his portrayal by the time he delivers a sweetly funny rendition of “Be Like the Blue Bird” in Act II. Joyce Chittick’s Erma is a riot, especially in the “Buddie, Beware” number toward the end of the show.

Anything Goes 7There’s also strong support from Dennis Kelly as never-met-a-bottle-I-didn’t-like businessman Elisha Whitney, Sandra Shipley as Hope’s society-sensitive mother Evangeline and Tennessee native Chuck Wagner as the celebrity-obsessed ship’s captain. The standout among the group of supporting players is Edward Staudenmayer as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh – his posh British accent is impeccable, and his hilarious delivery of “The Gypsy in Me” is a highlight.

Other elements – Derek McLane’s scenic design, Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes, Howell Binkley’s lights and the sound design of Brian Ronan and Keith Caggiano – are top-notch. Conductor Jay Alger has the mix of touring and local musicians in the pit playing Porter’s music with silky smoothness; it’s like listening to a latter-day Benny Goodman-led orchestra.

Anything Goes 5Anything Goes may recall another era, but this accomplished production has a very modern appeal: Check your troubles at the door and enjoy the fun.

HCA/TriStar Health Broadway at TPAC presents Roundabout Theatre Company’s national tour of Anything Goes through Oct. 28 at Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall (505 Deaderick St.). Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: (which start at $25) are available by phone at (615) 782-4040 (for groups of 10 or more, call (615) 782-4060), at the TPAC box office or by visiting www.tpac.org. For more information on the Anything Goes tour visit www.anythinggoesthemusical.com.

*Photos from Anything Goes tour by Joan Marcus courtesy Roundabout Theatre Company and TPAC.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).