On Theater: ‘Anything Goes’ finds new life

Ryan Steer, Bobby Pestka, Rachel York, Jeremy Benton and Kristopher Thompson-Bolden in "Anything Goes," playing now at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
(Joan Marcus)

The Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes” may become an octogenarian next year, but it can kick up its heels with the best of them, as is currently being evidenced at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

This vintage piece of artistic fluff, bolstered by some killer choreography, was a big hit in 1934, and two years ago it won a Tony award as best musical revival on Broadway. It’s been gussied up a bit with some new — at least unfamiliar — songs and a new opening scene, but it’s still a period piece, with period punch lines, at heart.

What distinguishes this touring production of “Anything Goes” is its terrific toe-tapping dance numbers, primarily the extended title piece, which closes the first act and can bring playgoers to their feet a little early. That’s the work of director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall, who has breathed 21st-century life into this shipboard Depression-era musical.

The first act is a complete show in itself, with individual and ensemble highlights galore. That is a good thing, since the second act may induce audiences to find themselves “fighting vainly the old ennui,” to borrow a Porter lyric.

Porter pretty much shot his creative wad in the opening segment — dotted with musical classics like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-lovely” and the title tune. The second act seems a bit of a downer by comparison, with three songs — “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” “The Gypsy in Me” and “Buddie, Beware” — that weren’t in the original score.

Of these latter tunes, only “Gypsy,” a duet for the soul-saving diva and the besotted Englishman, really works. It’s a showcase number for the star performer, Rachel York’s Reno Sweeney, and York hits it out of the park, with a character-breaking assist from Edward Staudenmayer as the cliched Brit who uncovers his inner wild man.

York, in fact, is a dynamic Reno, drawing favorable comparison to the last actress who played this part at the center, Mitzi Gaynor, back in 1989. She unearths her inner Ethel Merman, who created the role, to deliver a stellar interpretation, both vocally and on her toe-tapping feet.

Josh Franklin revels in the guise of the young stockbroker stowing away to pursue his lady love, who’s betrothed to the Englishman. That would be Alex Finke, used primarily as window dressing until her sweet solo, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” late in the show.

Taking second billing in what previously has been the slapstick caricature of an unsuccessful hoodlum is Fred Applegate, whose baggy-pants routine is ancient but funny nonetheless. Joyce Chittick has less to do as his wisecracking gun moll, but she scores on the new number, “Buddie, Beware.”

The stiff-upper-lipped limey making a study of American slang is well interpreted by Staudenmayer, but the biggest comic treat in the show is Dennis Kelly’s nearsighted Yale alumnus boss, who carries around a stuffed bulldog mascot. Sandra Shipley draws some fine laughs as the ingenue’s haughty mother.

Musically, the show is “the top,” as Porter would put it. Director Marshall has devised a show-stopping ensemble number built around the title song, which closes the first act with a bang. Sure, it’s overlong, but you won’t notice anyone complaining.

“Anything Goes” has, indeed, aged well, and its litany of hit songs — even with their vintage lead-ins — have clearly stood the test of time. This sturdy vessel remains shipshape at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.



WHAT: “Anything Goes”

WHERE: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

WHEN: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday,1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

COST: Tickets start at $20

CALL: (714) 556-2787