PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Anything Goes — Ship of Evergreens

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08 Apr 2011

Colin Donnell and Sutton Foster; guests Zach Braff, Jennifer Grey and Philip Bosco
Colin Donnell and Sutton Foster; guests Zach Braff, Jennifer Grey and Philip Bosco
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the opening of Broadway's Anything Goes starring Sutton Foster and Joel Grey.


Instead of taking the train to the plane, first-nighters fresh from Cole Porter's merry musical crossing, Anything Goes, April 7 at the Sondheim Theatre, took the bus to the boat — the "boat" (to be nautically, and naughtily, incorrect here) being the USS Intrepid, which rocked lazily in the Hudson off 12th Avenue and West 46th.

Permission to come aboard was granted to ten busloads of the usual ritzy riffraff, who effortlessly passed the metal detectors at Pier 86, less effortlessly climbed stairs of gun-metal gray and then spread out expansively all over the top deck.

The buzz they arrived with from the show kept the party at Jubilant Level well into the AM. Consensus was that director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall had skippered the show into the winner's circle, but that may have just been the buzz speaking. The second — and last — musical revival of the '10-'11 season, it will duke it out for top honors with last week's How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which happened to be directed and choreographed by a former assistant of Marshall's, Rob Ashford. Okay, everybody, a quick chorus of "Friendship"!

What else do the two shows have in common? Both have lavish sets by Derek McLane, who still found time in between to do Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, making him the designer of Broadway's last three-in-a-row shows. Makes you wonder what "Fast McLane" is up to next week . . .

What else? Both scores are terrific — Frank Loesser's How to Succeed and Porter's Anything Goes-"plus." Whenever the shipboard shenanigans threaten to clog the wheels of the vehicle with silly or sticky complications, The Marshall Plan appears to be, simply, to shovel more Cole in the boiler, and we're off!

The beauty is that his original 1934 five-alarm score ("I Get a Kick Out of You," "All Through the Night," "You're the Top," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and the title tune) has been "sweetened" with hits from other Porter works. The aforementioned "Friendship," which here seals the "blendship" of kindred larcenous spirits Reno Sweeney (Sutton Foster) and Moonface Martin (Joel Grey), started out as a musical duel between Ethel Merman and Bert Lahr in 1939's Du Barry Was a Lady. A similar combustion between Merman and Bob Hope in 1936's Red, Hot and Blue introduced "It's De-Lovely," which here well-serves the star-crossed ingénues, Billy Crocker (Colin Donnell) and Hope Harcourt (Laura Osnes), as does their "Easy To Love," introduced also in 1936 in the flick, "Born To Dance," by, of all people, a charmingly unmusical James Stewart.

This ship of foolishness is packed with bogus clerics, mates and mismates, con men, titled English twits, cardsharps, altar-bound heiresses, celebrity gangsters — but that travail is no match for the next musical juggernaut coming up, nor does it try to be.

Timothy Crouse, son of Russel Crouse (who wrote the original book with Howard Lindsay, P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton), joined forces with John Weidman to spruce up the material for Lincoln Center's '87 revival, and they've reunited — with Spic 'n' Span cans in hand — to do the same for this new production.


"One of the great things about getting a second major production," said Weidman, "is that you get a chance to go back and tweak and delete and add a little bit, look at what didn't quite work. That's really what we did with the book in this case. No major changes at all. It's like I said to somebody once: the sound of a joke that no one has laughed at for 25 years is deafening. We really tried to pull out everything that asked for a laugh and wasn't getting it, and we tried to adjust other places in the book where we wanted to make a point that we weren't quite making. So, it was polishing and fine-tuning. With this cast in particular and with Kathleen at the helm, you could sorta see what needed to be done — so that's what the work was about."

Anything Goes was just an offer Marshall couldn't refuse, she admitted. "About four years ago when Todd Haimes said Roundabout had the rights to Anything Goes and would I like to do it, I said Yes! without hesitation because I loved the show and Cole Porter. The mix of his sophistication and his wit, the beauty of that music, the melodies and the heart — extraordinary!"

Hers was a labor of love, and she hoped it would be received that way. "I want, hopefully, what people had when they saw Anything Goes in 1934 — which is to be transported, just to be taken on a ride — a crazy ride for two and a half hours — and kinda forget about the rest of their lives and just sail off into another world."

The fact the show flows so well, so fast, so smoothly is more than just calculated hit-stacking, she insisted. "That's really what we worked on in the preview process more than anything," Marshall admitted, "tightening the transition, tightening the pacing, trimming little tiny cuts here and there and keeping it all moving forward."

But she did find time to buoy up some of the lesser-known numbers from the original show by reassigning the songs to other characters and presenting them to the performers as choreographic gifts. The late-in-arriving "Buddie, Beware," a ditty that is often overlooked in the Porter pantheon despite a Grade-A melodic line he provided, gives the gifted Jessica Stone, as the easy-mark broad on board, a chance to strut her stuff with a chorus line of fellows. "That number is truly athletic but a lot of fun, and the guys that I work with are so spectacular," Stone said. "Kathleen has such a great sense of humor, and her choreography is very inventive."

Marshall admitted it brought out the best in her. "'It's like a star-and-her-boys number, like Judy Garland doing 'Get Happy,' those kinds of numbers where the guys are all hungry for the woman. It's my favorite kind of thing to choreograph."

Another big second-act surprise is "The Gypsy in Me," which turns Adam Godley (as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, the Brit twit complicating the course of true love) into Errol Flynn. Marshall credited the actor's pluck for making this work. "I said, 'Are you afraid of heights? I want you swinging off-stage on a rope at the end of the number,' and he was game to try anything amazing. That's how that happened."

Godley, who has the milquetoast-mustache look of Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," confessed he had no idea he had a Flynn in him, let alone an Astaire. "With Kathleen giving you that choreography, you can't really go wrong," he conceded. "It's been a real journey of discovery for me, too. I've never really done this kind of thing before, but that number is such fun. It's so wonderful to have a character like that reveal something unexpected. He appears to be one thing, and he turns out to be another. I feel like the number is very much a character number. I don't have to be the greatest singer in the world or the greatest dancer in the world to pull that number off. It's a character number so hopefully it worked."

Apart from the out-of-nowhere Colin Donnell, Godley is the most unexpected wild card in the deck — or, in this case, on the deck. His previous Broadway experience was more grounded and civilized — co-starring with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman in Broadway's last (2002) Private Lives, winning a Most Promising award from Theatre World. Anything Goes fulfills some of that promise, but he said that he hopes to do more work in this country.

The reason that Godley is here is because someone remembered him and sent him a script. "Every scene that I read made me laugh, and I wanted to have a go at it," he remembered, "so I came over, met with Kathleen and the creative team and sang very badly in the audition, but they forgave me, and we just started."


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