PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Anything Goes — Ship of Evergreens
By Harry Haun
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."
Donnell, in the demanding male-ingenue spot, may be Marshall's best hat trick here. Billy Crocker is the first role he has ever originated on Broadway. Previously, he replaced in existing shows. "I joined Jersey Boys about a year and a half into the run and played the Hank Majewski track, which means I got to put on a monkey mask and I got to cover a couple of the guys," he explained. "I've been kicking around and doing some good work here and there, but I can't thank Kathleen enough for giving me this chance — and I get to sing those great songs, too."
For Marshall, Donnell was the obvious choice: "He's a real Broadway leading man — moves well, does comedy, sings. He has to do everything, and he does it splendidly.
"When we were casting Billy, we knew we had Sutton and we knew we had Joel, so we were able to find the best Billy we could. Colin auditioned pretty early on, and we were kinda like, 'I think that's the guy.' You know how you don't want to buy the first house you saw so we shopped around a little bit more? Well, we were, like, 'You know that first house we saw? That was the house.' So we brought him back."
Foster made her star entrance fashionably late — on the arm of Bobby Cannavale, who will get his chance to do Star on April 11 when The Motherf**ker with the Hat opens at the Schoenfeld. They met as man-and-wife in their last play, Trust and must like the idea, popping up occasionally as a couple. Another Trustee in attendance: a well-scrubbed Zach Braff.
It was obvious from her dynamo work on stage that Foster had been popping her confidence pills with considerable regularity. "I love that you said that," she replied, "because confidence was really the biggest hurdle that I had to overcome — just the shoes that I was stepping into . . . !" [She can't bring herself to say: Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, et al.] "I had to convince myself that I could do it so that was sorta my journey throughout this whole thing."
One amusing manifestation of her newly reinforced steel-plated confidence is the casualness of her entrances — in spectacular duds by costume designer Martin Pakledinaz. "Oh, this old thing," she seems to be saying to all the gaped mouths.
"Exactly!" laughed Pakledinaz. "It was actually so great to work with her on this role and to make things that Sutton would feel that she owned all the way through. And she does. I don't feel that she is wearing something that I asked her to wear."
So true, seconded Foster. "That's Martin Pakledinaz for you. I was, like, 'I've got to own up to these clothes.' He's a genius. I've never felt more beautiful. I've never felt more glamorous, and I only hope to let a little bit of Reno bleed into my own life."
It could be she seems to be having more fun on stage now because she's suddenly blonde, courtesy of master wig designer Paul Huntley. "That was Kathleen's idea," said Foster, passing along the proper credit, "and we spent some time making sure that we picked the perfect color and style and everything. It does feel transforming. I've seen some clips from the show, and I don't even recognize myself. I look like a completely different person, and it's exciting — that's what it's all about."
Her new blondeness also brings out the brass and brittleness in her tough-talking line-delivery, reminding one at times of that great B-grade comedienne, Iris Adrian.
She and co-star Grey send out sparks like a chemical plant when they go into their "Friendship" routine. "I love working with Sutton, doing that number," he admitted.
If you peer deeply into his Moonface Martin, you would be semblances of his Mister Cellophane from Chicago or his Tony/Oscar-winning Emcee from Cabaret. It's a realization of his life's work that has kept him going on stage for the past 70 years: "When I started at age nine, my dream was to be a character actor — like Laurence Olivier and Peter Lorre, all the great character guys."
On April 11, his first free day from Anything Goes (if not from The Normal Heart, which he and George C. Wolfe are co-directing for an April 27 Broadway opening at the Golden), Grey goes into his eighth decade, and his past will pass in front of him at the Museum of the City of New York in an exhibition called "Joel Grey: A New York Life," which will be on display him there until Aug. 8.
Pint-sized ball-of-fire Robert Creighton, who churns up some Keystone Kops kind of comedy as the ship purser in pursuit of Grey and Donnell, could have certainly given Lord Oakleigh a hand with his "you dirty rat" imitation. "Cagney's my guy," beamed Creighton, who has concocted a show on the screen legend. "It's a full musical now," he said. "It started as a one-man show, and it's grown into a six-person musical. We've done three productions of it, from Florida Stage in West Palm Beach to two months up in Canada. We're moving closer by the day to New York."
Dowagers seemed to be coming back in style and elegance if Jessica Walter's portrayal of our heroine's marriage-manipulating mother is any criterion. "This is a classic show," she noted. "There are a lot of reasons I wanted to do it — the material, Kathleen Marshall, Roundabout — but those are the main ones."
Osnes, her daughter whose shaky marital plans kept what little plot Anything Goes has up in the air, arrived at the party with her own choice of husband, Nathan Johnson, a photographer and former actor. "We met doing a show together — Aladdin, of all things. We understudied the leads, and they collided and had to go to the hospital, and he and I had to go on stage together."
Seasoned John McMartin, a constant source of fun on stage, staggered out one of his tipsy rich guys (a la High Society). "It's great fun to do," he said. "I'm having the time of my life. I like this guy because you can do anything you want with him — if you make him real. It's delicious nonsense, that's what I like about it."
And he only had praise for his leader. "Kathleen is the best ever. She does it all. She's a great choreographer, a most wonderful director and the sweetest human being."
Charlotte Moore of Irish Rep and McMartin's camp, led the list of loved ones attending the opening, followed by Walter's husband (Ron Leibman), Grey's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter (Jennifer Grey, Clark Gregg and Stella Gregg) and Stone's hubby (Christopher Fitzgerald, now playing Mr. Mom at home for free). To be sure, How To Succeed's director-choreographer Ashford was there for mentor Marshall.
Late into the party, after other Roundabout shows about town let out, there was an invasion of more actors: Reed Birney, who's brilliant in The Dream of the Burning Boy, as well as an Importance of Being Earnest trio (Brian Murray, Santino Fontana and David Furr).
There also were some Roundabout alum in attendance, starting with the company founder, Gene Feist, director Scott Ellis, Brief Encounter's Hannah Yelland, Speech and Debate's Sarah Steele and Jason Fuchs, Heartbreak House's Philip Bosco, The Visit's Jane Alexander, Mrs. Warren's Profession's Adam Driver, director Walter Bobbie and Bye Bye Birdie composer Charles Strouse with wife Barbara.
Also: Tovah Feldshuh, Peter and the Starcatcher co-director Alex Timbers, Charles Grodin, John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, Tony winners Julie White and Blair Brown, Tony Roberts and Penny Fuller (from the original run of Barefoot in the Park and together again, still), Stephen Lang, Susan Blackwell, The Book of Mormon's Robert Lopez and wife Kristen, director-relapsing-into-actor Joe Mantello, director Jason Moore (who begins rehearsing his Tales of the City musical Monday in San Francisco), designer Susan Hilferty with hubby David Stein, actor Graham Douglas, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Aherns (who still don't have a title for their Susan Stroman musical they'll do in June at Lincoln Center), agent Johnnie Planco and wife Lois, Tony winner Michael Cerveris (who has the blood of a horror movie on his hands, "Stake Land," opening soon while he finishes off a third season of "Fringe" and gets ready for a recurring role on HBO's "Treme"), Rachel York, lyricist-director David Zippel, Marylouise Burke andDavid Pittu, Saycon Sengbloh and actresses Camryn Manheim and Carolyn McCormick.
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