By Alice Kaderlan Special to The Herald
When the original production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” opened on Broadway in 1934, it provided much-needed escapist entertainment from the hard times the nation was suffering. The madcap tale of love, mistaken identities and celebrity chasing on a transatlantic cruise was exactly what the downtrodden country needed.
Headlined by Ethel Merman and sparkling with some of the wittiest and most memorable of Cole Porter’s songs, “Anything Goes” easily lived up to the title of one of its tunes, “You’re the Top.”
The current revival, now on a national tour, has been delighting audiences wherever it’s performed and The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Artistic Director David Armstrong expects it will do the same in Seattle.
“The 5th’s mission is to celebrate our great indigenous American form — the musical — and this production is top notch in every respect,” Armstrong said. “Great Cole Porter songs, great dancing and great performers. I did not want our audience to miss it.”
Unlike so many contemporary revivals of classic Broadway shows, which add pop-infused orchestrations and updated dialogue, this “Anything Goes” sticks close to the original.
Its confection of dazzling choreography, groaning jokes and, of course, Porter’s magnificent songs are as uplifting today as they were during the Great Depression.
“This is a lighthearted farce meant to lighten the country’s spirit,” said cast member Chuck Wagner. “It’s like an after dinner mint for the mind. That was the kind of entertainment the country needed then and we need it now.”
A lot of the credit for the success of this “Anything Goes” goes to director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall, and she’s been amply rewarded for her efforts. The show won the 2011 Tony Award, Broadway’s top honor, for Best Musical Revival, and Marshall won that year for Best Choreography.
To create the revival, Marshall studied 1930s film musicals and the dance styles of Fred Astaire, Astaire’s choreographer Hermes Pan and movie choreographer Busby Berkeley. She then added her own razzle-dazzle style to the big production numbers, including the show-stopping title number.
The 2011 Broadway production starred Sutton Foster and Joel Grey and although the national tour doesn’t have quite the same megawatt stars, Marshall has assembled a celebrated cast.
Rachel York, who has delighted Seattle audiences previously in “Camelot” and “Kiss Me Kate,” headlines the show as tough-talking evangelist-turned-nightclub singer Reno Sweeney.
York has won accolades around the country for her “saucy, exuberant flair” as Sweeney and her dazzling dancing; here, she’s backed up by a large group of Broadway veterans including Fred Applegate, who appeared in the original Broadway musical “Young Frankenstein” and Josh Franklin, with Broadway credits in “Grease” and “Legally Blonde.”
For Cole Porter fans, there’s special pleasure in “Anything Goes.” Porter wrote tunes that could, and did, fit easily into different productions and many of them appear here. “I Get a Kick Out of You,” Easy to Love,” “It’s De-Lovely” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” have become classics in their own right and all contribute to the timelessness of this American musical masterpiece.
“Anything Goes” opens Oct. 15 and runs through Nov. 3 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle, with shows at 7:30 or 8 p.m. and select 2 p.m. matinees.
Tickets are $39 to $114, available at the box office, online at www.5th avenue.org/boxoffice or by calling 206-625-1900.