Every now and then, I wonder why I’m still a theater critic. There are so many late nights when honestly, I’d rather be home in my jammies. Then, I cover a production like Anything Goes, which is so good, it actually brought me to tears.
It’s almost impossible not to gush. There are shows which are bare bones, and still terrific (think Chicago). But for the most part, I like to see the money on the stage, and that’s Anything Goes, in spades. The sets are big and impressive, except for the jail cell, which is quite rightly tiny and kind of creepy. The talent is enormous; when you realize that even the small part of the Captain is played by theater veteran Walter Charles, it’s indicative of the professional level of the actors.
The ballgowns, all of them, are spectacular. And every button, every stich, is faithful to the period; the show first opened in 1934. The rich were never more extravagant than in the heart of the Depression.
At the center of all this opulence, is the glorious Sutton Foster as rock ‘em sock ‘em nightclub performer, Reno Sweeney. Not only is Foster a sensational singer and dancer; she also brings to every performance a joy and luminescence that is irresistibly contagious. Her figure is model perfect; every costume looks impeccable on her, even when she’s tapping her heart out. She often looks out into the house, capturing hearts with every take. Foster is all blond hair, great gams, red lips and nails, diamonds, and glitz. And through it all, her brilliance as an artist shines through. Just when you think nothing could possibly get a bigger audience cheer than “You’re the Top,” there’s “Friendship,” sung with quintessential musical star, Joel Grey.
And then comes Act Two, with Foster in a skin tight outfit lashed with flames, and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” For sheer showmanship, watch how Foster holds her pose while the audience roars with approval. And then how she gets a laugh with her perfectly timed “Halleluiah!”
So who could possible take John Hamm handsome Wall Street bondsman Billy Crocker (Colin Donnell) away from this bombshell? No one but the exquisite Laura Osnes as debutante Hope Harcourt. I first discovered Osnes starring in South Pacific; she has an outstanding Broadway career ahead of her, at least until we lose her to Hollywood. Here, just as Foster recalls Garland and Merman, Osnes brings to mind Loretta Young. She’s the elegant brunette beauty with plenty of fire just under the surface. Her relationship with her mother is reminiscent of the similar dynamic in Titanic. Marry for money, not love, or poverty will be the order of the day.
The truth is, from the moment dapper John McMartin opens the show as millionaire Elisha Whitney, it’s obvious we’re in good hands. He lends class and expertise to every production he graces. Joel Grey, as big time crook wannabe Moonface Martin, is such a trouper, we take his perfect timing and endearing manner almost for granted. The rest of the cast is uniformly pitch perfect.
One last note: I appreciate the effort to add as much dignity as possible to the roles of the Chinese converts. Different time, different sensibilities, and I think that the obnoxious racial stereotype has been handled as gracefully as possible.
When would-be theater goers ask me what I recommend this season, my answer will be loud and clear. Do not miss Anything Goes!
Photos by Joan Marcus
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 West 43rd Street
To buy tickets, go to the Anything Goes website
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics. www.michalljeffers.com