Theatre review: 'Anything Goes' is fresh and funny

For the News-DemocratJune 3, 2013 

The sensational nine-minute tap-dancing number that ends Act I is reason enough to see the re-energized classic chestnut "Anything Goes," now playing at the Fox Theatre.

Sure, you might have seen it before -- a staple of high school and community theaters, and a recurring favorite at The Muny -- but you haven't seen the acclaimed Roundabout Theatre Company's breezy version of Cole Porter's 1934 musical comedy.

With the show's period elegance and sophistication evident in costumes, demeanor and staging, "Anything Goes" is a sumptuous nostalgic visual feast. It transports you to a time when fantasy was the penultimate escape from dreary Depression-era lives.

The ocean liner is the perfect setting for shenanigans and romance, and Kathleen Marshall's crisp staging heightens the carefree mood. She has accented the musical's charm in every way possible. The lighting is almost another character -- every hue is effectively used to convey times of day and night, with a stunning starlit sky framing a moonlight serenade.

The spry cast glides in lovely dances emulating Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers' graceful movie moves as well as the peppy tap-and-jazz dance numbers that bring the house down. You might be singing "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" or the title song as you leave with a big grin on your face.

The light-as-air story featuring a couple of mismatched romantic entanglements and the celebrity-news flash of gangsters aboard ship provides the conflicts and the humor. It's not the most original plot, and you muddle through it because of the characters' personalities, but actually it has been reworked to a certain extent. The actors' ability to milk as many lines as possible for laughs is quite strong.

Moonface Martin, as played by Fred Applegate, is a crusty James Cagney-type with vaudevillian timing. He has the best lines in the show, and Dennis Kelly earns his laughs as hard-drinking Wall Street guy Elisha Whitney. The Captain (Chuck Wagner) is funnier this go-round, too.

The Roundabout Theatre Company works hard at entertaining an audience, and they put a lot of extra oomph -- and va-va-va-voom with curvy chorus girls -- in this show.

Veteran Broadway actress Rachel York headlines as the iconic bawdy nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney, whose act mimics evangelists of the day. Tossing off bon mots like Mae West, she comes on a tad too strong at first, but then settles in to the tough-talking dame who falls in love with a British fop (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, daffily played by a delightful Edward Staudenmayer).

She takes charge the minute she belts out the number, "I Get a Kick Out of You."

Alex Finke is saddled with the bland ingenue role of Hope Harcourt, and while she looks like a vision in seafoam chiffon, and dances well with Josh Franklin (Billy Crocker), they don't have much chemistry.

Reminiscent of a young but more polished Jimmy Stewart, Franklin is a terrific Billy, smooth as the lovesick ambitious broker, with silky vocals and slick dance moves. (The Webster graduate played Bob Gaudio in the first national tour of "Jersey Boys," if he looks familiar.)

Stealing every scene she's in is effervescent Joyce Chittick as good-time gal Erma, who gets chased by sailors and is Moonface's traveling companion. She's utterly charming in "Buddie, Beware" and dances up a storm.

Fun and fizzy, the cast is full of charmers who electrified the opening night audience -- and gave everyone a jolt of happy feet.

What: "Anything Goes"

When: through Sunday. Performances at 8 p.m. today through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday; 1 p.m. Thursday.

Where: The Fox Theatre, 531 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis

Tickets: $15-$64

To purchase tickets: MetroTix.com, call 314-534-1111 or at the Fox Box Office.

Information: fabulousfox.com

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