Theater Review: “Anything Goes” at the Kennedy Center

Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony-winning production is a real showstopper.

By: Sophie Gilbert

So silly is the plot of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes that you half expect hero Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin) to tack de-luded onto the list of de-lightful, de-licious, de-lovely sweet nothings he hurls his lover’s way. But it’s ludicrous and gauzily transparent in the same way as PG Wodehouse (who co-wrote the book) is—you know exactly where the characters are going, but it’s still so much fun to see the completely bonkers way in which they get there.

Even Bertie Wooster could learn a thing or two about goofy charm from Roundabout Theatre Company’s production, which scooped Tonys for Best Revival, Best Choreography, and Best Actress (for Sutton Foster) after it opened on Broadway in 2011. With direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall, the touring production—at the Kennedy Center through July 7—stars Rachel York in the Ethel Merman-originated role of lounge singer Reno Sweeney, who heads to England on a cruise ship thinking she’s smitten with guileless Wall Street broker Billy, who’s naturally himself in love with Hope (Alex Finke). Also on the ship: Bill’s boss, Elisha Whitney (Dennis Kelly), small-time hoodlum Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate), Hope, Hope’s mother (Sandra Shipley), and Hope’s dashing English fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmeyer).

The fact that there are boys named Evelyn and girls named Reno might hint at the retro nature of proceedings, and Marshall turns the nostalgic appeal all the way up to 11, from Reno’s Katharine Hepburn-affect and Garbo-esque fur stole to the breathtaking tap dance routine that rounds off the title number at the end of the first act. York is utterly magnetic as Reno, offering a Marilyn Monroe-like charisma with infinitely stronger vocals in her duet with Moonface, “Friendship,” and practically knocking the roof off the house in “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”

Franklin is enormously endearing as Billy, but he’s almost overshadowed (most unexpectedly, one might add) by Staudenmeyer, whose evolution from uptight British aristocrat to wanton creature of the night in “The Gypsy in Me” is accompanied by some very un-gypsy like, Ministry of Silly Walks-inspired dance moves. Even in a musical as unserious as this one there’s something magical about seeing a character embrace themselves fully in such an unselfconscious way, and Staudenmeyer’s overblown sincerity is utterly charming.

The show draws most of its period authenticity from Derek McClane’s sets and Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes. McClane’s ingenuity ranges from using what look like shipping containers to create easily transportable cabin interiors (Evelyn’s is the most opulent by far; Moonface’s considerably less so) to crafting a multi-level ocean liner that’s a gleaming vision in white. Pakledinaz embellishes the natural allure of Reno and her Angels (Jacqueline Burtney, Courtney Rottenberger, Marla McReynolds, and Vanessa Sonon) by bedecking them in elegant white suits as they board the ship and fiery sequins for their main act, and the effect of both is dazzling.

In an era when criminals like Moonface and Snake Eyes Johnson would most likely have their own endlessly depressing reality show, there’s something gratifying about seeing the boundless optimism and sanitized silliness that used to dominate entertainment. In Marshall’s expansive production, the sizable orchestra and gigantic cast of singers and dancers equal diversion in droves, and it’s hard not to see it as not just de-lovely but definitive.

Anything Goes is at the Kennedy Center through July 7. Running time: about two and a half hours, including one intermission. Tickets ($25 to $115) available via the Kennedy Center’s website.