Despite the most recent cruise ship mishap that unfolded in the Gulf of Mexico, the touring revival of Roundabout Theatre Company's Anything Goes, presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center as part of the Lexus Broadway Series at the Winspear Opera House, could easily get one in the mood for a jaunt across the sea.
As the lights dim, a delightful British voice (the kind you'd expect from a seafaring captain) gives the pre-show announcement in keeping with the nautical theme. A spotlight shines on conductor Jay Alger, aptly dressed as a captain, and the opening notes floating across the house instantly lift the mood even higher. Patrons can't help but bob their heads, feet start to move ever so slightly, and tap dancers may find their toes itching to do some time steps. Later on, as the characters on stage board the ship, they begin an even, gentle sway that might make one feel like the Winspear is on water.
The 1934 show, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, follows young Wall Street stockbroker Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen) as he attempts to win his latest infatuation Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) by stowing away on a luxury ocean liner. Helping him along the way are entertainer Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) and a pair of second-rate gangsters Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate) and Erma (Joyce Chittick), who are disguised as missionaries.
Billy discovers that wooing Hope into his arms will be harder than it looks. She travels with her mother Evangeline Harcourt (Sandra Shipley), who is pushing for a marriage with Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer), a comically clueless British nobleman with a penchant for recording American colloquialisms.
Evading his boss (who assumes Billy is still in New York) and the crew (who thinks he's a wanted criminal) provides a bit of a challenge, but with the sly tricks of Moon and Erma, Reno's feminine distractions, and a slew of disguises. Billy manages to sneak in some time with Hope and learns that she still has feelings for him. After several startling revelations and knockout singing and dancing numbers, everyone gets a happy ending to close out the production on the high note with which it began.
This tour, according to director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall, is as big as the Broadway production was, and it's no surprise that it won a collection of Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Revival and Best Choreography. (This version is a revival of the 1987 Broadway production, for which Timothy Crouse and John Weidman wrote a new book based on the one that Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse had already revised from the original by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton.) It's an enjoyable, boisterous ride from start to finish. The singing numbers are superb, the cast brings a shipload of laughs, and the dancing (though hit or miss) draws thunderous applause.
Top-billed York as Reno generates the most enthusiasm from the audience, and it's easy to see why. She has a catchy honesty in "I Get a Kick Out of You," a charming playfulness in "You're the Top," belting pipes and fast feet in "Anything Goes," and a sultry fire for "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Through it all, though, she has swagger and looks absolutely stunning in all of her costumes (designed by Martin Pakledinaz), especially a brilliant, sweeping purple gown.
Chittick, however, as the red-haired flirtatious gangster sidekick runs a photo-finish second to York with her cutely sensual movement style and nasally Yankee accent. Her antics charm a boat full of sailors and a house full of theatergoers, culminating with the charming "Buddie, Beware."
Almost equally brilliant is Staudenmayer. Although he garners a series of chuckles in the first act with his misuse of American jargon, the real hilarity comes in Act II's "Gypsy in Me," a raucous tango with York about the wild inner passions behind his stodgy British demeanor. The exaggerated hair whips and deliberately poor dancing skills (which are interestingly mimicked by York) make this the best segment of the show.
Bergen is suitably cast as the handsome, respectful young man who will go to any lengths to get the woman he loves. The voice and body language changes with each disguise and in "You're the Top" are utterly likeable and contribute to the overall charming humor of the production. (Note: He only plays the role through Feb. 17, and then Josh Franklin steps in for the second week of the Dallas run.)
The dancing has its moments, both great and blah. Bergen seems to naturally have a smooth movement style, but he lacks technical finesse in the jazzy ballroom segments. Finke obviously has some skills, but the transitions are choppy. Fred and Ginger these two are not.
Also uninspiring is the segment of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" with the men's ensemble and Reno's backup singers. The spark is missing choreographically and performance-wise, but the mood picks up when the rest of the cast joins in the song and dance.
Fortunately, there's more good than so-so. The title song and iconic tap number (including the curtain call) evoke a rousing response from the audience, even though the sound amplification makes them sound like they're tapping on a tin roof. The synchronization and smooth power of the sailors in "Buddie, Beware" redeem the lackluster performance of a previous number.
Overall, the show is an amusing, hilarious diversion with a visual appeal and spunky kick to brighten anyone's mood and get them dancing.