Anything Goes and So Should You (to “Anything Goes”)

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Rehearsal photo of DeRosa, Scott, Howes and Harris, all mentioned in this piece. From the Goodspeed site, by Diane Sobolewski

Rehearsal photo of DeRosa, Scott, Howes and Harris, all mentioned in this piece. From the Goodspeed site, by Diane Sobolewski

A few thoughts from not-an-actual-critic.

If you are on the fence about seeing “Anything Goes” at the Goodspeed, get off the fence and go see it. I see a lot of theater and am familiar with the experience of diappointment. Or, for that matter, the sensation currently known as “meh.” But is there anything better than an evening at the theater that tranports you? And is there any less guilty pleasure than a big, gaudy, goofy musical full of attractive, talented people and lovely music? Think hard, now.
Daniel Goldstein’s producton of “AG” starts with an interesting premise: a multi-racial cast. In fact, the first thing you see is a kind of stock Cole Porter character, a bibulous, gouty, amiable 1930s plutocrat named Eli Whitney, frozen
forever in a priapic salute to Mother Yale. And he’s played by the distinguished African-American Broadway actor Kingsley Leggs. After five seconds of cognitive dissonance, you realize this could really be fun, but you have no idea how much fun it will really turn out to be.
For that, you need to get a load of Rashidra Scott as Reno Sweeney, the louche, game-for-anything club singer who is somehow both the star of the play and the second female lead, in its romantic hierarchy. I could go on all day about
Scott. The first thing you notice is what somebody else called her “smoky alto” voice. I can’t improve on that description, but what’s more important is her attack. Keep in mind, this role was first played by Ethel Merman and later by Patti Lupone. That’s tantamount to a license to oversing, but Scott doesn’t. She leans herself into the melody and stays inside it. She lets Porter do the work. She doesn’t need any vocal stunts. She’s got great music and a 5,000 watt face. You can’t take your eyes off it. She has the type of vivid features that make her expressions scrutable from 25 rows back, a must in this business. It really isn’t until the end of Act One, that we find out the other thing. She can dance. Really dance. She leads the big tap number, and she’s large and in charge. (Our experience mirrors that of the Goodspeed itself. I’m told she was hired
for her voice, acting and vibe. She downplayed her own dancing chops, and the theater — this is not uncommon — probably figured whatever she couldn’t do could be covered up with skilled chorus dancers. Not necessary!)
What keeps Scott from putting the musical on her shoulders and running down Rt. 9 with it is Stephen DeRosa as Moonface, the play’s unlikely jester, a criminal who keeps genially offering to help out by killing inconvenient people. The script for this production is essentially the 2011 Sutton Foster revival, and it has been peppered up with Grouchoesque and Pythonian absurdities of the first rank. I think it’s safe to call DeRosa a Marxist. Without ever being in danger of aping Groucho, he channels that particular comic gestalt with his delivery, his physicality and his multi-phasic mood disorder, which allows him to pivot effortlessly into different states of mind. He’s so funny that he got his biggest laugh from me on a flubbed line. “Have you ever been in jail in Cicero?” he asks leading man David Harris. “I’m not talking about the old jail. I
mean the old, old jail!” That’s not how the line goes, but he found something crazy-funny in his mistake. I wasn’t the only one howling. There was a strange, protracted, honking laugh coming from three rows back, and it was emanating from Goldstein, the director. By the time DeRosa does his final number, “Be Like the Bluebird,” which could be kind of a throwaway, I was already laughing during the set-up. He had stripped away all my resistance by that point. Fans of
“Boardwalk Empire” will remember DeRosa as Eddie Cantor, a supporting part he mined for so many interesting shades that I began to think the writers were beefing up his role just to see what else he could do.

The rest of cast is a deep bench. Everybody can do his or her job very well. Wrong-footedness isn’t on the menu.
And then in the second act, Benamin Howes, as the foppish British peer, damn near stops the show with a tour de force on
“The Gypsy in Me,” which is a terrific meta-moment. It turns out there’s much more to that character, which is revealed just as we discover there is much more to this performer.
OK. I’ll stop. I should say something negative. The title dance sequence was under-lighted, and Goldstein should take the visual joke out of “All Through the Night,” which deserves to breathe on its own. That’s all I can think of.
Actually, all I can think of right now is whether I should go back and see it again.

 

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