Monday, July 29, 2013

Anything Goes in Toronto

Wow!  That's the first word that comes to mind after seeing, and being delighted by, Anything Goes, which is currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre.  For this show I wasn't a last minute ticket buyer.  I knew I wanted to see it ever since the Tony Awards broadcast where Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney led the cast in a wonderful tap dance to "Anything Goes".  It was worth the wait.  My familiarity with the title and the song came from the 1956 Paramount movie version with Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor and JeanMarie.  I knew the musical plot was different from the movie, but it still had a great Cole Porter score, with some additional songs that may not have been Porter creations, and a great dance number with O'Connor and Gaynor to "De-Lovely".

Cast in "Anything Goes" (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Anyhow, I went into the musical knowing the music (I had sought out a Broadway cast recording, and found the one from the late 80's with Patti LuPone), but not the plot.  It's quirky, with characters changing names, and clothes, all over.  But if it doesn't put you on the edge of your seat wondering what's going to happen next (and there is a little bit of that.   When leading man Billy finds himself in the brig with a wedding to stop, "how are they going to get out of this one" did cross my mind.), it certainly does with production numbers.  The act one closer "Anything Goes" is huge, and the act two opener "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" topped it.  While this is a touring show, there's nothing that looks scaled down giving that impression.

The fullness of the show extends to the action in the orchestra pit as well.  Filled with 15 or so local musicians, playing who knows how many instruments (peeking in at intermission there were as many types of clarinets and saxes as I know of), they dazzled in the overture and entr'acte.  The three trumpet players particularly were wonderful.  The jazzy, screamer style playing in the entr'acte warmed them up for "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and they really blew me away.
One moment in the overture that stood out was a completely seamless transition from a held note in the clarinet to that same note in the trumpet.  They matched perfectly before the trumpet went "brassy" (probably not a word, but it's really hard to describe sounds) with it.  A smile hit my face as I thought, oh how smooth, and it didn't leave for the rest of the show.  Well ok, the smile started before then when conductor Jay Alger took the podium wearing a captains hat, which he discarded then donned again post intermission.

Reno and Lord Oakleigh in "The Gypsy in Me"
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
What to say about the cast?  There's nothing left wanting from any of them, so I'll just mention a few.  Rachel York as Reno Sweeney can do anything.  Her voice is big and bold; her comedy with Moonface Martin in "Friendship", and elsewhere throughout the show, never falls flat; she can dance with the best of them; and somehow manages to keep a straight face while Edward Staudenmayer as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh let out his inner gypsy in "The Gypsy in Me".

Josh Franklin
I'll take Josh Franklin (who plays Billy Crocker) as a leading man anytime.  He looks dashing in a tux, and only slightly less so in the too short pants he tends to "borrow" while trying to hide in plain sight.  His voice is also lovely to listen to, from the lively "You're the Top" duet with Reno, to the ballads "Easy to Love" and "All Through the Night".

The solo song for Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13 and played by Fred Applegate, is "Be Like a Bluebird".  It's a song I never quite understood from the plotless cast recording.  He sings it trying to cheer Billy up when they're in jail and it has one of the cutest lighting effects.  The "bluebird" is a blue light that flutters over Moonface and even "lands" on his fingers.  It's funny to watch Billy's stoic face as Moonface acts rather silly.

Chuck Wagner (
A face that was a surprise to see in the program was that of Chuck Wagner playing the Captain of the USS American.  He was the Beast in the Toronto production of Beauty and the Beast when it first opened here in 1995.  His head shot in the program has to be 15 years old, but he's gotten more distinguished with age, and still has a gorgeous voice (check out some of his singing on his website).  It's not hard to tell he enjoys his work.  In the ship nightclub scene during "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" he was dancing enthusiastically from his spot on the steps.

Anything Goes deserves the 4/4 stars it got from the Toronto Star (review here) and any other accolades that have been thrown its way.  It just got extended for another week, and is worth seeing.  Get thee to the theatre!