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OPINION: ‘Anything Goes’ sublimely entertaining

May 2, 2013
By SARAH REED , The Herald-Star

PITTSBURGH - As a luxurious ship tugged away from its temporary port in Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall on April 21, returning audience members from a romantic and tremendously refreshing nautical crossing from 1934 Manhattan en route to England, the 2012-13 PNC Broadway Series came to an end.

Although the final production in the series' varied array of theatrical pieces, the 2011 Broadway revival tour of Cole Porter's classic musical "Anything Goes," in the true fashion of one of its renowned tunes, was the top in immense pleasure.

As the beautiful and youthful Hope Harcourt's ship readies to embark for England, where she is soon to be wed to her English traveling companion and fiance Lord Oakleigh, a young man named Billy Crocker steals aboard, hoping for one last chance to win her heart. When Crocker's first disguise proves unsuccessful, the love-stricken Crocker accepts the advice of fellow notorious passengers, a gangster and his girlfriend, to masquerade as a sailor. Though sporting a ridiculously ill-fitting costume, Crocker is able to sneak in meetings with Hope, who is reluctant to give into his affections. As the ship continues on its course, the romantic mood and tomfoolery surrounding Billy and his acquaintances take paths of their own, paths on which anything could happen and anything could go.

Accented by lusty intonations and a sparkling wry sense of humor, both understatedly reminiscent of vintage actress Mae West, Rachel York's easy poise and intimate charm and exuberance as American nightclub singer Reno Sweeney naturally commanded the eye toward her as she both led musical numbers and became part of the ensemble. To Sweeney's ballads "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," especially, York also showcased an expansive vocal range that could seamlessly imbue Cole Porter's music with a smoky vocal quality or a lovely legitimate soprano tone.

Possessing a winsomely boyish charm and creamy singing voice that perfectly complimented the musical's smoothly jazzy score, Josh Franklin's Billy Crocker proved quite charming on the whole, although a more manly presence would have given his interpretation more credibility. Franklin's romantic musical moments with understudy Ashley Peacock's pertinently cold and whiny, and ultimately boring and incredibly rigid, Hope Harcourt, though beautifully sung by both, were rather uninspiring and made their characters appear fickle and trite.

Making this production the most humorous and delightful of pleasure cruises was Edward Staudenmayer's adorably daffy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Delighting himself in attempting to understand his fiance's culture by jotting down alien American slang terms in a notebook, Staudenmayer's Oakleigh created a bounty of laughter as he incorrectly worded the latter phrase, demanding that the ship's steward hurriedly "step in" his order of tea. Trumping the entire musical's comedic moments, however, was Staudenmayer's interpretation of His Lordship's revelatory second-act number, "The Gypsy in Me," in which the until-then mild Oakleigh, with explosive and tireless energy, reveals his inner Casanova and details a past romantic fling to York's Sweeney.

Dennis Kelly as Billy Crocker's endearing and rather pitiably feeble alcoholic, Yale-worshipping employer Elisha Whitney, whose frequent loss of and inability to see without his eyeglasses finds him in a whirlpool of amusing befuddlement; Sandra Shipley's portrayal of Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, Hope's sophisticated, fortune-conscious, and sometimes dramatic mother; and Fred Applegate's lovable Moonface Martin, a gangster disguised as a priest, each anchored the production with admirable seasoned professionalism.

Joyce Chittick as Moonface's brassy sailor-chasing dame Erma additionally peppered the stage with a pleasantly sassy humor and stunning dancing ability, especially in Erma's largest number, "Buddie, Beware."

Draped in detail from the set's multi-tiered decks to the exquisitely tailored and patterned period costumes and coiffed wigs, Kathleen Marshall's divinely directed and decadently choreographed production of the enormously humorous, scrumptiously tuneful and magnificently performed "Anything Goes" was a theatrical experience truly deserving to be termed "de-lovely," in honor of one of its famous songs.

(Sarah Reed is theater critic for Weekender.)

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