12:47 AM CDT, April 25, 2013
Preservationists have their lists of endangered buildings; conservationists, their list of endangered species. I have my list of endangered artistic experiences.
You come home from work, exhausted. You rally, dress up a bit. You hop a train or a bus downtown, drinking in the perennial thrill of the big city. You meet up with friends, a spouse, a lover. And you go to a touring musical comedy, replete with toe-tapping melodies, adroit comedians, beautiful dancers and a romantic, wholly predictable plot that requires no mental effort whatsoever — this is your leisure time — and yet it impresses with its wit and cleverness.
You laugh. You relax. You sense that this touring company is grateful finally to have arrived in Chicago, a real theater city, after suffering week after week in God knows where. They raise their game, buoyed by the audience. You come out renewed, recharged and a little closer to whoever shared this glamorous, escapist evening with you.
Sentimental? So shoot me. For that is pretty much the experience of “Anything Goes,” the terrific first national tour of Kathleen Marshall's very rousing 2011 Broadway revival of the 1934 Cole Porter/Guy Bolton/P.G. Wodehouse/Howard Lindsay/Russel Crouse confection. The revival originally starred Sutton Foster (and very fine she was, too) and now stars Rachel York, a longtime road survivor with a big grin, stellar pipes and a exuberant personality that makes her the very definition of old-school trooper.
I'm often being told that the distinction between Equity and non-Equity tours is not meaningful. Poppycock and balderdash. Had “Anything Goes,” which has a company of 32 and a hefty pit, gone out nonunion, as is so common nowadays with Broadway revivals, you would not be seeing one of the most formidable benches of massively experienced character actors I've seen on the road in years.
Let's review. In the role of Moonface Martin, there is the sandpaper-dry Fred Applegate, who starred, very nicely, in “The Producers.” In the throwaway role of the Captain, there's Chuck Wagner, whom I once watched send chills down the spines of female fans of “Jekyll & Hyde,” back when it was understood that musical needed accessible gravitas, a quality absent from the current, cheap Broadway revival. As silly, old Elisha Whitney, there's Chicago's own Dennis Kelly, who is a goofy delight. And in the role of Lord Evelyn, pompous British twit, resides Edward Staudenmayer, veteran comedian of years and years of “Forbidden Broadway,” whose comic chops are matched only by his voice. Add in the Broadway veteran Joyce Chittick as the hilarious vamp Erma and you have all the bone-dry shtick one night could possibly hold. I don't know where this crew is hanging out, but one imagines it would be a lot of fun to be with them all.
Such a treat is “Anything Goes” (the revival, as is the fashion nowadays, updated the book a little and expanded the score with the blessing of the estate). The collection of ditties, should you need reminding, is close to peerless: “I Get a Kick out of You,” “You're the Top,” “Easy to Love” (a useful one for a long-married couple), “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “All Through the Night” and so forth.
They're all performed with verve and panache (Alex Finke is a lovely ingenue), and everything on the stage is consistently funny. I've never thought of York as a tapper, but she fakes it darn well. And she actually has more of that quality of sardonic weariness than the perkier Foster. York is a Reno Sweeney of the hard-knock life, which is as it should be. That's why they called her Reno.
Broadway tours are supposed to offer Broadway-caliber experiences. That is precisely what is delivered here by a company whose members are so secure in one another they can afford to offer up a really good time. It's not so much that Marshall's staging is radical or a reinvention as much as it is a fresh, expansionist, optimistic, guileless conception, teetering perfectly on the knife-edge between the retro and the redo.
This is a production that respects the zest of this early Broadway material, with its racy double-entendres, absurd plot twists, shamelessly exportable songs (with lyrics carefully planned to work out of context) and an overall self-confidence that suggested the world was shrinking, money was to be made and love was something you could go out and grab all by yourself. All of that still is true: Not to be missed is the show that makes you feel that way. Go ahead. Leave Elmhurst or Wheaton, Naperville or Countryside for a few hours, gussy up and have a dirty old martini in our surprisingly clean town.
When: Through May 5
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $27-$95 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com
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