Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Not Quite a Dream Cruise

I think it’s fairly safe to say that in the canon that is “classic musical theater performed at high schools across America”, Anything Goes is quite possibly near the top. Whatever version of the script you’ve performed, it’s the music that is beloved. Cole Porter’s score is arguably one of the strongest, most recognizable in theater history. Yet Roundabout put out yet another subpar revival of a wonderful musical. How it garnered all the success it has this year is simply because the competition was drab, similarly to the “boat” the cast danced on.
I think the one word that can describe the production, as a whole is airy. Sure, the book, poorly updated by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, has pockets of dry moments, but you’d think the direction, choreography, and design could make up for it. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Kathleen Marshall, who oddly won the Tony Award for choreography, pulled out her big guns with a cast that should have done no wrong, but even they couldn’t help move the play along. Clocking in at a whopping time of over two and a half hours, there was a lot of tightness that a show running for almost a year should have trimmed. The fact that the character of Reno Sweeney stood still for a millisecond during any of the big dance numbers is unforgivable. Whether she was intimidated by the legend that is Joel Grey or she simply didn’t know how to help the character, a good five minutes where added on by the setup/delivery of any of Moonface’s jokes. I would also love to know who came up with the fourth wall-breaking, poorly contrived rendition of “Friendship.” The classic song just seemed lost, especially with the majority of it being spoken, and the neverending joke of never ending the number. For me, the biggest disaster of the piece was the cast to set ratio. Now you’re probably saying, what difference does that make? You’re on a large boat designed by Derek McLane, which seemed to only be blande white to make use of Peter Kaczorowski’s erratic lights, so you’d think the ensemble would be just as big. I wished there were at least four more sailors and a handful more passengers on board. When we got to the should have been show stopping Act I finale “Anything Goes,” there seemed to be too much empty space. It’s always nice to streamline a production, but for once, this one wanted more.

With all the air on board, there were some highlights. When the set finally transformed into the boat, with the company singing “There’s No Cure Like Travel,” I couldn’t help but smile. Sure it brought back memories of high school, but it also defined why classic musicals still exist. Within the company, it’s pretty safe to say that Colin Donnell’s studly Billy Crocker and Jessica Stone’s high octane highlarity as Erma, were the stand outs. Donnell is the epitome of leading man. He was charming and made sure it was his story we were watching. Stone knows how to do comedy. Though her stage time was limited, she never wasted a moment. Overall, the casting for the play as a whole was just as bad as previous Roundabout productions of musical revivals (Bye Bye Birdie anyone?). Sure, it’s a thrill having Joel Grey and John McMartin in your company, but their performances were lackluster at best. John McMartin did not portray drunk, he was just old. Joel Grey was not the Joel Grey of yore. He played his gimmicks to the max, they just didn’t work. His rendition of “Be Like the Bluebird” was tired. The use of the blue spotlight was cute for the first second until it went on too long. If you know me, then you’d know my hatred of the casting of Sutton Foster of Reno Sweeney. I’ve always dreamed of a sexy, sultry, leggy Reno. Like Mara Davi. Perhaps Leslie Kritzer. Foster is goofy, quirky, and leggy. Fortunately for me, I attended a night when Foster was out and Tari Kelly was on. And boy was I impressed. She was closer to the Reno I always envisioned. Though she didn’t quite command the stage as Foster usually would, she brought Reno some feistiness. Adam Godley as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh grew on me. Especially with his geeky and fun performance of “Gypsy in Me.”
What should be the best part of Anything Goes is the music. They are iconic. When you have iconic songs, there’s an expectancy to be memorable and near perfect. Marshall’s Anything Goes was everything but. I will say, the Tony Awards performance was not a good representation of the positive within the show. An abbreviated version of “Anything Goes” is quite difficult to do. I personally would have picked “Blow Gabriel Blow.” But why showcase your best number when you know you’ll still sell tickets? “Friendship” was a train wreck. “The Crew Song” was a joke. “Anything Goes” lacked the oomph the music provides. It’s pretty sad when the secondary characters’ songs are the best.
As mentioned before, I wish the set hit an iceburg and we got a second opinion. The majority of the time, there was never set dressing so there was a lot of empty space which looked very empty, especially during the duets. The color was killer. It was white. All white. A simple baby blue trim would have been pleasing. And whoever made the decision to have STUFFED ANIMAL DOGS perform as, well as whatever they were supposed to be, should reconsider their decisions in theater. Unless you gave me the option to purchase them after the show, they really took me out of the show.
Did I go into the show with high expectations? Of course. Anything Goes is one of my favorite shows. Do I regret seeing the show? Not at all. The production may not have been perfect, but the experience of hearing Cole Porter’s music on Broadway brought back some fond memories.