‘Anything Goes’ voyages back to the 1930s
By Rosemary Fetter
The Great Depression of the 1930s affected everyone in the country. The economy was at an all-time low for years after the Stock Market crash of 1929, leaving many Americans out of work, impoverished and eventually homeless. Interestingly, despite hard times, audiences in need of escape flocked to elaborate musical productions and slapstick comedies that would whisk them away from their troubles. Such was the musical comedy Anything Goes, first produced on Broadway in 1934, starring Ethel Merman.
The madcap story, which takes place on an ocean liner bound for London from New York, revolves around a young stowaway in love with an heiress engaged to marry a British lord. The ardent suitor is aided in his pursuit by a beautiful nightclub singer, along with Public Enemy #13, in disguise and on the run. The highlight of the production, along with the bizarre shenanigans, is Cole Porter’s fabulous score, including Friendship, It’s De-Lovely, You’re the Top and I Get a Kick Out of You,
As usual, Town Hall Arts Director/Choreographer Nick Sugar and Co-Choreographer Kelly Kates artfully stage a fabulous production that at one point feature 25 dancers on a Town Hall Arts Center’s small stage. They don’t miss a beat, which never fails to impress me. The cast does an incredible job, particularly Norell Moore in the lead role of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney. Moore, who has a dynamite voice, could give Merman a run for her money as she energetically belts out classics like Blow, Gabriel, Blow and Anything Goes. Zach Stailey is entertaining as the lovelorn Billy Crocker, as is Alison Mueller as the confused heiress. Mark Shonsky is great as the trigger-happy Moonface Martin.
The play itself has an interesting back story. The original book, written by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, was heavily edited by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse after producer Vinton Freedly (who was living on a boat) came up with the idea for a musical. The plot originally involved a bomb threat, shipwreck and shenanigans on desert island, like a combination of Lost and Gilligan’s Island. As is often the case with such things, the story was rewritten after a fire aboard the passenger ship SS Morro Castle resulted in the deaths of 138 passengers and crewmembers. Originally, the roles of Billy Crocker and Moonface Martin were written for William Gaxton and Victor Moore, a comedy team similar to the 1950s duo op of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Anything Goes ran for 420 performances on Broadway, one of the longest-running musicals of the 1930s and was revived several times on stage, in movies and on TV. The most recent 2011 production garnered nine Tony Award nominations, winning for Best Revival and Best Choreography. It starred Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney and Joel Gray as Moonface Martin.