On Stage: ‘De-Lovely’

REVIEW: Much to love in Roundabout’s ‘Anything Goes’ at Kennedy Center.

Ryan Steer, Bobby Pestka, Rachel York, Jeremy Benton, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden. (Photo © Joan Marcus, 2012)

Ryan Steer, Bobby Pestka, , Jeremy Benton, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden. (Photo © Joan Marcus, 2012)

What a delight it must have been to be among those in the Broadway theater on the 1934 opening night of Cole Porter’s joyous musical “Anything Goes.” Lucky for us, it isn’t necessary to let your imagination run wild trying to imagine that evening since the excitement and fun of witnessing this classic has been transported to the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.

“Anything Goes” is from that sparkling era when musical comedy was coming of age and great songwriters like Porter, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein were producing songs for shows that would forever change the Broadway musical. The touring revival of this witty production is a great antidote to the malaise of political Washington.

When Rachel York breaks out in “I Get a Kick Out of You,” it is 1934 again. We are in that original theater and everything but being a part of this delightful show is quickly forgotten. In her brassy blonde Reno Sweeney role, York seems to channel great women like Mae West, Texas Guinan, and even Ethel Merman, who was the first Reno Sweeney. York is one of those special stars who are delightful to watch sing, dance, move, even listen to, as she takes on the manner you’d expect from a great 1930s broad. She dominates the stage and can make it all work for herself and the other performers.

Director and choreographer clearly deserved the array of awards she received, including the Tony, for the 2011 revival. Not one moment is wasted in this production, and the cast is remarkable in the respect and energy it brings to the memorable Porter songs.

British humorist, P.G. Wodehouse was involved in writing the book for “Anything Goes,” which takes place on a steam ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Action abounds: lovers and their confusing situations; wacky complications with Damon Runyon-esque gangsters; a mother pushing her daughter to marry a rich, titled, but goofy British aristocrat; a minister in disguise; an aging millionaire traveling with his stuffed Yale bulldog. The jokes and puns will make you groan, but you can’t help laughing. The Wodehouse touch is obvious and will delight “Jeeves” fans.

But in the end, it is the music, that magical Cole Porter music. He doesn’t have a statue on Broadway, but he should. “Anything Goes” is packed to overflowing with great songs from the era filled with the work of legendary composers. In addition to “I Get a Kick Out of You,” there’s “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship,” “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and the title song, “Anything Goes” that closes the first act with every member of this talented cast tap-dancing their way to the explosive delight of the Kennedy Center audience.

The first act is so magical that the rush to tie up all the loose ends in the last act is slightly disappointing. But this is one of the great musicals of Broadway history and the only disappointment at the end is leaving the Kennedy Center to return to Washington reality.

Roundabout Theatre Company’s “Anything Goes” runs through July 7 in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, 2700 F Street NW, $25-$115, 800-444-1324 and here.

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