Musical theatre has a reputation for sometimes being out of touch and old-fashioned, so the prospect of Mirvish Productions bringing a tour of Cole Porter’s 1934 musical Anything Goes to Toronto wasn’t especially heartening at first—even if this particular production, by New York City’s Roundabout Theatre Company, won three 2011 Tony Awards.
But say, pal, wouldn’t you know, we were downright tickled to have such a good time at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The jokes are still corny, the songs still melodramatic, and the script still has some pretty racist content, but the show manages to transcend its era.
The story is simple, if there’s much of one at all. Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin) is a burgeoning stockbroker who falls madly in love with a young socialite, Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke). But Hope is engaged to a wealthy British dope, named Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer), because her family has fallen on hard times. So Crocker stows away on a cruise ship travelling from New York City to London in order to win her back. He must enlist the help of his friends, Reno Sweeney the lounge singer (Rachel York) and Moonface Martin the wannabe gangster (Fred Applegate), all while avoiding his boozy boss and Hope’s money-grabbing mother. As you can guess, hijinx and hilarity ensue, as well as the type of happy ending that only multiple heterosexual weddings can provide.
The story is just a means of stringing together a series of famous Cole Porter musical numbers, like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the title number, “Anything Goes.” That results in some perplexing character traits and plot holes, as catchy as the music is. “You’re the Top,” performed by Reno and Billy, and “Friendship,” performed by Reno and Moonface, are undeniable toe-tappers, and they’re charmingly acted, but we’re still left wondering how Reno Sweeney would be best friends with both a Wall Street yuppy and a half-assed swindler, among other left-field plot devices. In fact, the title Anything Goes refers to how the creators couldn’t find a conclusion for the first act. Story has been an issue for this show for a long time.
Still, York, Franklin, Applegate, and Staudemayer deliver broad but well-executed performances, and somehow get laughs for even the lamest of jokes. Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall, upon a beautiful cruise-ship set by Derek McLane, finds the perfect balance between cheese and corn. A giant hook ends the particularly gag-filled “Friendship” for a tongue-in-cheek twist, but an adorable duet between Moonface and a blue spotlight in “Be Like the Bluebird” is full of old-school charm.
There also came a moment at the end of the uproarious “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” where Reno stood downstage centre, arms up in her final pose, just grinning at the audience as the applause rose to an unexpected decibel level. She even wiggled with delight. In modern musicals, where the fourth wall is cement and sturdy, there’s no chance of this kind of connection. We didn’t think a relic from the past like Anything Goes could be the production to offer that type of thing, but then again, it’s a classic for a reason.