When it comes to bona fides, “Anything Goes” is awash in them.
Music by Cole Porter. Original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, with revisions by the famed team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Tony-winning 2011 revival directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall (“Wonderful Town”).
Then there are the songs, many of which are now American standards: “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-Lovely” and the title song.
The most recent revival, a hit for the Roundabout Theater Company, is now on the road, with Rachel York leading the crew in this merry little shipboard musical comedy. York, who plays evangelist-turned-nightclub singer Reno Sweeny, comes with her own impressive list of bona fides, from roles in the Broadway productions of “Les Miserables,” “City of Angels” and “Victor/Victoria,” to portraying Lucille Ball in a 2003 TV movie.
York and the rest of the “Anything Goes” cast have set sail for Spokane, where the musical will open the 2013-14 Best of Broadway season tonight. Expect plenty of mistaken-identity high jinks, bubbly champagne and high-stepping fun.
“It’s such a joy to be a part of this wonderful company and this incredible production,” York said in a recent telephone interview, praising director/choreographer Marshall. “She’s taken the show to a whole new level and the audience just seems to eat it up. Their joy feeds us and helps give us energy to do what we do every night, to give 110 percent every night.”
The musical, first staged in 1934, is set on the S.S. American, an ocean liner making the trans-Atlantic crossing from New York to London. A young man, Billy Crocker, stows away to be near Hope Hardcourt, who is traveling with her mother and her fiance. Along for the ride are Sweeny and “public enemy No. 13” Moonface Martin.
York said there’s a reason “Anything Goes” continues to be revived, and is staged in high schools and colleges across the country. It’s a terrific Cole Porter musical.
“I personally believe we have really gotten it right with this production,” she said. “The Cole Porter music is timeless. You can’t go wrong with that music. Then you need a great book. I feel we’ve taken the old book and polished it up and made it new again.”
York credits Marshall’s choreography with helping take “Anything Goes” to the next level. It’s a dance-heavy production, she said, that is romantic, funny, joyful – “really everything you’d want in a Broadway musical.”
“We have a nine-minute tap number – a very aerobic tap number – to ‘Anything Goes’ at the end of the first act that’s a big crowd-pleaser,” York said. “It’s one of those numbers where you think this is going to end soon because this is amazing, and we’ve reached the climax of the number and it keeps going.”
And the dancers? “We keep breathing harder and harder.”
The role of Reno Sweeney is “the cream of the crop when it comes to female roles,” York said. It’s the kind of part that can be played a number of ways, from Ethel Merman’s “swaggering authority” (said the New York Times in its review of the 1934 production) to Sutton Foster’s “goofy and sexy” turn (Times, again) in 2011. For York, Reno is a joy to play.
“She’s very multilayered and she’s lovable,” York said. “And you root for her, even though she’s a little shady. But you love her.”