Every few generations (if we arbitrarily measure each by a decade) seems to require a Broadway whack at the shipboard romantic farce Anything Goes, and of the few incarnations I’ve seen, the current one, as presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, is by quite a long chalk the best. And not surprisingly, in some ways: Anything Goes is one of the last of the major musicals whose construction entailed wrapping together a wacky scenario with songs deliberately tailored to be liftable out of context, and as such it contained much humor that would not survive its era, so it has had to be continually revised and updated. But the last revival of the ‘80s seemed to have arrived at a “definitive” libretto, with Timothy Crouse (descendant of one of the original authors) and John Weidman finally managing to wrangle the story with jokes that sounded like they came from the era, but were in fact an affectionate and somewhat “timeless” riff on it, crafted with latter-day musical theatre understanding. You could decide to tweak it and revise it later, but you’d never again have to.
And with this material as a foundation—not to mention of course the witty, elegant and infectious Cole Porter score—director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall has had as “simple” a task as casting it right, staging it right and pacing it right. Okay, not so “simple” (even in quotation marks) because she also had to infuse it with a tone appropriate to the second decade of the New Millennium, and that she has. Without resorting to crudeness or even the suggestion of explicitness, she has made this Anything Goes naughtier. Sexually naughtier. The show has always been sexually naughty, but by giving just that much more emphasis to sensuality in the behavior of certain characters, and occasionally in dance, Ms. Marshall has achieved an ideal balance between the era of the show’s conception and 2011.
Of course, having Sutton Foster as your Reno Sweeney does you no harm; as lithe and supple vocally and comedically as she is physically, she makes the phrase “triple threat” seem an undervaluation. And with the comic gangster Moonface Martin played by Joel Grey—who, at 79, has lost none of his pixie-ish verve, timing or savvy—the intended harm just gets transmuted into good, clean fun. In fact, all the featured roles—including Colin Donnell’s suave leading man, Adam Godey’s engagingly unsuave British fop, Laura Osnes as the leading lady for which they vie, Jessica Stone’s bombshell of a gangster’s moll and John McMartin’s befuddled businessman—are assayed with spectacular particularization and polish. And there’s a design team to match.
Cole Porter’s oevre is such that, for all his magnificent songs, only two shows are revivable (the other being Kiss Me, Kate), so each time they show up, they need to be handled with extreme care, to keep the love alive (if one may borrow a phrase from Lorenz Hart). Happily, the nurturing and exuberance evidenced at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre—even the locale rings right—is of the type that you simply don’t find administered better.