Chicago Theatre Review
You’re the Top
Anything Goes – Marriott Theatre
Can there be any better way to shake off the Winter blues and welcome Spring to Chicagoland than with this musical gem of the ocean? This bright, champagne-bubbly, laugh-filled confection offers more star talent, opulent costumes, laughs and a classic score overflowing with tap dancing than any other show. Marc Robin’s joyous staging of 2011’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival is populated with a shipload of triple threats, each making the comic acting, singing and dancing look polished, effortless and just plain fun.
How does a show that’s had more incarnations than Shirley MacLaine hold up against all those new-fangled Broadway hits that’ve opened in the 21st century? To begin with, there’s Cole Porter’s delectable, timeless, hit-filled score. It features that infectious title tune, “Anything Goes,” which closes Act I in a rousing production number. Then, just after the second act begins, we get the exhilarating, full company revival meeting extravaganza, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” These are followed by other marvelous, familiar hits like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “All Through the Night,” “It’s De-lovely” and many others that’ve now become standards of the American Songbook.
This fabulous score is supported by a terrific libretto, originally penned by P. G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The 1987 Lincoln Center revival was spruced up for modern audiences by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman and is the version now being presented at the Marriott for our entertainment pleasure.
This entire company is absolutely first rate, beginning with the beautiful Stephanie Binetti, starring as Reno Sweeney. Ms. Binetti, who’s graced the Marriott stage in previous productions and sports a vast resume from around the country, is simply perfect in this role. Looking like a young Patti Lupone, with her auburn pageboy, the actress belts out songs like there’s no tomorrow and as a dancer she has legs for days. She’s paired with several of Chicago theatre’s finest. Jameson Cooper, a handsome young actor/singer/dancer, often seen in supporting or ensemble parts at the Marriott, finally gets to strut his stuff in a leading role. As Billy Crocker, Mr. Cooper is a dream. Not only does he demonstrate his versatility as “a master of disguises,” but his lush tenor smoothly caresses Cole Porter’s melodies with ease, while demonstrating his Fred Astaire-ian talents in several superbly danced numbers. Chicago favorite, Ross Lehman, featured in a variety of roles at so many other Chicago theatres besides the Marriott, gets to tear up the stage as Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13. He makes the character’s broad comedy all his own, providing some of the evening’s biggest laughs. Mr. Lehman’s musical numbers, especially his hilarious “Be Like the Bluebird” and “Friendship,” are all sensational.
Other standouts in this cast include the lovely, graceful Summer Naomi Smart as Hope Harcourt, Billy Crocker’s high society love interest. She delights with songs like “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” “It’s De-lovely” and the haunting “All Through the Night,” beautifully sung and elegantly danced with Mr. Cooper. As Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, Hope’s intended, the suavely good-looking Patrick Lane makes his welcome Marriott debut. The highlight of his performance is an energetic tango, “The Gypsy in Me,” passionately sung and danced with Reno Sweeney. Alexandra E. Palkovic is very funny as Erma, the dumb blond moll with an eye for the sailors. Her seductive “Buddy, Beware” is a tantalizing 11th hour number that brings down the house.
In smaller, but equally memorable key roles, Gene Weygandt makes a very funny belching, inebriated millionaire, Elisha Whitney, Mary Ernster is delightful as the social climbing Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt and John Reeger and Patrick Sarb keep everything shipshape as the Captain and Ship’s Purser. Two talented actors, often seen in larger roles, Anne Gunn and Mark David Kaplan perk up the ensemble and are funny in multiple roles, particularly as a very outspoken elderly couple. A gracefully athletic ensemble of singing and dancing sailors, Chinese converts and fallen Angels (Purity, Chastity and Virtue, “the easy kind”) complete the cast, keeping this production shaking, moving and tapping.
Ryan T. Nelson’s musical direction complements Marc Robin’s inventive staging and choreography, and Patti Garwood’s eight-member orchestra keeps everything humming. Thomas M. Ryan’s adaptable, mobile set gives this production more vertical interest than most Marriott shows. Nancy Missimi once again works her magic, creating an array of eye-popping, period costumes that dazzle, sparkle and shine. And all of this pizzazz would be for nothing if not for Jesse Klug’s brilliant lighting design that keeps everything in focus.
In an era of celebrity worship drawn from every walk of life, this old-fashioned musical feels as contemporary as the day it was written. Under Marc Robin’s expert eye, three love stories play out to their final, delightful moments. Everyone, young and old alike, of course, lives happily ever after by the final curtain, which can only happen aboard a musical, Art Deco cruise ship overflowing with debutantes, dancing sailors and dry martinis.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 8-May 31 by the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 847-634-0200 or by going to www.MarriottTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.