TORONTO - The frothy, fizzy Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes" sailed into Toronto on Thursday night, serving up an intoxicating mix of screwball comedy, classic tunes and big-hearted, old-fashioned production numbers.
The 2011 revival of the 1934 musical was a smash on Broadway, closing last summer after over 520 performances. When a touring version was launched in October, director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall vowed that the new incarnation would rival the New York original. And judging by the opening night guffaws and thunderous applause at the Princess of Wales Theatre, she's more than delivered on that promise.
Set in the 1930s on an ocean liner travelling from New York to England, "Anything Goes" follows the daffy antics of sassy night-club singer Reno Sweeney (Rachel York) and her stowaway pal Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin), who become romantically entangled with heiress Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) and her uptight fiance Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer). Further complicating matters is a hapless band of small-time criminals led by Moonface Martin (the delightful Fred Applegate) and his ditzy sidekick Erma (Joyce Chittick).
The zany plot unfolds with the help of silly disguises, clever sight gags and one-line zingers that somehow manage never to sound corny (and repeatedly had the opening night audience in stitches).
In her starring turn as Reno Sweeney, York has some big shoes to fill.
The original '34 Broadway production, after all, featured the Ethel Merman in the part (she later starred in a film version with Bing Crosby). The role has also been performed by Patti LuPone and Sutton Foster (who won the 2011 Tony).
Thankfully, York — a Broadway veteran (who appeared opposite Julie Andrews in ''Victor/Victoria") — is more than up to the challenge.
With a huge voice and a million-watt smile, the 41-year-old Florida native appears to be having the time of her life as the show's wise-cracking, toe-tapping heroine.
Her raucous Act Two opener "Blow Gabriel Blow" elicited a marathon, deafening round of applause that seemed as though it might never stop.
And she has some very nice chemistry with Franklin (who charms as Billy) as the pair try to one-up each other during the rollicking "You're the Top."
Such classic Porter ditties, of course, are at the heart of "Anything Goes," along with standards "I Get A Kick Out of You," "It's De-lovely" and the title song, which was accompanied by an eye-popping tap spectacle.
Put simply, "Anything Goes" is everything a classical musical should be — one of those productions where there's a crackle of excitement in the theatre as soon as the orchestra launches into the overture.
And while it contains some sexual suggestiveness and political incorrectness (this is the 1930s after all!), this show is the perfect vehicle to introduce young theatre-goers to the joys of a big-league musical.
The Roundabout Theatre Company production is only in town until August 18th.
Theatre-goers won't want to miss the boat.