Mitzi Gaynor In Revival Of 'Anything Goes'

Posted: November 16, 1989

WILMINGTON — The genius of the highly entertaining revival of Cole Porter's 1934 musical, Anything Goes, is that it makes the show's faults so egregious that they become virtues, and its virtues even better by including more of them.

The strength of the resuscitated musical, which had a two-year run in New York and is at the Wilmington Playhouse through Nov. 26, is its wonderful Porter score, including such songs as "Anything Goes," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top" and "Blow Gabriel Blow." To these have been added ''It's Delovely" and "Friendship" from other Porter shows. The additions fit right in, providing more strong musical scenes for a show that already has plenty of them.

The musical's primary defects are its ridiculous book, which deals with the antics of the passengers on a transatlantic liner, and its abundance of corny jokes. But instead of trying to remedy these problems, the revivalists have made the story even sillier and the mound of bad jokes even higher. The nonsense quotient is so intense that the theatergoer comes to realize that the game lies not in whether the musical will ever come to its senses but in just how dumb the story and the jokes can get.

What Anything Goes always has had is high spirits and a sense of fun, and that has not changed. This touring production is irresistible. You can keep muttering, "What a lot of foolishness," yet thoroughly enjoy it.

Its star is Mitzi Gaynor. Like many things about the production, her portrayal of the worldly wise nightclub owner Reno Sweeney begins by puzzling the viewer and ends up winning him over.

The role was created on Broadway by Ethel Merman, and Gaynor appears to be trying to imitate Merman without possessing the gusto or brassy voice to make the imitation believable. As the show proceeds, however, Gaynor's own expressive way with a song, her pleasing appearance (the legs are as shapely as ever and she is not hesitant to show them off), and her fetching, almost impish grin make the character her own. This Reno Sweeeney may be more Mitzi Gaynor, star, than anything else, but she is entertaining.

As Billy Crocker, the leading man, Scott Stevenson is not particularly charismatic, but he has a sweet tenor that makes "All Through the Night" - his duet with Donna English, who plays Hope Harcourt, the society girl - a pleasure.

The comedy roles in this very funny show are strongly played by Robert Nichols, as the gangster Moonface Martin, and Richard Sabellico, as the nice- guy English twit, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Tom Mahoney's dance numbers are colorful and exuberant; Bob Mackie's designs for Gaynor's costumes - she changes clothes every time she leaves the stage - are stunning, and director Philip Cusack keeps the show running at such a headlong pace that the audience has neither the time nor the inclination to question what is happening.

Anything goes, and everything seems just fine. In the final scene, a long- lost dog is found in the ship's swimming pool. Its owner asks, "What was it doing in the swimming pool?" and a chorus of voices answers: "The dog paddle."

If you don't think that's funny, you haven't seen Anything Goes.

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