A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
Anything Goes

Anything Goes  is the delectable Cole Porter Art Deco 1934 musical set on shipboard, revived periodically but never so well as in its current reincarnation directed by Trevor Nunn at the National Theatre.  With sophisticated lyrics and music to match by the musical theater’s leading sophisticate of the 30s, Porter’s well-known songs are all here, in addition to the title one beginning, if anyone needs reminding: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking/ Was looked on as something shocking/ But now, heaven knows, anything goes./  Good authors too, who once knew better words/ Now only use four-letter words, writing prose: anything goes.”

Well performed, fast moving, and cleverly designed, the zany plot has been revised by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman from the earlier book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, but it is still one of those crazily involved stories so favored in its period.  Billy Crocker (John Barrowman), hopelessly in love with Hope (Mary Stockley), the “deb who came out on a Zeppelin,” stows away on the liner that is taking her from New York to London, where she is to marry Lord Oakleigh (Simon Day), one of the inept aristocracy who people Wodehouse and the later Monty Python’s Circus.  Billy, when discovered, has to assume several disguises, among them that of Snakeyes Johnson, Public Enemy No. 1, and when this is discovered, he is feted by the captain as the famous celebrity and star clout for which his ship, the SS America, is famous.

  Aboard too is Moonface (Martin Marquez), a real machine-gun toting gangster, whose disguise as a priest does not prevent him from making threats of murder.  Sally Ann Triplett in the Ethel Merman role of nightclub evangelist Reno Sweeney, belts out “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” with fervor, if not quite the brass of Merman in the role that made her famous.  And Denis Quilley as a tippling tycoon has the evening’s funniest riposte to a maxim of the temperance movement that banned liquor in the U.S. and gave rise to speakeasies: “Liquor has not touched my lips.”  “You know a short-cut?”

Choreographer Stephen Mears’ routines include a show-stopping tap number by the whole company that closes the first act, and “The Gypsy in Me” that brings on a gipsy band as Lord Oakleigh lets down his hair.  This exuberant musical, written for pure enjoyment before lyrics became sentimental and moralized by Hammerstein, reminds us of what fun musical theater could be, with the clever words of  “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “You’re the Top” evoking the period: “You’re the National Gallery, you’re Garbo’s salary, you’re Cellophane.”  And notice the fun with juxtapositions and interior rhymes: “You’re the nimble tread of the feet of Fred  Astaire/ You’re an O’Neill Drama, you’re Whistler’s Mama/ You’re Camembert.”

 With John Gunter’s cruise-line set that pushes the huge white liner, with many doors, towards the audience and Trevor Nunn’s stylish direction of a spirited cast that acts as well as sings Porter’s songs, “Anything Goes,” is, to borrow his words from another song, delightful, delicious, and delovely.