Anything Goes

Paper Mill Playhouse - Sept. 2000

Review by John Kenrick

Chita Rivera in Anything GoesEvery now and then, a genuine star steps out knocks one out of the park or lays them in the aisles like Chita Rivera does in Anything Goes. When this lady brings people to their feet cheering, she doesn't just affirm her well-deserved star status – she brings the golden age of musical theatre back to life. The friend I took to this had never seen Ms. Rivera on stage before. He's a devout opera buff I sometimes expose to the finer things in life, and spent our drive to the theatre wondering aloud if the lady could still live up to her reputation. Silly man! From her first entrance, as shapely as ever and crackling with comic energy, Chita had the audience right where she wanted them.

It's not just the big things with Chita, although those are all gloriously handled. What sets her apart are the little things – the turn of a leg, the arching of an eyebrow, the angle she strikes as she throws her head back in a laugh. Every line is spoken and every move made with a confident style that is all her own, the same style that has kept her in the spotlight for five decades. The phrase "musical comedy know-how" has become a clich , but it is a force to be reckoned with when Chita is on stage. By the time Chita and her golden-voiced co-star George Dvorsky sing "You're the Top," her stage savvy, their charm and the timeless genius of Cole Porter launch the audience into a stratosphere we seldom visit anymore. It is a genuine high, the kind that can only be cured with a roaring, liberating, show stopping ovation.

It helps when a star get first-class co-stars. Dvorsky is a comic riot as Billy, the young stock broker who's pursuit of romance on a transatlantic liner is the crux of this show's convoluted plot. Along with his fine stage presence and smashing good looks, he's one of the best voices in the theatre today. When ballads like "All Through the Night" come along, Dvorsky does Porter proud with glorious, heartfelt singing – its a crime he has been heard so rarely on Broadway! Bruce Adler handles Moonface Martin's corny comedy so deftly that he darn near walks off with the show. Jokes that rarely get more than a moan have the audience roaring here. No less a scene stealer is Patrick Quinn as Lord Evelyn – how nice to see the President of Actor's Equity earning some delicious belly laughs. The ensemble includes the delightful Stacey Logan as Hope Harcourt and the energetic Coleen Hawks as Erma.

I have sat through heaven knows how many versions of Anything Goes, and even supervised a production or two. Well, Paper Mill's is easily the best I've ever seen, outclassing even the 1987 Lincoln Center revival. Michael Anania's sets and Liz Covey's costumes are period perfection, and Michael Lichtfield's choreography shows the entire company to excellent advantage. Broadway veteran Lee Roy Reamsdirects with a sure comic instinct, helping this cast find laughs I've never seen the show get before.

One thing that has always delighted and will so long as people have ears and hearts is Cole Porter's score, heard here in the same versions used in the '87 revival. The sparkling comedy, the sensuous romance, and the rich parade of melody are the stuff that Porter's legend are made of. It is still a genuine thrill to hear these songs performed by pros. My companion was blown away. I was too, but at least I knew it was coming. Now you do too – so get yourself out to Paper Mill to see one of the last real Broadway stars around kick some major musical comedy butt! This Anything Goes was such fun that I can't resist . . .

You're the top!
You're a fresh baked pita.
You're the top!
You're a night with Chita.
You're "All Through the Night"
Letting George Dvorsky soar.
You're a chorine's wiggle,
A Pat Quinn giggle,
A Porter score.
You're a glow,
You're my waist reducing,
You're a show
Paper Mill's producing.
I'm a thing that's spent,
A song from Rent,
A flop!
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

Link to Paper Mill Playhouse

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