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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

It’s De-lovely!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard of the Broadway classic Anything Goes. You’ve also got a high sense of fashion, perfectly tousled hair and a deep-seated fear of public bathrooms as the direct result of a traumatizing experience in the handicap stall of Regal Cinemas. Possibly an over-inflated ego. Maybe asthma. Probably ADHD.

But most importantly, if you’re anything like me, you are tragically unaware of the musical powerhouse that continues to grace the glittering walls of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre until Feb. 3. If you’re anything like me, you’ll rectify this iniquity as soon as humanly possible.

Eight-time Tony-award winning sensation Anything Goes is a supercharged revival of a 1934 production with music and lyrics by prolific American composer Cole Porter. With an exceptional cast, innovative set-pieces, top-notch orchestral accompaniment and jaw-dropping choreography, this wonderful throwback to a golden age will warm the heart and leave you tap-dancing across the chilly streets of San Francisco all the way to your car. You’ll probably even look like a local.

Anything Goes centers around the lovable Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen), a young stockbroker desperately trying to prevent his true love’s marriage aboard a pleasure cruise laden with soft-hearted mobsters, swarthy sea captains and flirtatious flappers. Throughout his tenure aboard the USS America, Crocker finds himself entangled in a convoluted web of serendipitous events — avoiding his elderly, womanizing employer whose company he accidentally bankrupted; aiding the pride of a dilapidated mobster; posing as a famous criminal to revive the reputation of a failing cruise line. Believe me, this show actually makes sense in the end.

Every performer was perfectly tailored for their respective roles. Bergen easily woos the audience with an affable smile and genuine likeability. There is an earnestness to his cheeky dialogue that is immediately believable from his first snarky remarks. Fred Applegate portrays the disgruntled gangster Moonface Martin with a glowing charm and paradoxical innocence. The unbelievably young Alex Finke, fresh-faced from college, plays Hope Harcourt, the star-crossed lover of our protagonist, with subtle sweetness and delicate resolve.

It was Rachel York as quick-witted club singer Reno Sweeney, however, that stole the show to thunderous applause. Her presence was simply electrifying, bouncing about the stage with gusto and complete lovability. It is rare that such a character comes along that an entire audience can adore without any persuasion — a Danny Zuko or a Tina Turnblad, if you will. It is rarer still that a performer can completely encapsulate that spirit and make it her own.

Perhaps even more notable was the chemistry between every member of the ensemble. The genuine friendships shown onstage were vibrant and organic; you could almost imagine the entire troupe sharing a round after each performance at their favorite dive.

Much of the show’s appeal stems from its classic Americana motifs. References from the 1930s are bountiful yet manage to stay fresh and relevant. The flapper accents are thick and campy, the fedoras stiff and large.

And no, a fedora is a hat, you perverts.

Unlike many revivals, this retelling avoids the pitfalls of modernization with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Director Todd Haimes knows exactly what his play is all about — having a romping good time. When Sweeney Todd was revived in 2004 at the Watermill Theatre in London, the entire score was performed by the actors themselves with instruments onstage. Need I say more?

Luckily, Haimes doesn’t succumb to the one ring of egotism and force a personal touch on an already wonderful blueprint. Like French cuisine, he simply lets the beauty of the raw ingredients shine through.

Vocals were sharp and finely tuned. Bergen employs a playful and sultry tone that manages to seduce as well as uplift. Finke’s delicate vibrato compliments her character’s gentile nature, but she isn’t afraid to have fun when paired onstage with Bergen. York belts to unbelievable heights, and is visibly aware of her hold on the audience during several numbers. At one moment, her character pauses for applause from an imaginary audience. As her real audience screamed like frothing teenage girls on ecstasy at a Justin Bieber/One Direction mash-up concert (with guest appearance from Drake), it was all too easy to notice the satisfaction that radiated from her infectious smile. It wasn’t braggadocious as she egged us on for more. It was deserved.

The choreography was simply flawless. An entire ensemble tap-danced in unison for multiple numbers throughout the play, all without a single “clickity-clack” out of time. Dancers whirled about the beautiful set pieces to Cole Porter’s whimsical compositions and quirky lyrics. Is “de-lovely” a word? No. Will I use it in reference to savory ice cream flavors, crisp sunrises and all facets of my sex life from here on out? Absolutely.

Does my sex life exist anymore? Debatable.

I find it difficult to impress upon you the perfection of this production on virtually every level. In a world where shows are desperately trying to teach you a lesson about the harsh realities of a universe bereft of intrinsic meaning, it is a burst of fresh air to walk out of the theater feeling young at heart and carefree.

I implore anyone with the means available to treat themselves to such a valuable theatrical experience. If you’re anything like me, you’re a cynical asshole rarely left speechless by a musical performance.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be moved by this beautiful earnestness, brilliant execution and sheer powerhouse truly worthy of one simple word: sensation.

It’s delightful. It’s delicious. It’s de-lovely.

ADAM KHAN will continue to make reviews more about himself than the actual performance. Chastise him for his ego at features@theaggie.org.

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