Tough talking Irish American heroines with a heart of gold have been a Hollywood staple since the 1930s, with good reason -- they’re an invaluable part of American life.
But what’s less remarked on is how central they’ve been to the Broadway stage. In Cole Porter’s classic Depression-era musical Anything Goes (now playing on Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre production) Sutton Foster plays the charismatic fast living Irish American broad Reno Sweeney, who sets the stage alight opposite Colin Donnell, the actor and singer who has carved out a niche as the go-to leading man of the moment.
Written in the years after ruined brokers started falling like confetti from the masonry of Wall Street, Anything Goes is a completely irresistible double shot of sunshiny optimism that has the sense to know that it’s completely over the top.
Set on board an ocean liner bound for London from New York, the plot could be written on a napkin (and it probably was).
Legend has it that the first few drafts of the book of the show were such a mess and the end of the first act was so lousy that one of the producers shouted, “At this point anything goes!” giving the show its name and its signature number.
As Billy Crocker, the young Wall Street broker with a serious thing for an unattainable girl he met in a taxi, Donnell plays it equally tough and tender with a level of charm that has seen him land leading roles one after another.
Handsome but also very funny (a rare trick, that) Donnell has inspired a level of screaming adoration from his mostly female admirers that Broadway rarely witnesses.
Having acted in the Irish Repertory Theatre a couple of years back, Donnell was referred to as “boyishly gorgeous” by The New York Times reviewer, and since this his sisters- in-law have laughingly referred to him as B.G.Donnell.
He has clearly met his match in Foster, the kind of triple threat Broadway star that it’s hard to believe still exists. A singer, dancer, actor -- and let’s face, a complete knockout -- she’s perfectly cast as Sweeney, the spirited Irish American good time girl on the brink of hanging up her dancing shoes. Foster won the 2011 Best Actress in a Musical Tony for her work, and you can easily see why.
Sadly for Sweeney, her desired romantic partner Crocker is mooning after some snooty upper class chick he met in a taxicab. You’ll be as exasperated by this unfortunate fact as she is because the onstage chemistry between Foster and Donnell is so off the charts throughout the whole production that you’ll want the director Kathleen Marshall to give these two the chance you know the book won’t.
There’s so much to like in this faithful but also very funny revival of Anything Goes that it’s hard to know what to pick. First of all there’s Porter’s brilliant lyrics. By turns funny, satirical and heartbreaking he’s just unmatched in his artistry.
And this production has found its feet by blowing some new life into his old tunes by gently mocking their familiarity whilst simultaneously honoring them.
Although the show has been revived many times (it’s a perennial high school favorite) you’re unlikely to see a more modern and still completely faithful rendition of this classic.
One of the production’s main pleasures is the time that it gives to set pieces like the performance of “De-Lovely.” As directed by Marshall, it’s a thrilling song and dance number that brings to mind old Hollywood sequences featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.
You don’t often see classic old time dance numbers like this on Broadway (or indeed anywhere now) and there’s a real pleasure in knowing you’re watching the kind of performance that would have been familiar to and enjoyed by your grandparents.
Beyond that are the singing sailors, gangsters molls, upper class twits and the lovely bittersweet performance from Broadway luminary Joel Grey, who’s a walking master class in vaudeville and comic timing.
The course of true love doesn’t run smooth for most of the voyage, but this is Broadway where happy endings are usually in sight of the big finale and Anything Goes is a thrilling reminder of the fact.
Anything Goes is playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street. Visit www.anythinggoesonbroadway.com.