2 min

Transatlantic sophistication

Set sail on the high seas of romance, comedy & music

FIRST-RATE SECOND BANANA. In Anything Goes, Sheila McCarthy mines great material for laughs. Credit: Xtra files

From the moment that the curtain goes up on a stylish re-creation of an art deco bar in New York circa 1933, Stratford Festival theatregoers can relax in comfort. They are in for a treat. Handsome hero, glamorous heroine, wonderful set design, gorgeous costumes and a fine rendition of “I Get A Kick Out Of You” – right from the start the tone has been set for a classic Broadway musical. A few minutes into the show, designer Patrick Clarke’s set transforms itself into the deck of a transatlantic liner sailing off to Paris on the high seas of romance, comedy and music.

This production of Anything Goes has got it all. To begin with, the work itself is unmatched except by maybe a couple of the best of the Gershwin shows. Its book, updated in the 1980s, is funny, sophisticated and still as light as air.

Mainly of course, it features a classic series of songs written by Cole Porter, arguably the greatest songwriter of a miraculous period in entertainment history. “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re The Top,” “Easy To Love,” “Anything Goes,” “All Through The Night,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “Gypsy In Me;” classic song after classic song rolls out over the audience, setting standards for tunefulness and lyrical wit.

It can be a very sad thing to sit in the audience of a wonderful musical show that is not being given an enthusiastic and skillful production. Fortunately, everyone involved in Anything Goes at Stratford seems to be in top form. Veteran Livent director Anne Allan, making her debut at the festival, does a brilliant job of staging and choreography. As an example of her skill, she manages to ensure that more than 30 singers and dancers are often moving about the stage with grace, speed and excitement.

Another veteran, Berthold Carriere, does a fine job on the musical side. He leads a good-sized band playing wonderfully. With a sure touch, Carriere leads his orchestra into giving a fine imitation of a good ’40s swing band. During the first act finale featuring the song “Anything Goes,” one could almost imagine that a few members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra had returned to play at Stratford for the first time since their triumphs there in the ’50s.

Directors and musicians can do all their best work in vain if individual performers fail. This production is blessed with fine performances, too numerous to mention all. The male leads, Michael Gruber and Laird Mackintosh, sing and dance their roles with great comic flair, while Sheila McCarthy and Jimmy Spadola are first-rate second bananas. In the pivotal role of sexy evangelist Reno Sweeney, Cynthia Dale confirms her place at the heart of the Stratford Festival’s musical division.

Finally, of course, the main question is: Are Cole Porter’s exquisite songs being given their proper respect? Triumphantly the answer is yes, so what more could we hope for?

* Anything Goes continues at Stratford’s Avon Theatre until Oct 31; call 1-800-567-1600.