Before 'Anything Goes' hits road, a history lesson

September 7, 2012 - 9:44 AM
Theater-Anything Goes Tour

This Sept. 3, 2012, photo shows director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall addressing the cast and crew of the national tour of “Anything Goes” at the American Airlines Theatre in New York. Marshall, who won a Tony Award for choreographing the Broadway version that closed this summer after more than 520 performances, had hand-picked the touring team and wanted to share what she'd learned. The yearlong tour starts next month in Cleveland. (AP Photo by Mark Kennedy)

NEW YORK (AP) — There was no Labor Day holiday for the cast and crew of the national touring company of "Anything Goes."

While most of Broadway was snoozing this past Monday morning, director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall stood up shortly after 10 a.m. in a lounge in the American Airlines Theatre to welcome the group who will be taking her show on the road.

"Thank you all. This is an amazing company," she said. "We could open this company in New York next week. I mean, this is fantastic. We are so lucky to have you all here."

Marshall, who won a Tony Award for choreographing the Broadway version that closed this summer after more than 520 performances, had handpicked the touring team and wanted to share what she'd learned.

"This show sort of unrolls like a series of delights and surprises for an audience. You don't know what's going to come next," she said. "We get to allow people to escape into this world and hopefully go out again with a little extra energy and an extra pep in their step."

The silly 1930s musical about a crazy group of people who find themselves on a ship crossing the Atlantic features most of Cole Porter's best songs, including "You're the Top," ''I Get a Kick Out of You," ''Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and "Anything Goes." Sutton Foster and Joel Grey starred in the Broadway version, which was produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company.

"What I love about this show is that it all takes place within a few days on a ship," she said. "It behaves like a classic farce — it takes a bunch of wonderful, vivid, interesting and compelling characters and puts them in one place over a short period of time."

Led by Rachel York and Fred Applegate, the yearlong tour kicks off Oct. 2 in Cleveland and then sails to Michigan, Tennessee, Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington, D.C., upstate New York and Toronto.

It's the Roundabout's second tour — and first musical — since the nonprofit company was formed in 1965, and producers say it will be pretty much what people saw on Broadway.

"It was such a joyous experience for us that to be able to bring that to the country is a turn-on," said Todd Haimes, the Roundabout's artistic director. "Whenever any of us at the theater were depressed, we used to walk over to 'Anything Goes' and watch it for a half-hour and it would cheer us up."

York, a Broadway veteran ("City of Angels," ''Les Miserables") who starred opposite Julie Andrews in "Victor/Victoria," plays Reno Sweeney, a familiar role.

York also played it in an Ovation Award-winning production of "Anything Goes" at the Reprise Theatre Company in Los Angeles in 2002 and again in a Starlight Theatre production in Kansas City, Mo., in 2009.

"It's a role that's always fit me like a glove, I think," says York, who has previously toured with "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Camelot" and played Cruella de Vil in "The 101 Dalmatians Musical" tour. "And I get to put on my tap shoes again."

This time, York will be bringing someone special — her 18-month-old daughter. She's looking forward to playing Los Angeles, where much of her family has relocated, and she's just hired a wonderful nanny to help with child care on the road. "Her name is Mary Poppins," York jokes.

After the group welcome and before the cast and crew go off to a run-through of the musical, Marshall asked everyone gathered around to introduce themselves, from costumers to the swings. She then offered, without notes, a history lesson of her baby.

Marshall told the 40-odd assembled cast and crew that the farce originated on Broadway in 1934 starring Ethel Merman and the original plot had a bomb onboard the ship. A real-life deadly accident off the New Jersey coast forced a rewrite a month before rehearsals.

It was a hit, and Merman reprised her role a few years later in a movie version opposite Bing Crosby. Then there was another movie in 1956 also with Crosby, Donald O'Connor and Mitzi Gaynor, but with a different plot.

There was a 1962 off-Broadway version that incorporated other Porter songs like "It's De-lovely" and another in 1987 at Lincoln Center. All versions — film and stage — had a few common elements: All took place on a boat and all had the songs "You're the Top," ''Anything Goes" and "I Get a Kick Out of You."

Marshall said the version that delighted Broadway in 2011 — and will be captured for the tour — is largely based on the 1987 version, with new arrangements and orchestrations and a tweaked book.

"A lot of people think of 'Anything Goes' as the beginning of the classic modern musical era, leaving the world of operetta behind. A lot of musicals from the '20s had one foot still in operetta and this was taking us forward into the world of classic musical comedy."

The history lesson over, Marshall then addressed the costumes the cast will be wearing, showing off drawings of the metallic and silver gowns, formal suits and the blue-and-white sportswear all will wear onboard.

Marshall reminded the group that "Anything Goes" is set in the 1930s, a dressy time when men would change for dinner from a suit to a tuxedo. She recounted that Fred Astaire, when he was doing Broadway, would look out at the audience and know that his show was nearing its end when he'd see audience in regular tuxedoes, not white tie and tails.

"That meant it was getting a little bit more casual. It was heading toward the end of the run because they're not bothering to dress in white tie and tails," said Marshall.

"Wait until we get to Florida," cracked one member of the company.

"Exactly," said Marshall. "We'll be lucky if they're wearing a shirt."

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Online:

http://www.anythinggoesontour.com

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Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits