Much as it’s important to see new plays, encourage modern musicals and avoid the quicksand of nostalgia, sometimes it’s just as valuable to spend time in classic theater heaven. Broadway is currently giving theatergoers just that opportunity with two exceptional revivals of musicals that have proven time and again to send audiences home laughing, humming and wondering, “Why don’t they make `em like that anymore?” (Even, if sometimes, they do.)
At the Stephen Sondheim Theater, Broadway’s go-to girl for everything, Sutton Foster, is raising the rafters once more in a revival of the Cole Porter tuner, Anything Goes. Last seen on the mainstem with Patti LuPone in 1987, the zany musical is just as welcome in its return, thanks to a staging that zips along via the magic of director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall.
I actually had to check the program to make sure this was a Roundabout production, since most of their musicals, though well cast, have tended to look visually dour and moth-eaten. Not this bright, buoyant mounting, which makes us wish we were scampering about the ship along with brassy Reno Sweeney (Foster), lovers Billy and Hope, soft-hearted gangster Moonface Martin and all the other joyful crazies.
Oddly, the show’s lone weak spot is Joel Grey. As Moonface, he plays cutesy instead of funny, and it tends to leave him a beat behind the other performers and getting chuckles when he could be getting guffaws. It’s a puzzling flaw in an otherwise flawless evening.
Two streets over, at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, one of the best-constructed books in the history of musical theater again makes us marvel at the wonders of this unique art form. It doesn’t hurt that 1961’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying also features a score by Frank Loesser, who, if not quite at Guys and Dolls level here, again offers song after song perfect for the story at hand.
Girls in the audience may scream for Daniel Radcliffe as Ponty Finch, and he’s charming, game and quite capable, if not remotely a patch on Robert Morse, but it’s the show itself that’s the star (fine turns by fast-talking John Larroquette as boss J.B. and scene-stealing Christopher J. Hanke as office nemesis Bud Frump, notwithstanding). Again credit the direction; Rob Ashford not only keeps the action fast and nimble but adds a zillion clever touches to the choreography. You’re always scanning the whole stage hoping not to miss a movement.
When the Tony Awards arrive June 12th, you can bet Anything Goes and How to Succeed will duke it out for the highest honors. I feel bad for the Tony voters; it’s tough to choose when each musical deserves to be told, “You’re the top.”