A few weeks back, I had a chance to revisit the two musical revivals from last season, and it was a stark study in contrasts. My second visit to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying revealed that the production, after swapping original leading man Daniel Radcliffe for Nick Jonas, was in the process of unraveling. (Read my review) And a glance at the show's weekly grosses and capacity percentages would seem to indicate that this production of H2$ is approaching its final stages.
I also caught the Roundabout Theatre Company production of Anything Goes again, which has similarly swapped its leading player, in this case from Sutton Foster to Stephanie J. Block. But whereas H2$ was showing considerable wear, Anything Goes was fresh and crisp and, overall, a non-stop delight. Keeping a long-running production in shape usually falls on the shoulders of the production stage manager. I'm not trying to find fault with whoever is in charge of H2$: I'm sure it's a complicated process, to say the least, trying to rein in the various parties and egos involved. But whatever the cause, and whomever is to blame, H2$ just isn't holding together. Thankfully, Anything Goes is, and I say bravo to whomever is responsible for that.
I genuinely enjoyed this Anything Goes the first time around. (Read my review.) Sutton Foster, of course, was a major asset, as she almost always is, but the show remains a delight even now that she's departed. For me, it all comes down to the sure hand and keen eye of director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, who with this production solidifies her place as one of the finest directors and choreographers we currently have, particularly when it comes to interpreting classic works like The Pajama Game and Wonderful Town. (Watch for my upcoming review of Marshall's latest effort, Nice Work If You Can Get It. In short, she's still got it.)
What's remarkable about Marshall is that she has a keen eye not just for dressing a stage, but also for pacing a number. Sure, she can craft thrilling showstoppers like "Blow Gabriel Blow" and the title number, but she can also take "De-Lovely," often a throwaway number, and make it into an absolute highlight by knowing exactly when to bring in the chorus members and bring the number to the next level. She performs similar wizardry on "All Through the Night," opening the number up just when, in another production, the audience's attention might start to flag. (Yeah, I'm kind of a Kathleen Marshall fan. Ya wanna make something of it?)
But, getting back to our How to Succeed/Anything Goes comparison, another aspect the productions share is that they've seen significant turnover among their respective casts. And yet, with H2$, that's a major part of the problem. With Anything Goes, it's a huge component of why the show has stayed fresh. First, let me say what a genuine pleasure it is to see the marvelous Stephanie J. Block finally land in a production worthy of her considerable talents. (The Pirate Queen? Oy. 9 to 5? Double oy.) And she's a joy here: so much personality and individual character. She smartly resists the temptation to copy Sutton Foster in any way and brings her own brand of mischievous enthusiasm to Reno Sweeney.
Original cast member Colin Donnell was delightful as Billy Crocker, and Laura Osnes was thoroughly charming as Hope Harcourt. Thankfully, their replacements are eminently up to the task themselves. Erin Mackey makes for a lovely Hope, expressive and winsome by turns. And Bill English is endearing as Billy, although he's a dead ringer for Colin Donnell, and, I'm not exactly sure why, but somehow that feels like cheating on someone's part. One significant improvement in casting is Robert Petkoff as Sir Evelyn. Yeah, Adam Godley got a Tony nod for the role, but there was something about his stuffiness and gawkish angularity that didn't quite sit with me. Petkoff is playful and disarmingly sexy as Evelyn. It reminded me of when I cover Oklahoma! in my history course, and we talk about how the show works so much better when Jud has a sort of earthy magnetism. Same here: with Petkoff, you can see why Reno would fall for this guy.
Anything Goes is currently set to run until September. The way the show's grosses are headed, it would seem unlikely that the production will see another extension. If you have a chance, I'd say catch the show, even if you already saw it with Sutton Foster. Tastes differ of course, but if my experience is any indication, there's just as much to enjoy here the second time around.