Ever heard "You're the Top" sung with a Russian accent? Me neither. But I'll bet somebody did after Soviet members of the On-Site Inspection Agency participated in opening night festivities for "Anything Goes" at Pioneer Memorial Theatre Wednesday night.Not that there is anything especially Eastern European about the Pioneer Theatre Company production. It's just that "Anything Goes" is that kind of a musical. With great Cole Porter tunes like "I Get A Kick Out of You," "Let's Misbehave," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and the title song, it's almost impossible to leave the theater without trying out a step-ball-change or two, or vocalizing one of those stanzas that keep swirling around in your brain long after the orchestra has stopped playing - even if you are more comfortable with borsht and ballistics than with burgers and Broadway.
True, the American musical theater is a unique art form. This is especially true of a show like "Anything Goes," which has a plot that can be difficult to explain to someone who is looking for substance. I mean, how do you translate a story about a free-spirited singer/evangelist who falls for a British aristocrat who is engaged to marry an American girl who is in love with a dashing young man who is mistaken for America's Public Enemy Number One who works with a tough-talking, soft-hearted mug who pals around with a bimbo who is in the midst of an affair with the U.S. Navy?
But enlightenment and significance isn't the point of "Anything Goes." This is the kind of show that you don't analyze; you just sit back and enjoy, allowing the music, the characters and the dialogue to wash over you like the refreshing wave of light-hearted entertainment that it is.
And thanks to deft touch of director Paul Lazarus, that's precisely the level PTC's season opener functions at. Lazarus lets us know right from the start that we're in for an evening of fun by having musical director James Prigmore conduct the overture in a white sailor suit - complete with captain's hat - while real water bubbles in decorative portals along the sides of the proscenium.
As the action unfolds on George Maxwell's impressive sea-going set, we see a steady, consistent interpretation in Lazarus' staging, in William Fleet Lively's choreography and in the characters that are created. While energy and flair abound, the reins have been held back just enough to prevent the action from becoming too broad or campy. This restraint, while somewhat frustrating in at least one character and among the male dancers (who seemed to me to lack fire), will probably ultimately work in the production's favor. A less disciplined cast might be inclined to go too far with this material on a given night; this group under this director seems likely to retain perspective and control.
Of course, it wouldn't matter how much control Lazarus had over the cast if the actors didn't have the talent to execute his directions properly. And "Anything Goes" is awash with memorable performances. Marcia Mitzman, fresh from a Broadway run in "Chess," is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the saucy, sassy hoofer-with-a-heart-of-gold. She has an arresting presence and a golden voice; the whole show always seems better when she's on stage.
Scott Waara plays Billy Crocker with smooth, easy-going charm, and wait'll you hear him sing "All Through the Night." Rubber-faced Bill Buell almost steals the show as Moonface Martin; his "Friendship" duet with Mitzman is easily one of the show's highlights. And as long as we're talking about scene-stealers, we might as well mention Max Robinson, who scores again with another one of those delicious character roles that seem to have been written with his considerable talents in mind.
Similarly strong performances were turned in by Robert Peterson as E.J. Whitney, Margaret Crowell as Mrs. Harcourt and Richard Mathews as the Captain and Bishop Henry T. Dobson. Brigid Brady's Hope Harcourt was pleasant, but didn't really have that much to do. And Karen B. Alston's Bonnie was the frustrating character I mentioned earlier; she was OK, but I couldn't help but think that the role had potential that wasn't being explored.
Clad in Doug Marmee's bright period costumes, the entire ensemble functions skillfully, bringing Cole Porter's music to life in a style that will set your toe to tapping and your hummer to humming - with or without a Russian accent.