Broadway star Rachel York is showing that when magnetism and pizzazz are coupled with acting and dancing talent, they can compensate for other shortcomings.
York, who has Mae West-style sass and Katharine Hepburn-esque glamor, was sometimes off-key during Tuesday’s opening night performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” at the Ordway Center in St. Paul.
But she charged it all up to passion, and powered ahead. The actor sold all her numbers with such gusto and style, they helped to make director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s gorgeous production a winner.
This 2011 revival includes Porter songs that have been added to the 1934 musical. Some lyrics that could not pass muster with censors in the past have been restored. And there’s a new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman.
No matter. It is songs such as such as “All Through the Night” and “You’re the Top,” conducted with lyricism and sweeping romance by Jay Alger at the Ordway, that put the wind in the sails of a rather slight narrative.
It is 1934, and young swell Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin) is not returning the attentions of seasoned nightclub entertainer Reno Sweeney (York), who has the hots for him. He has fallen for Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke) who is engaged to minor British royal, Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer).
The soon-to-be-wed pair are leaving on an ocean liner from New York to London. With the aid of a gangster named Moonface Martin (Jeff Brooks), Billy boards the ship for love. Frantic antics, big tap numbers and true love ensue.
Marshall, who won one of the revival’s three Tonys, has created arresting choreography that is worth the ticket. The title song tap number is breathtaking. As she sings and dances “Anything Goes” at the Ordway, York floats among a handsome corps of sailors.
She is similarly impressive on “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” which she delivers in a nightclub drenched in red. With the whole company writhing and moving in quasi-religious fervor, it’s easy to say, again and again, amen.
The rest of the acting company is impressive as well. Franklin gives Crocker honesty and warmth. Finke’s Hope is engagingly conflicted. And Brooks’ Moonface Martin, disguised as a cleric, has the genial air of a Regis Philbin.
Porter was a master wit, and the humor is well-timed and -delivered at the Ordway.
Still, “Anything Goes” is dated. It has broadly stereotyped Asians aboard this ship, even as the music is so compelling. As I left the Ordway, I was reminded of conversations I’ve had with young people who listen to some hip-hop that I find objectionable.
They will often say that they are not listening to the words. It’s the music that takes them away.