A look at the Cole Porter classic.
By Gregory Jacobs-Roseman (Composer-Lyricist)
Last week my friend Julie and I went to see Anything Goes on Broadway. I hadn’t seen this 2011 revival yet, and I figured I should probably get it in before the production closes, which it did this past weekend. The show is what it has always been – a silly old fashioned song and dance farce that simply aims to please its audience, which it does over and over again. Once we accept that the show isn't trying to do anything more than deliver a good melody and impressive dance routine to the audience, we can then delve into plot and character structure, and really think about what makes the show tick.
Anything Goes is one of those classic musicals that most of us who have been doing theatre since childhood have been involved in at some point. For me, that time came my junior year of high school when I was cast as The Steward (read: chorus – I still maintain that I was robbed of the part of Billy, but the director hated me at the time – ah, “is there life after high school” indeed…).
The version of the show we performed was the 1962 revival version. The version of the show most recently on Broadway was the 1987 revival version (AKA: the Patti LuPone version). The two scripts of the show are vastly different, and I believe the 1962 script, which includes many songs from other Cole Porter shows – a common practice in Porter shows (Wikipedia has a really great chart detailing the changes version to version), is superior for several reasons.
1. The Opening Bar Scene: First off, I think the scene in the bar at the top of the 1987 show is unnecessary. The show works better when we establish the boat from the start, and Reno’s unrequited love for Billy mucks up the story for me. Reno and Billy simply work better as platonic friends – that’s why “You’re The Top” is so charming. Opening the show with “I Get A Kick Out Of You” gives the leading lady a hit song at the start, but now that the song is a classic for me it feels like we blow our load too soon. Using the song in reference to Evelyn as they do in the 1962 script makes Reno's relationship with him much more complex. Also, after being introduced to Reno with that number, it seems to come out of left field that she’s also an evangelical preacher in the next scene.
2. Bonnie/Erma: The character of Bonnie in 1962 is renamed Erma in 1987, and her whole reason for being in the show is kind of stripped away. For starters, her song “Heaven Hop” in the 1962 script (originally written for the 1928 show Paris), which works perfectly with the overall religious themes of the show is taken away. I can do without “Let’s Step Out,” but having her sing “Buddie Beware” at the end of the show, well, it just doesn’t work for me. She becomes one-sided. We get it. She’s a whore. But she’s done very little to help Moonface or Billy throughout the show, unlike in the earlier version where the helps the two of them while they’re in the brig and gets Hope to visit and express her love for Billy.
3. Hope Harcourt: This is a problem in both drafts. Hope Harcourt has to be the single most boring character ever written for the musical stage. Seriously. She’s just beyond milquetoast. Why does Billy love her? Apparently in the original 1934 version she sang “The Gypsy In Me” instead of Evelyn, who sings in in the 1987 script. That would give her some backstory and make her character far more interesting.
4. “Blow Gabriel Blow”: In 1962 this song is a plot point where Reno tries to cheer everyone up after Billy is arrested. It’s also a classic 11:00 number (or “10:30 number” as one of my college professors liked to call it). In 1987 the song comes before that incident, which for me makes it nothing more than a throwaway dance number.
5. “Be Like The Bluebird”: Again, a problem in all drafts: who the hell is “Melba?!?” Actually, in truth “Melba” refers to Australian opera singer Nellie Melba whose toast you eat when you’re at a diner. Still, it’s a little random that Moonface references her.
From the October 31st 1988 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald. The only document I could find connecting the song to Dame Nellie Melba via Google search. I've no idea what the "Fruit-Loops" comment is about.
6. “Chinese”: The one big improvement in the 1987 script is that it’s slightly less racist than the earlier draft. The Chinese converts once named “Ching” and “Ling” (and at one point are simply referred to as “Chinese” in the copy of the script I still have) are renamed “Luke” and “John.” That doesn’t stop a completely stereotypical Chinese impersonation from Billy & Moonface in the wedding scene, but still…
All this aside, I loved the performance I saw last week. It really brought me back to that high school show, and during the big, amazing tap break in the title song, I sat on the edge of my seat, grinning ear to ear. “This is Broadway at its best,” I thought. “And you can’t get this anywhere else.”
GREGORY JACOBS-ROSEMAN is a composer/lyricist and theatrical sound designer currently developing Save The Date: A New Musical Comedy. www.gregjr.com
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