As dancing dame on high seas, Rachel York heads up motley tour crew of ‘Anything Goes’
Preview: Veteran Broadway star says there’s nothing like playing the dame at the heart of Cole Porter’s 1934 musical, presented by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre April 24-May 5.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Rachel York, slyly sinful Reno Sweeney in the Roundabout Theatre production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” headed for Chicago, sees herself in the proud line of those indomitable dames of 1930s Hollywood.
“Reno is a combination of charismatic women, all those great characters from the movies,” says York by phone from Pittsburgh, the touring show’s last stop before opening the Cadillac Palace Theatre on April 24. “The part’s written in a way that any dame can play her – from Ethel Merman to Ginger Rogers to Rachel York. She makes you think of stars like Mae West, Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Harlow.”
The touring show is Roundabout’s 2011 revival of “Anything Goes,” which incorporates revisions made to the show for the 1987 Broadway run. Both iterations won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, and Kathleen Marshall, director-choreographer of the 2011 version, won the Tony for choreography.
Originally staged in 1934, Porter’s prodigiously tuneful, if completely wacky, musical tosses together an assortment of comic types on a ship headed for England – a beautiful young heiress and the stuffy British lord she’s duty-bound to marry, a sighing American lad in love with the heiress, a small-time gangster posing as a minister and the gorgeous, worldly – or maybe underworldly — nightclub singing star Reno Sweeney.
“She’s friends with gangsters, for God’s sake,” says York, whose extensive Broadway credits include “City of Angels,” “Les Misérables” and “Victor/Victoria.” “She’s got a lot of moxie. She’s not afraid to pull a prank and she can outsmart anybody. But on some crazy, strange level, she’s trying to bring love and beauty to the world.”
But it’s a wry perspective Reno brings to a message that invokes angels and the devil on more or less even terms.
“The whole show is so funny,” says York. “People get to forget about their problems for a couple of hours. Cole Porter wrote such amazing melodies, and And the lyrics are brilliant, timeless. ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ – how can you not love that?”
I get no kick on a plane
Flying too high with some gal in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do
But I get a kick out of you
York also gets a kick out of the duet “You’re the Top,” which Reno sings with her pal Billy Crocker, the love-sick Wall Street broker who stows away on the voyage to London in hope of landing the heiress. Here is Porter at his smartest, and most unpredictable:
You’re the top
You’re an arrow collar
You’re the top
You’re a Coolidge dollar
You’re the nimble tread
Of the feet of Fred Astaire,
You’re an O’Neill drama
You’re Whistler’s mama,
But the show’s centerpiece is the extended production number “Anything Goes,” a song-and-dance extravaganza that caps Act I and leaves even a performer as fit as York sucking air.
“Sometimes in the middle of ‘Anything Goes,’ I can’t breathe,” she says. “It’s definitely the toughest number. That’s when I think, ‘Thank God for the audience.’ They’re counting on it, and you’ve got to do it.”
What York calls the natural give and take between performers and audience lifts everyone on the stage, she says. “This is the third major tour I’ve done, and typically our audiences seem to be having as much fun as we are. If the folks in the seats sit back like they’re watching TV, it drains the actors. We need the energy of an audience that’s involved and cheering.
“I’m very proud of our show. This is pretty much the Broadway set, and Kathleen Marshall’s choreography is amazing. It’s the kind of musical people go to see Broadway for. And it’s so joyful to perform.”
Or to repurpose Porter:
It’s a melody from a symphony by Strauss, it’s a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet – it’s Mickey Mouse!
- Performance location, dates and times: Go to BroadwayInChicago.com
- “Anything Goes” study guide: Go to AnythingGoesOnTour.com
- Rachel York in “Kiss Me Kate,” the London revival: Watch it at RachelYork.net
- Rachel York with Julie Andrews in “Victor-Victoria”: Watch it at RachelYork.net