This weekend, I boarded the S.S. American for a 2nd time by attending Wagner College’s production of Anything Goes. Or did I? You see, Cole Porter’s seaworthy tour-de-force is one of those rare shows that has gone through multiple script alterations over the course of its production history. Originally premiering in 1934, the musical underwent major changes in the book and score for its first revival in 1962…and then again in 1987! The first time I saw Anything Goes, it was the 1987 version. Wagner’s production used the 1962 book and songs, so I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two.
The big standards are all there: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the title number. But they are in different spots; for instance, in 1962, “You’re the Top” opened the show, while in 1987, the first number was “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Both songs are sung by Reno Sweeney to Billy Crocker, but the latter arrangement greatly implies the past romantic undertones of their relationship. The former, to me, conveys that they’ve always been just good friends.
Music that appears only in the 1962 version includes “Let’s Misbehave,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” “Let’s Step Out,” and “Heaven Hop.” All four are essentially filler songs. The latter two are sung by the gangster’s girlfriend (Bonnie/Erma) and were replaced by a much better character song called “Buddie Beware” in 1987. In Wagner’s production, the actress playing this character (Natalie Schaffer) was a terrific dancer. Almost too good, in fact- she was featured in every big hoofing scene, even ones where she necessarily didn’t need to be.
The plot of both versions follows basically the same premise…madcap things occur on a cruise ship, mistaken identity abounds, lovers divided get coincided. However, I feel that the 1987 script tells the story much more cohesively than this one did. I’m not sure how to explain it; it was just…tighter. As my date put it, the 1962 plot “is slightly unhinged.”
However, Broadway veteran Michele Pawk (who directed the show here) certainly knew her piece and how to play the right moments for laughs. “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes” were fantastic to watch, largely due to the perfectly-cast leading lady: Miss Sophia Tzougros. She had all the makings of a good Reno, and I detected notes of Patti LuPone in her performance. (Did I mention her dresses were also to die for?!)
Other standouts in the cast included Lauren Dennis and Rebecca Marlowe as Hope Harcourt and her mother, respectively. Sadly, the 1962 script doesn’t do Hope’s character any favors: she only gets a big solo number in the 1987 version. Marlowe was so committed to Mrs. Harcourt that I’d have never thought she was under the age of 21. Unfortunately, that role also figures more prominently in 1987’s script.
Okay, so you’ve probably guessed it by now…I think 1987 gave us the best scope of how Anything Goes in this world. However, as far as 1962 goes, Wagner College gave us what’s probably the best interpretation of that material. Ironically, the school’s next production will be Maury Yeston’s Titanic…and you can’t expect a happy ending from that ship show!