Anything Goes is too stuck in the past to be at all relevant today | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Anything Goes is too stuck in the past to be at all relevant today

A nostalgia-heavy story about the 1 percent during the Great Depression is more problematic than fun.


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Anything Goes, the slapstick comedic musical that tells the tale of high jinks on an ocean liner and features some of Cole Porter's most iconic music, has been revived by director Rudy Hogenmiller and the cast of Music Theater Works with a live orchestra. It's retroactively become a sort of jukebox musical of jazz standards that have, in the past, been sung with improvisation and flair by the likes of Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Bennett, and Gaga. But the story, written in 1934, has unfortunately aged past charming nostalgia into the realm of problematic dustiness and quite possibly has reached its expiration date.

Billed as "family friendly," the script, even after a 1987 update, is unfortunately a string of corny, cringeworthy jokes rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, and sexual harassment. All of the characters of color are relegated to stereotypes or service roles. Many jokes land flat, save those from Rick Rapp as Elisha Whitney, who has impeccable comic timing. In the hands of a strong comedic director, a bit of political satire might have been wrested from the impotent story line about the 1 percent during the Great Depression.

Some viewers might overlook these shortcomings if the show weren't a ponderous two hours and 45 minutes. The dance numbers are stunning, but they’re too few and far between. Erica Evans crackles as Reno Sweeney, and one looks forward to see what she and the rest of this extremely talented cast might do in the future without inert material that sinks their talents like an anchor around the neck.   v

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