Thursday, May 05, 2011

Anything Goes

Yesterday, as I was wiping tears of joy looking at all that spirited tap dancing going on in Anything Goes, I was thinking, this is what is truly American. Cole Porter is truly American. Putting on a Broadway show and hoofing gloriously is unabashedly, uniquely American. So I thought that a much more meaningful display of patriotism, rather than cheer for the death of that evil bastard (I am thrilled that he died, I just don't think I should erupt in pom poms and rah rahs in public), is to listen to the songs of Cole Porter, sing and dance to the songs of Cole Porter, learn tap dancing to the songs of Cole Porter, and fall in love to the songs of Cole Porter. If none of this is possible, go see Anything Goes on Broadway and you'll get a pass.
One should not be overly nostalgic for past eras, although the gorgeous costumes by Martin Pakledinaz (so rooting for a Tony for him) are so absolutely stunning that they made me pine for the days of the great depression and the Nazis. But that is the point of glamor. Those gorgeous bias cut satin silhouettes, all that art deco make one forget that 1934 was not a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination.
Still, listening to the work of genius that is "You're the Top", and wallowing in misery at what passes for songwriting today, one does pine for the days of when Americans were as sophisticated, urbane, witty, elegant, smart and delightful as Cole Porter.
The guy was from Peru, Indiana, so there is no excuse.
Whatever happened to us? Couldn't we have enacted civil rights, gone to the moon, vanquished the Nazis, ushered in women's lib and all that jazz, without losing our joie de vivre and panache? Without becoming ignorant, holier than thou, vulgar and uncouth?
Anything Goes is a little musty, even with a spiffy new book the jokes are gently quaint, but it is enormously charming. This is the first time I see it and it is the very first time I hear the songs of Cole Porter in a play onstage, as part of a dramatic story. I can see why he is a favorite of jazz musicians (think Sinatra, Bennett, Ella), because those songs are so good they deserve not so much to be belted out, but whispered, with the utmost articulation, in one's ear. As much as I enjoyed the show, I felt there was far too much belting going on. A song like "I Get a Kick out of You" was so much more powerful when Sutton Foster sang it quietly.  Sometimes words were lost in the belting. And Porter's words cannot ever be lost, because that is a crime.
Also, today we have amplification. The most sophisticated microphones still make good singers sound tinny. So it's hard for me to imagine, when this show was staged before, was it amplified as if with a loudspeaker, or did people belt them out au naturel? Sitting way up in the heights, I could tell Sutton Foster is a total trouper. She is also like seven feet tall. I loved Joel Grey, even with all that shtick, he was super sweet and has perfect comic timing. John McMartin was great as Elisha Whitney, the lush, I particularly loved Jessica Stone as Erma the bombshell and the wonderful Adam Godley as Lord Evelyn Oakley.

He can say it better than I ever could:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose,
Anything goes.
The world has gone mad today,
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
And that gent today
You gave a cent today
Once had several chateaux.
When folks who still can ride in jitneys
Find out Vanderbilts and Whitneys
Lack baby clo'es,
Anything goes!

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