Do You Hear That Playin'?

There are too many people doing comedy on stage who aren't funny. As they say in one of my favorite movies, Funny Bones, "Some people do funny, but some people have funny bones." Those who aren't funny only understand humor intellectually; it's not in their bones. They imitate funny.

As I've written about before, those un-funny sorts don't understand that all good humor does two things: it surprises us and it tells us the truth. Great humor does more than tell the truth; it reveals the truth. And the Second Law of Comedy is: nothing is less funny than the effort to be funny. If we can see you working hard at making us laugh, if you're begging us to laugh, that kills the laugh.

Over the first four performances of New Line's Anything Goes, people have come up to Dowdy and me both, saying almost exactly the same words: "I've always loved Anything Goes, but I don't remember it being so funny!"


First of all, you've always loved a musical comedy that wasn't very funny...?

Second, I know the songs are great, but Anything Goes would not be a very good show if it weren't funny. Third, what are these other productions doing to diminish -- ignore? -- the rowdy, wacky, subversive comedy the pervades 80% of the show? The only serious moments in the whole show are "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "All Through the Night."

One guy who saw our show commented on Facebook that ours was "first time I've seen Anything Goes where the book and lyrics were really concentrated on!"

I'll say it again. WTF?

This show isn't a revue or a paper-thin jukebox musical. It's a smart, razor-sharp satire. This plot is a masterpiece of romantic farce, as I've mentioned before, using the S.S. American as Shakespeare's Woods, where our characters escape from the rules of The City, where they can de-couple from the wrong partners and re-couple with the right ones. The characters are well-drawn and full of surprises, and the social satire is pointed and insightful. Americans still turn religion into show business, and we still turn criminals into celebrities. Nothing much has changed.

But why would anyone do a brilliant satirical comedy if they're going to ignore the brilliant satire? Why share the adult genius of Cole Porter's dense, hilarious lyrics -- or the rich, complex emotion of "I Get a Kick Out of You" -- if you're not going to take the time to understand them and communicate that understanding to the audience?

So many people expected us to impose something on Anything Goes, to change it, but that's not what we do. We take excellent, though often under-appreciated (and/or misunderstood) material and we treat it like it's Shakespeare, Albee, or August Wilson. We take the characters and story seriously, we research period, we research all the unfamiliar language, we get to know the artistic and pop cultural contexts of the story, we explore backstories, relationships, motivations, textual themes, all that stuff.

In other words, we take the work seriously.

If a comedy is really great, treating it this way will make it much funnier than trying to think of funny gags of your own to insert into the script, the way too many directors do. So many directors and actors think you don't have to take comedy seriously. But you do. Even the most outrageous musicals, like Little Shop, Bat Boy, Urinetown, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Yeast Nation, Jerry Springer the Opera, are funnier if you take them seriously.

But you also have to get out of the way -- you can't make a great comedy funny, as too many directors and actors seem to believe; you have to let it be funny.

I'm starting to believe that our production of Anything Goes may serve as an accidental master class in doing classic musical comedy. You don't condescend to it, you don't wink at us over its perceived flaws, you don't impose a phony meta-style on it, you don't "excuse" it and yourself by letting us know you know it's dumb.

No, you respect it, you follow where it leads, and it you let it work its magic.

One of my primary agendas as director was to follow George S. Kaufman's rule of comedy, to never allow silence, unless you use it; and even then, only sparingly. We have wrung nearly every pause out of this dialogue, and I think that at this breakneck pace, the satire is more pointed, the corny jokes more about character, the lyrics more playful, and the chaos so relentless, so deliciously overwhelming.

But it shouldn't be a surprise to find out Anything Goes is funny. It shouldn't be radical to treat a classic musical comedy with respect. It shouldn't be shocking for a piece of musical theatre to focus on character and story.

Look at the critical reaction so far...

"Funnier, sharper and smarter than you may remember. . . a spectacular treat for lovers of modern musical theater. . . .not to be missed. . . non-stop entertainment." -- Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Sharper, tarter and more satisfying than you'd think possible." -- Paul Friswold, Riverfront Times

"A triumph!" -- Steve Callahan, KDHX

"The entire cast of Anything Goes is simply marvelous. . . Everything about the show is extraordinary. . . New Line has yet another hit on their hands." -- Kevin Brackett, ReviewSTL

"Kicky and kooky. . . .a buoyant blast from the past that revitalizes one of the great, grand old musicals with charm, humor and style." - Lynn Venhaus, St. Louis Limelight

"It's bound to leave you with a smile on your face." -- Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

"As usual, New Line gets it right. . . this is Anything Goes as it’s meant to be performed and witnessed." -- Jeff Ritter, Critical Blast

"Silly comedy, stylish music and effervescent performances in a winning combination." -- Mark Bretz, Ladue News

"Energetic, smart, and very very funny. . . a sharp, witty, tuneful, and well-cast production that’s a delight from start to finish." -- Michelle Kenyon, Snoop's Theatre Thoughts

"It surely is a great deal of fun, especially if you have the least bit of romantic in you." -- Ann Pollock, St. Louis Eats and Drinks

As I have been before from time to time, I am surprised and amused that treating a great piece of theatre like a great piece of theatre is cause for celebration. Shouldn't that be a bare minimum job requirement for all of us...?

Though I can't complain, can I? Apparently, all those mediocre productions of Anything Goes in the past are just making us look brilliant. And we're selling out!

Before we opened, I wouldn't have said this, but if you haven't seen our show yet, you probably haven't seen Anything Goes as it was meant to be. So get your tickets now. We run through March 24. According to our audiences and the critics, this is an Anything Goes like you've never seen before...

The adventure continues.

Long Live the Musical!

Click Here for Tickets!

Please, Saint Peter

I'm always surprised when people think that the morally ambiguous and darkly violent Oliver! is a "family" show. Or for that matter, even Annie -- what kids' show has a song like "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover"?

I'm starting to feel the same way about Anything Goes. As yet another example of its "adult content" (as if "love affairs with young bears" wasn't enough), Anything Goes skewers organized religion pretty aggressively throughout the show, often through very pointed satire.

The most obvious commentary on religion jump-starts the plot in the opening scene, as Bishop Dobson gets arrested in Moonface's place. Why is that funny? Nobody can tell the difference between a bishop and a gangster. Welcome to 1934 America. It's the first of dozens of swipes taken at American institutions, but at religion even more often than the others. And like several others, it's a swipe that stays with us all evening, because Mooney is dressed like a preacher till the very end. Throughout the show, Mooney repeatedly does immoral, illegal, and/or unethical things, and all as a clergyman. And no one notices.

Two of our three heroes, Reno and Mooney, have phony religious alter-egos. Reno is a "former evangelist" (i.e., con artist), now a nightclub singer whose songs have weirdly religious imagery; and Mooney is hiding from the Feds in the clothes of a minister, and soon he's called "Dr. Moon" by everyone aboard. Mooney spends much of the first act running around the ship in full preacher drag, stealing things and brandishing his tommy gun.

Reno talks in fake Biblical language periodically, showing us that she was once a religious figure, but also that they she didn't take it very seriously. She says to Mr. Whitney in the first scene, "I've got four fallen angels holding up the bar. Come, let us lead them beside distilled waters." When Mooney suggests blackmailing Evelyn, we get this Biblical-ish exchange:
Reno: Get thee behind me, Moonface. I kind of like the guy. He's different.
Moon: But Reno, you promised Billy.
Reno: Thou almost persuadest me to shoot the works. You know, if you weren't a friend of Billy's, I'd unfrock you.

In (almost) quoting Luke 4:8, Reno jokingly equates Mooney with Satan -- but also herself with Jesus. But she's also (almost) quoting , "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." (Acts 26:28) This is someone with only a casual knowledge of Scripture, but enough for her purposes. And in comic counterpoint to her fake piety, the exchange ends with her threatening sex!

And these two fake religious figures, Reno and Mooney, will lead the comic revival meeting in Act II. As the meeting climaxes, Reno once again mashes together religion with pop culture, in this case, the language of radio: "Sign off with Satan and tune in with Heaven." I wrote in another blog post about Reno's big religious number "Blow, Gabriel, Blow":
The language of the "Blow, Gabriel" lyric is Religious Symbolism as a Second Language. This is an amateur, or more to the point, a religious outsider, leading this revival meeting -- with the help of the fake-minister "Dr. Moon." It's obvious neither of them are really believers, and that doesn't seem to bother the crowd a bit. And by the way, why do we want Gabriel to blow his horn? The Bible says that "an archangel with the trumpet of God" will announce the Second Coming, and people have assumed that's Gabriel, particularly since Milton made that connection in Paradise Lost.

So are these drunk, hard-partying passengers really cheering on the Second Coming -- and the Apocalypse? They are, but they have no idea that's what they're doing, because Reno and Mooney are first-rate con artists.

Both Reno and Mooney connect to other (not really) "religious" characters. Reno has her "angels," her backup singers, from whom we hear short, comic bits all evening, sometimes about their promiscuity. Do we assume they were also with her back when she was an evangelist, or are they just called angels as an ironic callback to Reno's last gig?

And Mooney's accidental sidekick Bonnie has her religious moment too, when she sings "Heaven Hop," a really interesting number transposed into Anything Goes only for the '62 revival. It connects to one of the show's two main themes, the transformation of religion into show biz and pop culture. This song is Bonnie's own personal theology, distinct from the authentic theology of the Bishop, the phony theology of Moonface, and the commercialized theology of Reno and her angels.

In Bonnie's theology (coming from the world of Depression-era organized crime), you can be a Good Person and also have fun, drink, smoke, dance -- even steal, apparently. For Bonnie, heaven is a party. After all, how could heaven be boring? That's in stark opposition to the new con artists... oops, I mean, evangelists, crisscrossing America in the 1930s with an apocalyptic message of fire and brimstone (mentioned in Reno's "Gabriel" lyric) and a coming "reawakening" of religious faith.

But all the traditional symbols and conventions of human religion don't serve Bonnie's needs or hold her attention, so like Americans have always done, she forms her own personal religion, with fewer restrictions and lots more fun.

Notice throughout the lyric how Bonnie blends together traditional religious symbol with her own secular ones. Just in the first few lines, Bonnie (and Cole Porter) tells us this is a different kind of heaven from what we're used to. No laying on clouds strumming lyres in Bonnie's heaven. This song is originally from another Porter musical, so the reference to portals in the first line is just a happy accident in this story set aboard a ship.
Up in Heaven's happy portals,
Where the parties never stop,
All the debonair immortals
Do a dance called the Heaven Hop.
In that big celestial center,
Its the only dance they do;
So before you try to enter,
You better start doin' it too!

Notice the great alteration of the title phrase obviously, but also Heaven's happyportals and parties; debonair and do a dance, and later, dance they do; and celestial center. Those last couple lines are subtle but potent jabs at "revealed scripture," the idea that only one religion has the true Secret Knowledge. Only by being In the Know can you enter Heaven. But here, that Secret Knowledge is a new dance.

Then, like lots of other pop songs in the 1920s and 30s, Bonnie introduces a new dance, by giving us the choreography. The first two lines are so rich -- first you move like an angel, then you move like a musical comedy star:
Spread your wings and start them flappin',
Lift your feet and set them tappin',
Start right now and do the Heaven Hop,
Hop, the Heaven Hop!
Wag your ankles to that meter,
Let your shoulders gently teeter,
If you want to, please Saint Peter,
Take up the Heaven Hop!

The reference to St. Peter is extra funny because he's regarded as the first pope. You couldn't pick a more traditional religious figure than the first pope, but that's who Bonnie wants to dance with. And why not? Or is Bonnie just assuming that St. Peter won't be able to stop himself?

Some versions of the song have the comma before "please Saint Peter," and some don't. With the comma, Bonnie's inviting St. Peter to join her; without the comma, it's about dancing in order to "please" (i.e., make happy) St. Peter. Similar, but different ideas...

There's a short bridge and we get a better glimpse into Bonnie's heaven:
When the angels play low
On their harps of gold,
Kneel and pray low,
Then get up and shake your halo!

Again, act like an angel (play a harp, kneel and pray), then act like a musical comedy performer (shake your halo). First a humble act, then a show-off act. Maybe Bonnie's heaven is more like the Underworld of ancient myths, the place everybody goes when they die, whether "good" or "bad."
Let that rhythm filter through ya
Till you holler, "Hallelujah!"
Start right now and
Do the Heaven Hop.

"That rhythm" is show biz, but "filter through ya" sounds more like religion. Exactly. Just like "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." America has a long, weird tradition of greatly altering religious traditions to fit our own needs, and this is just a comic distillation of that habit.

But is "Heaven Hop" a song Bonnie just knows? Or is it one of Reno's songs, and Bonnie knows all of Reno's songs? It's pretty safe to assume that Bonnie and Snake Eyes would patronize Reno's speakeasies throughout Prohibition. Is Bonnie Roxie Hart to Reno's Velma Kelly? Reno and Velma were both based on Texas Guinan, after all...

Act II opens with the mock religious hymn, "Public Enemy Number One," full of religious fervor, raising murderer Snake Eyes Johnson to Christ-like stature. That's a pretty fierce poke at American culture -- then and now. It's also one of dozens of moments in the show that illustrate its title -- literally Anything Goes.

And there's the crazy revival meeting in the middle of Act II, with broken and mismatched religious imagery swirling around, all of which devolves into nonsense. Finally, after many calls for a confession, Billy makes one and is immediately arrested. And then the same thing happens to Mooney. In this religious space, it doesn't pay to confess. In this world, religion is broken.

Maybe all this satire is lost on the high schools kids who do this show all over the country every year (I was one of them in spring 1979), and if it's lost on the actors, it's probably lost on their audiences. But it's all right there in the text. And it's really funny.

The more I work on this show, the more I realize that most productions treat it as sketch comedy, a quaint, old-fashioned confection, with no effort at getting inside these rich characters and living honestly inside this wild, but internally logical, world. This is a much better, smarter show than most people think. This is fierce, wicked satire that really gets at the truth of some of America's most embarrassing habits.

And that's why it still works.

I've worked for quite a while now on understanding how and why this show works, and we'll know how successful we've been at putting it into practice when we get our audiences next week. The adventure continues...

Long Live the Musical!

Click Here for Tickets!

Flying Too High with Some Guy in the Sky

Some of the songs in Anything Goes seem at first to be throwaway numbers, one-idea novelties to shoehorn some more dance into the show. But even the seemingly emptiest of songs in this show reveal surprising relevance and irony to our story and to the times.

Even the innocuous "Let's Step Out" has the twin agendas of commenting on Bonnie's "class" divide from the other passengers, as the moll of the country's most dangerous criminal; but she also rails against the gloom and seriousness of the Depression, after the wild years of the 1920s. It's weirdly synchronisitic that the passengers sing the twisted, morally upside-down hymn "Public Enemy Number One" to Billy, believing him to be Bonnie's boyfriend -- just before Bonnie herself enters and chides them for their pointless solemnity. Unlike most of the passengers, she gets how fucked up all of this is. She also knows that with Snake Eyes in the care of the FBI, she's safe now -- so why not party and flirt?

But the richest song in the show is deceptive in the surface simplicity of both its music and lyrics. Reno's emotionally naked torch song, "I Get a Kick Out of You," is another of Anything Goes' songs that we've gotten too familiar with. We stop hearing these lyrics fresh.

The song originally opened the show, revealing Reno's secret crush on Billy, though I've never figured out the point of that, plot-wise. The 1962 revival moved the song to late Act I, and now it's about Reno's surprise at falling in love with Evelyn. It's so much stronger here, because these feelings are revealed to us now after we've spent time with the smartass Reno for an hour. That's much stronger structurally. When this song opens the show, it gives us a false first impression of Reno; but moved to later in the show, it reveals a deeper layer to Reno.

"I Get a Kick Out of You" has this sinuous Latin line in the low reeds under the vocal intro, which says so much about this very sensual woman, but that line disappears after the intro, and the rest of the song was set, in 1934, to the standard Broadway foxtrot. But in '62 (our version), the main part of the song continues the Latin beat, though still without that reed line. Alongside the Latin syncopation, there are several moments of hemiola (long vocal triplets over an accompaniment in four), that make the beat momentarily ambiguous, just like Reno's feelings.

But what exactly is Reno saying here? She's literally saying that nothing in life gives her particular pleasure or happiness. She is (particularly if we assume Texas Guinan's real life details) a professional cynic and smartass. Texas Guinan, the model for Reno (and for Velma Kelly), greeted her speakeasy guests every night with "Hello, suckers!"

Look at this lyric --
My story is much too sad to be told,
But practically everything
Leaves me totally cold.

Yep, that's the speakeasy hostess alright. And it really is sad. She feels nothing. This isn't the usual musical comedy leading lady. Hope seems more like our leading lady, but she's not; Reno is. She goes on:
The only exception I know is the case
When I'm out on a quiet spree,
Fighting vainly the old ennui,
And I suddenly turn and see
Your fabulous face.

She's racing through life -- racing around this ship -- doing anything to stave off boredom ("the old ennui"). Nothing thrills her. Nothing moves her. Except one thing -- the face of the man she loves. Up until this time, Reno's made a couple off-hand remarks about finding Evelyn cute, but this is Reno dropping the cynicism and honestly looking at her own emotions, maybe for the first time ever.

So why the goofball Sir Evelyn Oakleigh? He finds an undeniable joy in the adventure of life. He's almost childlike in his delight over learning new things. Quite likely, Evelyn is the first man Reno has ever met who's not a cynic. Imagine how different he is from the jaded criminals and bootleggers and chorines who no doubt make up the circle of Reno's friends, none of them trustworthy, none of them ever emotionally open or honest -- or delighted by anything.

Like her underworld circle of friends, Reno has seen it all...
I get no kick from champagne,
Mere alcohol,
Doesn't thrill me at all...

Don't miss the punch of those lines. It's one year after Prohibition is repealed, and America's biggest speakeasy queen (again, if we blend Reno and Texas Guinan) is saying alcohol doesn't really do it for her. So she asks the obvious question -- if literally everything leaves her cold...
So tell me, why should it be true,
That I get a kick out of you?

Each verse takes an addiction (alcohol, drugs, and adrenaline) all of which do nothing for Reno.
Some get a kick from cocaine,
I'm sure that if
I took even one sniff,
It would bore me terrif-
ically, too,
Yet I get a kick out of you.

The bridge expands on the title phrase --
I get a kick every time
I see
You standing there
Before me.
I get a kick though it's clear
To me,
You obviously
Don't adore me.

Notice the rhyme compounding, giving us a sense of momentum. We get the string of see, me, me, -ly, me, but also before me and adore me.  And yet none of the grammar is awkward or strained. It still sounds like Reno's voice.

The last verse follows the established pattern, but this time the music literally takes off with the lyric, and the multiple rhymes give us even more momentum...
ing too high
with some guy
in the sky...

But before the stanza is over, the music returns to earth, because there's no kick to be had there.
...Is my i-
-dea of nothing to do.
But I get a kick out of you.

The mood turns right in the middle of the "i" rhymes (splitting the word "idea").

Remember that passenger airplanes were really new at this point, and only rich folks could afford to fly -- the first passenger jet, the Boeing 247, was introduced one year before Anything Goes debuted. And Lindberg had made his historic trans-Atlantic flight only seven years earlier.

I've always wondered if "some guy in the sky" was a sly Porter reference to God and religion, especially since Reno is a former evangelist. We know Porter loved talking in code -- just look at his bridges in the title song, cataloging fast living ("low bars," "fast cars," etc.) and unconventional sexual tastes ("backstairs," "love affairs with young bears," etc.)...

One of the most interesting aspects of this song is how it changed when it was lifted out of context. In 1934, radio stations wouldn't play a lyric about cocaine, so Porter had to create the ever dangerous "bop type refrain."

But also, almost every pop singer rewrites the rhythm of the title phrase. (I've noticed pop singers also always rewrite the 10/8 bar in "Memory" from Cats. WTF?) Originally, Porter wrote that title phrase to a rhythm that almost no one sings correctly today. Most pop singers -- and therefore, most women playing Reno -- move the word "kick" to the downbeat. Like this:

That's not what Porter wrote. He placed the word "kick" on beat 4, ahead of the downbeat, to give the word "kick" a kick. Once you hear it the right way (which you will in our production), the other way sounds so wrong. This is the right way:

I've written background and analysis essays on so many shows, but as much as I've always loved Anything Goes, I never stopped to ask myself why I love it. Now that I'm working on it, now that I'm doing my best to help our actors find the reality and the humanity in this script and score, along with the dozens of period jokes and cultural references, now I know why I love it. It's endlessly rich and aggressively truthful.

Anything Goes is everything I want in a musical -- subversive, smart, surprising, insightful, often unexpectedly emotional; and despite its over-sized style and energy, there is a real honesty there about human connection and the early effects of branding and celebrity on American culture. So interesting!

The more I explore it, the more deeply I love it.

Long Live the Musical!

Click Here for Tickets!


I discovered two of my favorite musicals, shows that would help shape the artistic shit disturber I am today, when I was fairly young. The first was 1776, not just an incredibly well-written musical, but an actual thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, even though you know the ending. The second show was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the fiercely cynical satire of American Big Business. Both shows are every bit as relevant today as they were when they written.

And both shows came into my life through my brother Rick, who died last week. He wasn't really an artsy like me, but he did play trumpet, he loved music, and he loved musicals. While my oldest brother was always in the chorus for the school musicals, Rick was always first trumpet in the pit. As his taste in musicals wandered outside the family cast albums (Hello, Dolly!, Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Music Man, The Sound of Music, et al.), during his high school years, I was still in grade school as he turned me on to How to Succeed and 1776.

It happened the exact same way both times, when he brought home the original cast album of How to Succeed and then the movie soundtrack for 1776. He'd bring home the LP (!) and start playing it, I would immediately become mesmerized and enthralled, and then I would start playing Rick's LP morning, noon, and night. Eventually, Rick would realize it was hopeless and he would officially give me the record.

I think what so thrilled me about both these shows was that they weren't love stories. Up till then, I had only encountered musicals that were love stories. And as much as I loved all those older shows, these two masterful (and in many ways, opposite) shows threw wide the doors of my musical theatre perception. I loved that almost all of 1776 is political and philosophical debate -- and yet it's still so powerfully emotional. That's when I realized that musicals aren't about love; they're about emotion.

But How to Succeed taught me an opposite lesson (though I wasn't aware of it at the time), that almost all the rules of musical theatre can be subverted, including the idea that musicals are about emotion. In the right hands, a musical can be as cold-hearted as Threepenny, Chicago, or Urinetown and still make great theatre.

Or to put it in terms of New Line's current project, anything goes.

It would be a few years later that I would discover Hair and Godspell and they would open those doors even further.

But Rick brought me to three other shows as well, because he played in the high school pit orchestra for them -- Of Thee I SingGypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof, three more shows that had a powerful impact on me. Of Thee I Sing was every bit as cynical as How to Succeed, but at the same time, it also had a goofy big heart. And I loved that combination; it's a blend that is now fairly common, in shows like Bat Boy, Cry-Baby, Spelling Bee, etc. I wasn't old enough to consciously register it, but I think the appeal to me was that the show worked on both the brain and the heart at the same time. That thrilled me as a budding musical theatre subversive.

And Gypsy. Well, first, Rick was that first trumpet that starts the overture, so I never hear that overture without thinking of Rick. Second, Gypsy was the first time I saw a serious musical comedy. The show used all the devices and conventions of traditional musical comedy, but it told this incredibly complex, serious story. Again, I didn't register it at the time, but Rose is bipolar and much of the show's humor comes from her manic episodes. That's some dark but awesome shit.

And then Fiddler. Mind blown again. I now know, after writing a musical theatre history book, that Fiddler's importance is that it was both an old-school Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, but also a 1960s-70s concept musical -- maybe because Jerry Robbins insisted on an opening statement of purpose, which became "Tradition," which was also incidentally the first show tune I ever learned to play on the piano as a five-year-old. I knew this score from the cast album and sheet music, but seeing it onstage was thrilling, even in a high school production. I was enthralled by the very idea of Tevye chatting with us about the themes of the story, and that may be where I started my love affair with using circles in staging.

What gifts those five shows were! Looking back, I think Rick could see my evolving tastes, and I think he enjoyed helping that evolution. I grew up with the classics, in the form of the family cast albums and our family visits to the Muny. But Rick moved me toward the innovations of the 1960s. When I got to college, my new roommate turned me on to Sondheim, and then I discovered our campus bookstore had the largest cast album section in New England. Score!

But Rick's influence on me came at exactly the right moment, after I had pretty thoroughly explored the classics and was ready to stretch. Rick helped me become the artist I am now, and I think he kinda knew he was doing that, even if I didn't.

And then Rick got married and had kids, and he brought his girls up on all the great musicals, which I admit, made me very happy.

I've had several "wise wizard" figures in my personal Hero Myth story, but as far as my artistic journey, I guess Rick was the first of them.

RIP, dude.

And Long Live the Musical!

Hear the Sweet Beat

It was a rough birth, but a great, weird, long life.

In November 1934, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes hit Broadway like a freight train, starring the powerhouse trio of Ethel Merman, William Gaxton, and the hilariously stoic, trembly-voiced comedian Victor Moore. It wasn’t Porter’s first show – he had already written scores for See America First (1916), Within the Quota (1923), Paris (1928), Wake Up and Dream (1929), The New Yorkers (1930), Gay Divorce (1932), and Nymph Errant (1933) – but Anything Goes was his best. So many of the songs would become American standards, and the show’s success and popularity would never really diminish, particularly after the boost from the 1962 off Broadway revival.

Originally, the show was called Hard to Get, then Bon Voyage, written mainly by Guy Bolton, with jokes by P.G. Wodehouse (pronounced WOOD-house), and it told a wacky tale of a trans-Atlantic crossing aboard a luxury liner, a wedding to be stopped, a disgruntled screenwriter concocting wacky disruptions (including a fake bomb), various romantic obstacles, and of course, mismatched lovers. (The first script was not about a shipwreck as some history books claim.)

The first composer that producer Vinton Freedley envisioned for the project was Jerome Kern, but Kern worked only with Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II at that time, and he wasn't interested. Freedley also considered George Gershwin, who was enmeshed in the creation of Porgy and Bess. Next on Freedley’s list was Cole Porter.

But then the real life shipwreck of the Morro Castle, killing 132 people, hit the headlines two days before the show went into rehearsal, and Freedley decided making a musical comedy about a fake bomb on board a luxury liner was no longer a good idea. So Freedley introduced the director, Howard Lindsay, to the columnist and press agent Russell Crouse and asked them to write a new book.

Lindsay and Crouse would go on to become one of the most successful writing teams in the American theatre, writing Life With Father and the scripts for Red, Hot, and Blue, Call Me Madam, and The Sound of Music, among other shows. Their 1945 play State of the Union won the Pulitzer Prize.

So the new bookwriters fashioned a new story around Porter’s now completed score (maybe this is why it's so easy to tinker with), reportedly retaining less than a dozen lines from the earlier version, this time about safer romantic hijinks aboard a luxury liner. The ship setting had to remain since sets were already built. In this new version, the steamship S.S. American (as a proxy for America itself) functions like Shakespeare’s woods, a place with no rules, where people find out who they really are and “correct” the mistakes they’ve made in the world of the City, a "free" place where lovers de-couple and re-couple.

The bad boy hero Billy Crocker was named for a college buddy of Porter’s at Yale, who helped finance some of Porter’s early shows. Moonface Martin, aka Reverend Dr. Moon, was originally named Moon Face Mooney, but during the Boston tryout, an ominous message was personally delivered to the theatre from an eccentric mobster in New Jersey who was not pleased to share his name with a musical comedy character.

Anything Goes ran 420 performances, the fourth longest run of the decade, and 261 performances in London in 1935. The New York Times called it “a thundering good show,” and “hilarious and dynamic entertainment.” The New York World-Telegram called it “a triumph,” and said, “You just must see it.” The Boston Post wrote, “It opened fast, it raced along; in liveliness and beauty, wit and humor, it weaved a spell of genuine enjoyment that far exceeds anything the stage has given us in many a season.”

A film version was made in 1936, initially announced with Bing Crosby as Billy, Queenie Smith as Reno LaGrange (!), and W.C. Fields as Moonface. When it was released, Merman was back in her role, with Crosby as Billy, and Charles Ruggles as Moonie. The film included six of Porter’s songs and six new songs by other writers. A shortened TV version was aired on NBC in 1954 with Merman, Frank Sinatra, and Bert Lahr, with some of the original score and other Porter songs added. A 1956 film version was made that had nothing to do with the show except the title and a few songs.

The show was revived off Broadway in 1962 with a revised script by Guy Bolton, moving the entire story onto the ship (cutting the opening bar scene), as well as cutting some lesser songs and adding several others from other Porter scores. It ran 239 performances. Then it hit London again in 1969 but ran only 15 performances. The show returned to Broadway in 1987 for an impressive 804 performances, and London once more in 1989. The 1987 version sported a new script by John Weidman and Timothy Crouse (son of Lindsay Crouse), based on the original and restoring more of the original score, including some previously cut songs. The show was revived again in London in 2002, directed by Trevor Nunn, and it returned to Broadway in 2011 in a version very close to the 1987 version.

Because of all these different versions of the show, there is no single definitive version. The 1934 script probably couldn't be produced today, and the 1934 score did have some less than brilliant songs. "Waltz Down the Aisle" doesn't even approach the skill of "I Get a Kick Out of You."

So maybe it's better that Anything Goes has changed over time. People today see productions of the '62 revival, and they assume the score was always packed with all those hits, but it wasn't. The show we know today really is superior to the original. I can't imagine this show without "Friendship," "De-Lovely," "Let's Misbehave," or "Take Me Back to Manhattan," but none of those songs were in the show in '34.

I guess maybe a constantly shifting score is exactly right for a show called Anything Goes. We say it's a "classic," but really, it's the revival thirty years later that's the classic. And that's fine. Whatever its circuitous path to our stage, it's still a fierce satire that totally nails some of the crazier impulses in our culture today.

And our culture in the 30s. And in the 60s, and 80s...

We've moved into the theatre, and now we just run this wild, wacky show at every rehearsal. We're having so much fun!

Long Live the Musical!

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We're Merely Mammals

Today, most people think Anything Goes is old-fashioned and family-friendly. But really, it's a very adult show, and it was never meant to be family-friendly. After all, the title is Anything Goes! One verse of the title song even catalogs various sexual tastes that are newly acceptable...

Not much about this show was conventional. The musical comedy had begun thirty years earlier by consciously rejecting tales of rich folks and royalty in operettas, in favor of stories of common people, immigrants, average working Joes and Janes. But as one of the only gentiles writing Broadway scores at the time, as a native of Peru, Indiana, as the heir to a considerable fortune, and as a relatively open gay man, Porter wasn’t interested in immigrants or in common people. He had spent time in Paris alongside Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein.

So Porter wrote his songs about smart, glamorous, rich, sophisticated, sexual people. His lyrics were dripping with French phrases, dirty jokes, references to high society names, new brand names, exclusive night clubs, trans-Atlantic cruises... and America's complicated relationship with morality, after the debacle of Prohibition.

At its core, Anything Goes is a comic but pointed exploration of amorality and moral irony. The characters we like the most, our “heroes” (Reno, Moonface, Billy) are the least “decent;” and the most "decent" character (Sir Evelyn) is the antagonist (sort of).

John Waters would be right at home here.

Reno stands in for America in the aftermath of the repeal of Prohibition in the early 1930s – going from moral purity (as an evangelist) under Prohibition to moral sin (as a nightclub singer) after the repeal. Her big song “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” slyly, ironically suggests that America should “repent” for the sin of repealing Prohibition (or is it for the sin of enacting Prohibition?). Mooney’s rise in social status aboard the ship mirrors the way gangsters and rum runners, now wealthy, became respectable members of “high society” after Prohibition was repealed.

Religious references pop up throughout the show, usually revealing religious or moral hypocrisy. Reno is a former evangelist, now nightclub singer; her backup singers are called her “fallen angels;” there’s a bishop who gets arrested, leaving his two Christian converts to fend for themselves; Moonface becomes the Reverend Dr. Moon; “Public Enemy Number One” is a parody of a hymn, worshiping celebrity rather than God; “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” is essentially a revival meeting that sounds like a sex act, complete with phony confessions and repentance. And early in the show, Reno comically merges her two sides when she says to the hard-drinking Mr. Whitney, “Come, let us lead them beside distilled waters.”

Religion, meet Speakeasy.

Ultimately, Hope (and Anything Goes) chooses love and authentic emotion over money, position, and obligation. America isn’t totally lost, the show's creators are saying. The romantic marginalization of Sir Evelyn by Hope is an echo of America’s marginalization of Europe after World War I. America was now the Super Power, and we didn’t need Europe anymore. Hope’s mother thinks they need Evelyn (no doubt the Harcourt fortune was decimated by the crash), but Hope doesn’t agree. In fact, in the original production, Evelyn didn’t even get his own song, even though he was a secondary lead. Both Hope and the show – and ultimately Evelyn – reject Britain in favor of America.

The show’s plot turns on such an odd love story – Reno loves Billy, who loves Hope, but Reno ends up with Hope’s fiancĂ©, an explicitly heterosexual character who is subliminally coded as gay (he has a woman’s name and tells Moonface he has “hot pants” for him). Not your standard musical comedy plot -- especially in 1934. Is Evelyn an ironic stand-in for the gay but married Cole Porter? The subliminally gay sidekick was a staple of the Astaire-Rogers movies, though here the character has been considerably fleshed out, and he gets a wife by the end. But does Reno’s cut song, “Kate the Great” suggest that it will be an “open marriage”...?

The relationships in our story are like those in A Little Night Music, in which the characters start with the wrong partners and have to reshuffle before the evening is over. This weird mismatching may be easier to understand in the revivals, with “Let’s Misbehave” added in the 60s and “The Gypsy In Me” added in the 80s, explicitly giving Evelyn a hetero sex drive.

Though Anything Goes trafficked in smart social satire, it was as horny as it was clever. Sex pervades the whole show (“Blow, Gabriel, Blow”…?), and it is made more explicit in “Let’s Misbehave.” But that title isn’t as random as it sounds to us today. “Misbehavior” presented as fun rather than as sin was something fairly new in 1934. Samuel Schmalhausen, a popularizer of Sigmund Freud’s work, wrote in his 1928 book Why We Misbehave:
Static morality has been repudiated in favor of dynamic experience. Fear yields its sovereignty reluctantly to fun. Passion’s coming of age heralds the dawn of a new orientation in the life of the sexes. We may sum up the quintessence of the sexual revolution by saying that the center of gravity has shifted from procreation to recreation.

Schmalhausen extolled the virtue of playful sex:
Sexual love as happy recreation is the clean new ideal of a younger generation sick of duplicity and moral sham and marital insincerity and general erotic emptiness. Sex as recreation is the most exquisite conception of lovers who have learned to look with frank delighted eyes upon the wonder in their own stirred bodies.

A year later in 1929, satirists James Thurber and E. B. White wrote the book Is Sex Necessary?, in which they argued:
During the past year, two factors in our civilization have been greatly overemphasized. One is aviation, the other is sex. Looked at calmly, neither diversion is entitled to the space it has been accorded. Each has been deliberately promoted. In the case of aviation, persons interested in the sport saw that the problem was to simplify it and make it seem safer. With sex, the opposite was true. Everybody was fitted for it, but there was a lack of general interest. The problem in this case was to make sex seem more complex and dangerous. This task was taken up by sociologists, analysts, gynecologists, psychologists and authors; they approached it with a good deal of scientific knowledge and an immense zeal. They joined forces and made the whole matter of sex complicated beyond the wildest dreams of our fathers. The country became flooded with books. Sex, which had hitherto been a physical expression, became largely mental. The whole order of things changed. To prepare for marriage, young girls no longer assembled a hope chest -- they read books on abnormal psychology. If they finally did marry they found themselves with a large number of sex books on hand, but almost no pretty underwear.

And that's what Porter was writing about, when he wrote "Let’s Misbehave" in 1928.

And that's why Anything Goes is a New Line show.

Long Live the Musical!

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You're Cellophane!

Not too long ago, I created a Music Man glossary, since that show is so chock-full of period slang and euphemisms. Now, working on Anything Goes, I find the same thing is true. It's part of what make both shows so good -- they create a very real, full world in which these characters exist.

On the other hand, in the original Anything Goes, several the lyrics were full of references to people and things that were popular in 1934, many of which we haven't even heard of today. So a lot of the original lyric for "You're the Top" and "Anything Goes" would just be baffling to audiences today; and instead of listening to the song, they'd be feeling left behind and confused. Those lyrics had to be revised for the revivals.

Mitchell Morris writes in his article "Lists of Louche Living: Music in Cole Porter's Social World," in the book A Cole Porter Companion:
From early in his career, Porter loved references to historical as well as contemporary figures, usually in some brash situation that flatters his audience (we recognize the reference and we get to poke fun at it too). Porter as a lyricist loved metonymic things, particularly lists. On the one hand, these lists frame a particular kind of eroticism -- they most often appear in songs of romance (however ambivalent) and employ potentially endless wit, since the list could hypothetically continue to exhaustion, in the service of courtship. But the list also serves to create an implied social world in which Cole’s immediate audience, who certainly recognize the references, are joined by a larger and more inchoate audience through magazines, recordings, and radio, joined together by their sense of inclusion. And now we return to the difficulties of Porter’s intense social embeddedness -- since he depended heavily on the evanescence of the current reference, his lists can have an unusually short cultural half-life. Even when some brief excavation securely identifies a reference, it takes a great deal of time to unpack the halo of associations that are compressed around it, and that time is the death of wit. But though the wit be diminished in explication, the richness that comes from reconstructing the social network condensed into a single reference offers a different set of rewards.

Contrary to what a lot of directors and actors think, it is not important for the audience to get every reference; but it is important that the actors get them, so that they can live fully and honestly in this world. That sense of reality is the real value of period references. After all, we can enjoy Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan without knowing all the various cultural and political references.

All that said, for actors and directors working on Anything Goes, and for all musical theatre fangirls and fanboys (of which I am one) who just love the show, here is my Anything Goes glossary. Take a look particularly at the juxtaposition of these pop culture references against each other, in their context. Porter is doing some really subtle, sophisticated social commentary in many of these lyrics.

From the original 1934 script:

"Manhattan" -- a cocktail made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. While rye is the traditional whiskey of choice, other commonly used whiskeys include Canadian whisky, bourbon, blended whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey, invented in in the early 1870s at the Manhattan Club.

"Grosvenor House" -- one of the largest private homes in London, torn down during World War I, and replaced with the luxury Grosvenor House Hotel

"Tommy gun" -- the Thompson submachine gun, invented by John T. Thompson in 1918, and became infamous during the Prohibition era.

"rote shot" -- a section of the newspaper with society photographs, called the "rotogravure," after the printing process

"Evelyn" -- a then common British man's name pronounced EVE-lin.

"Snake Eyes Johnson" and Moonface Martin" -- jokes on 1930s gangster nicknames, like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bugsy Siegel, Machine Gun Kelly, Lucky Luciano...

"dicks"  -- law enforcement; a slang term for detectives, originally coined in Canada and brought south by rumrunners during Prohibition. The comic strip character Dick Tracy was named for this term.

"a wireless" -- a telegram

"Mater" -- British for Mother, from the Latin, an intentionally old-fashioned term

"Eight Bells Strike" -- the striking of eight bells on a ship says a four-hour watch shift is over (it's not connected to a specific time on the clock)

"my sea legs..." -- a person's ability to keep their balance and not feel seasick when on board a moving ship.

"Nicholas Murray Butler" -- a famous American philosopher, diplomat, and educator; president of Columbia University, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Damn white of him" -- originally used under British colonialism, an expression of appreciation for honorable or gracious behavior, under the assumption that white people were inherently more virtuous.

"The Social Register" -- according to Wikipedia, "The social elite was a small closed group. The leadership was well known to the readers of society pages, but in larger cities it was impossible to remember everyone, or to keep track of the new debutantes, the marriages, and the obituaries. The solution was the Social Register, which listed the names and addresses of the families who mingled in the same private clubs, attended the right teas and cotillions, worshipped together at prestige churches, funded the proper charities, lived in exclusive neighborhoods, and sent their daughters to finishing schools and their sons away to prep schools"

"Beefeater" -- actually a ceremonial guard at the Tower of London, but here just referring to a British person, possibly also implying that Evelyn is stiff...?

"Coliseum" -- the famous amphitheater in Rome, built in 70-80 AD

"Louvre Museum" -- the world's largest museum, in Paris, holding some of our great works of art, including the "Mona Lisa."

"Symphony by Strauss" -- German composer Richard Strauss was still actively writing operas and concert works when Anything Goes opened.

"Bendel bonnet" -- a ladies' hat from Henri Bendel, the upscale women's specialty store still today based in New York City, selling handbags, jewelry, luxury fashion accessories, home fragrances and gifts

"Shakespeare Sonnet" -- Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, fourteen-line poems

Mickey Mouse -- you have to remember that for these characters living in 1934, Steamboat Willie premiered only six years ago, and Mickey was still only in black and white...

"Vincent Youmans" -- Broadway composer of many musicals, including No, No, Nanette, Hit the Deck, and several Hollywood films

"Mahatma Gandhi" -- still in the middle of his historic fight for independence for colonial India from Great Britain at this moment

"Napoleon Brandy" -- an "extra old" blend of brandy in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years

"The National Gallery": Famous art gallery in Washington, D.C.

"Garbo's salary" - according to an article on, "After the success of Flesh and the Devil (1927), Greta Garbo demanded that MGM raise her salary from $600 per week to $5,000 per week. Louis B. Mayer hemmed and hawed, so Garbo sailed to Sweden. Eventually Mayer gave in and Garbo sailed back. $5,000 per week comes to $260,000 per year, or the equivalent in today's dollars of $4.6 million per year."

"cellophane" -- according to Wikipedia, "Whitman's candy company initiated use of cellophane for candy wrapping in the United States in 1912 for their Whitman's Sampler. They remained the largest user of imported cellophane from France until nearly 1924, when DuPont built the first cellophane manufacturing plant in the US. Cellophane saw limited sales in the US at first since while it was waterproof, it was not moisture proof—it held water but was permeable to water vapor. This meant that it was unsuited to packaging products that required moisture proofing. DuPont hired chemist William Hale Charch, who spent three years developing a nitrocellulose lacquer that, when applied to Cellophane, made it moisture proof. Following the introduction of moisture-proof Cellophane in 1927, the material's sales tripled between 1928 and 1930." Our story is set in 1934.

"Derby winner" -- the 1934 running of the Kentucky Derby was its 60th!

"You're a Brewster body" -- the frame for a Bentley or Rolls Royce luxury car

"A Ritz hot toddy" -- a specialty drink of the Ritz Hotel bar in Paris

"the sleepy Zuder Zee" -- The Zuiderzee was a shallow bay of the North Sea in the northwest of the Netherlands. The characters in Anything Goes know this because in 1928, sailing events for the Amsterdam Summer Olympics were held on the Zuiderzee.

"Bishop Manning" -- Episcopal Bishop of St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan.

"A Nathan panning" -- a bad review from New York drama critic George Jean Nathan

"broccoli" -- something of a novelty in 1934, having been farmed commercially in the US only since the 1920s, and the first advertising campaign on its behalf didn't occur until 1929. So in 1934, broccoli was the culinary cutting edge

"a night at Coney" -- Coney Island

"Irene Bordoni" -- French actress who starred on Broadway in Cole Porter's 1928 musical Paris, introducing the song "Let's Do It" (which had replaced "Let's Misbehave")

"a fol-de-rol" -- a useless ornament or accessory, nonsense

"Arrow collar" -- the famous "Sanforized" collar on Arrow Shirts. The Arrow Collar Man became an advertising symbol in the 1920s for rugged masculinity.

"Coolidge dollar" -- the very sound, very strong American dollar, under President Calvin Coolidge, before the Depression

"Fred Astaire" -- Broadway and film star of musical comedies

"(Eugene) O'Neill" -- Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright of powerful dramas, including Anna Christie (1920), The Emperor Jones (1920), The Hairy Ape (1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), Strange Interlude (1928), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), and others

"Whistler's Mama" -- the famous painting actually called Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, best known as Whistler's Mother, painted by the American painter James McNeill Whistler in 1871

"Camembert" -- A mellow, soft cheese with a creamy center first marketed in Normandy, France.

"Inferno's Dante" -- Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) author of The Divine Comedy, the third part of which deals with Inferno (Hell).

"the great Durante" -- comedian/actor Jimmy Durante. His first film was in 1930, but he had made 19 films by 1934

"de trop" -- a mispronunciation of the French phrase de trop, meaning too much, not wanted, unwelcome

"A Waldorf Salad" -- a salad of apples, walnuts, raisins, celery, and mayonnaise, originated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.

"Berlin ballad" -- A romantic song by American songwriter Irvin Berlin, who by 1934 had already written standards like "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "What'll I Do?", "Blue Skies," and "Puttin' on the Ritz." A few years later, in 1938, Berlin would write "God Bless America."

"an Old Dutch master" -- a Dutch master painter like Rembrandt, but ALSO a brand of cigars

"Mrs. Astor" (changed to "Lady Astor" in 1962) -- Mrs. John Jacob Astor, leading New York socialite.

"Pepsodent" -- toothpaste introduced in the USA in 1915 by the Pepsodent Company of Chicago. The original formula for the paste contained pepsin, a digestive agent designed to break down and digest food deposits on the teeth, hence the brand and company name. Pepsodent was among the first big radio advertisers, sponsoring the Amos and Andy radio show from 1929-1939. Also, from 1930 to late 1933 a massive animated neon advertising sign for the toothpaste, featuring a young girl on a swing, hung on West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City.

"the steppes of Russia" -- a region of grasslands joining Europe and Asia -- Around 1930 the Soviet Union wanted to attract foreign tourists to bring in currency and improve its external image. On Stalin's and the Party's initiative a national tourist agency was founded. Intourist was responsible for attracting, accommodating and escorting all foreign guests.Western advertising styles were applied to appeal to the target audience. Intourist posters pictured a tourist paradise, not a country of laborers and peasants. Trains were no icons of progress but a comfortable way of transport. Intourist women were not working hard in a factory but were either fashionable or exotic.

"Pants on a Roxy usher" -- the famous Roxy Theatre in Manhattan ("the Cathedral of motion pictures") had a squad of ushers who were trained like an army platoon and wore very tight pants.

"a dance in Bali" -- an island in Indonesia, that was becoming an artist magnet in the 1930s, as its native population was turning out really radical artworks for export, and at the same time, the West was seeing the first photographs of Bali and its culture

"[Sandro] Botticelli" -- an Italian Renaissance painter

"[John] Keats" -- an English Romantic poet

"[Percy Bysshe] Shelley" -- an English Romantic poet, who was a political, social, and artistic radical

"Ovaltine" -- the "flavored milk supplement," that sponsored the Little Orphan Annie radio show from 1933-1940.

"G.O.P." -- Grand Old Party, i.e. Republicans.

"Tower of Babel" -- Biblical tower in the land of Shinar, the building of which ceased when a confusion of languages took place.

"Whitney stable" -- the socially prominent Whitney family bred famous horses

"Mrs. Baer's son, Max" (also referred to as "Maxie Bauer") -- Max Baer, World Heavyweight Champion in the 1930s (his son, Max Baer Jr. played Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies)

"Rudy Vallee" --  1920s/1930s crooner, who often sang through a megaphone and later starred in the original production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

"Phenolax" -- a  pink flavored wafer laxative, first introduced in 1908

"Drumstick Lipstick" -- brand of makeup manufactured by Charbert, a French cosmetics firm.

"brig" -- military prison

"in irons" -- shackled

"The Dean boys" -- baseball players and brothers Dizzy and Daffy, members of the famed "Gashouse Gang," the 1934 St. Louis Cardinal baseball team, which won 95 games, the National League pennant, and the 1934 World Series -- just months before Anything Goes opened!

"Max Gordon" -- Broadway producer from the 1920s through the 1950, famous for extravagant productions

"Jitneys" -- independent taxi cabs or small buses. The joke here is that the middle-class folks who can still afford to take a cab, here in the middle of the Depression, would be shocked to find out that some of the richest Americans (in this case, the Vanderbilt and Whitney families) had lost nearly everything.

"Vanderbilts and Whitneys" -- two prominent rich families in New York

"Sam Goldwyn" -- movie studio head

"Lady Mendl" -- an American actress, interior decorator, author of the influential 1913 book The House in Good Taste, and a prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society. Her morning exercises were famous, including yoga, standing on her head, and walking on her hands.

"Missus R." and "Franklin" -- Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt

"broadcast a bed from Simmons" -- Eleanor Roosevelt did weekly radio broadcasts sponsored by Simmons mattresses

"Mrs. Ned McLean" -- a socialite who was the last private owner of the Hope Diamond

"Anna Sten" -- Ukrainian movie star

"Swannee River" -- a reference to Stephen Foster's famous song "Old Folks at Home" and to the Gerhwin song "Swanee

"goose's liver" -- pate

"Russian Ballet" -- reference to the 1934–1935 world tour by the DandrĂ©-Levitoff Russian Ballet

"the Oxford movement" -- a 19th-century movement of High Church members of the Church of England which eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism, arguing for the reinstatement of some older Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy and theology. Presumably, Mrs. Wentworth is confusing the Oxford Movement with The Oxford Group was a Christian organization founded in 1931 by the American Christian missionary Frank Buchman.

[For the references in "Anything Goes," see my earlier post on that song.]

[For the references in "Blow Gabriel, Blow" see my earlier post about that song.]

"Sing Sing" and "Joliet" -- famous maximum security prisons

[For an explanation of the intro to "Be Like the Bluebird," see my earlier post about that.]

Additional Things from the 1962 version:

"The Globe American" -- a generic fictitious name for a newspaper

"Hymsie Brown, the fighter" -- a fictitious nicknamed boxer

"you know the New Deal" -- reference to government red tape, bureaucracy

"Toscanini" -- Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. The New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, in 1931, became the first orchestra to offer regular live coast-to-coast radio broadcasts of its concerts, gaining Toscanini unprecedented fame and a remarkable salary of $110,000 per year.

"Milton Berle" -- already a successful stand-up comedian in the 1930s, patterning himself after one of Vaudeville's top comics, Ted Healy (the inspiration for Billy Flynn in Chicago). A year before Anything Goes opened, Berle starred in the short musical film Poppin' the Cork, a topical musical comedy about the repealing of Prohibition.

"tomato ketchup" -- During the 1930s Heinz increased their sales force and advertising, to battle the drop in sales due to the Depression. Heinz salesmen were expected to be at least 6ft tall, impeccably dressed and particularly eloquent at promoting Heinz products. Their equipment ­ which included chrome vacuum flasks, pickle forks and olive spears ­ weighed about 30lbs.

"Chippendale" -- various styles of furniture fashionable in the late 18th century and named after the English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale

"Fourth Dimension" -- according to Project Muse, "During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the fourth dimension was a concern common to artists in nearly every major modern movement: Analytical and Synthetic Cubists, Italian Futurists, Russian Futurists, Suprematists, and Constructivists, American modernists in the Stieglitz and Arensberg circles, Dadaists, and members of De Stijl. Kandinsky’s own awareness of the idea, and the growing interest in Germany in the space-time world of Einstein. Although by the end of the 1920s the temporal fourth dimension of Einsteinian Relativity Theory had largely displaced the popular fourth dimension of space in the public mind, one further movement was to explore a fourth spatial dimension: French Surrealism."

"George Bernard Shaw" -- British playwright (Pygmalion, Major Barbara, Man and Superman, Saint Joan, etc.)

"verse" -- Today, we call the first section of a song the intro, which sets up the topic, before we get to the first verse and main melody (though many songs today don't have one). Then we get the first verse, which introduces the main melody, and then in most pop songs, we get the chorus. Sometimes there's a contrasting section called the bridge. But in Porter's time, the first section was the verse, and what we call the verse and chorus were together called the refrain.

"Tinpantithesis" -- an invented joke word, meaning the Tin Pan Alley (common) antithesis (opposite) of good music

Gullery -- Billy's joke on Mrs. Harcourt

"un peu d'amour" -- French for a little love

"DAR, PTA, and WPA" -- The Daughters of the Revolution, the Parents-Teachers Association, and the Works Progress Administrtion -- three things that do not belong together, but Mooney doesn't know that...

"rout" -- In "Heaven Hop," Bonnie sings, "We're all set for a rout; come on, let's step out!" And rout had another definition that we no longer use. One "dated" definition of the word was "an assembly of people who have made a move toward committing an illegal act that would constitute an offense of riot;" which then came to mean "a crowd of people; rabble," or more to our point, "a fashionable gathering."

Every day, I find new richness in Anything Goes, new craft, new surprises. It's such diving this deep into a show I've always loved but never thought about that much... Hope you enjoy learning about all this stuff as much as I do! The adventure continues!

Long Live the Musical!

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There's an Old Australian Bush Song

Almost every song in Cole Porter's Anything Goes score has a trick or a central joke to it.

Now to be fair, that's not true of every song in the original 1934 production, which included some very conventional musical comedy songs, among its sharp satire. But with the 1962 revival, its deletion of those more conventional songs and the addition of quite a few Porter songs from other musicals -- the '62 revival essentially created a Porter "greatest hits" show, sort of like My One and Only.

And with this new Frankenstein score, it really is true that almost every song brings some awesome surprises.

More so than most musicals, quite a few songs in Anything Goes (talking about the '62 version) are diegetic, meaning the act of singing is part of the action, and not just the language of the storytelling. In Anything Goes, the characters clearly know they're singing in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and "Public Enemy Number One," "Let's Step Out," and "Heaven Hop" (since they describe the dance in the lyric), "Be Like the Bluebird" ("an old Australian bush song" which Moon says he'll "render" for Billy); and arguably "You're the Top," "Friendship," and "Anything Goes." The only songs that are definitely not diegetic are "All Through the Night," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and maybe "De-Lovely." Certainly in "You're the Top," "Friendship," and "De-Lovely," they are at least joking and/or performing for each other, if not "singing."

There's so much to this score that people don't recognize...

"You're the Top" is one of the theatre's great list songs. Billy and Hope are ironically complimenting each other by comparing them to celebrities and trendy brand names -- essentially turning Gandhi, Botticelli, and the Mona Lisa into consumer brands. And notice how often the lyric sets old European images (the Tower of Pisa) against the newest American images of the moment (cellophane), again a very subtle nod to the coming story, in which Hope has to choose between Old Europe (Evelyn) and up-to-date America (Billy).

More than anything, "You're the Top" is just a big goof, but one with a pretty sharp satiric edge. Though it's awfully subtle, it lays down one of the two central themes of the show, our American obsession with celebrity and consumerism. It's almost a love song, but it comically filters that love through the ironic lens of materialism and celebrity worship: I love you because you're as wonderful as Ovaltine. And that irony supports the story here, since Reno has feelings for Billy, but Billy doesn't feel the same.

"It's De-Lovely" pokes fun at lyricists like Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg, who made up crazy words in their lyrics, something Porter actually did a lot less. More often than not, when a Porter song does it, it's because the characters are "playing;" so the made-up words help define character and maybe story. Notice how organically the gimmick is used in this song -- the first time, we hear two real words first ("it's delightful, it's delicious") and then the made-up word ("it's de-lovely"). The more we get into the song, the sillier the words get.

But Porter earns it all with his invention of the word "tinpantithesis," in Hope's intro verse, a made-up word that towers above those of Gershwin and Harburg. Hope worries that her song/singing may be the opposite -- the antithesis -- of "melody," i.e., good music, pretty music. But it's not just the opposite, she's warning him; it's also kind of tacky and common. It's the Tin Pan Alley antithesis of good music, or in Porterspeak, the "Tinpantithesis." That's awfully good writing, and particularly fun in the middle of a song about making up words. Ultimately Hope decides the embarrassment is not worth it, and she'll "skip the damn thing and sing the refrain." But by the time she makes this decision, she has already finished the verse -- about whether or not to sing the verse. That's incredibly "meta" for 1934 -- she's literally singing about her singing.

But what many people miss is -- Hope is making a joke! Billy has been clowning around, and Hope decides to join the fun. It's the first time we see the "fun" Hope; and the first time we really see that there's a Carefree Hope that Billy rode around the park with all night, and there's a Respectable Hope who has accepted her obligations dutifully. Which Hope wins the tug-of-war will tell us who'll she marry.

As if we don't already know.

Also interesting is the ethnic dialect humor, still part of American comedy in 1934 -- "d'vallop" (the wallop, as in "it packs a wallop," i.e., a powerful effect), "de vinner" (the winner), "d'voiks" (the works, meaning "it's everything"). A side note: I've also discovered that in the 1930s, "wallop" was a slang word for beer. I don't think that's connected to this, but I couldn't swear to it...

"Heaven Hop" makes fun of the pop songs that invented new dance "crazes" in the 20s and 30s, cataloging the the moves in their lyrics. Even though this song isn't originally from Anything Goes, it fits surprisingly well here, since we have some angels hanging around.

"Friendship" is one of three songs in the show in which characters are just playing, and consciously trying to amuse -- even crack up -- their friends, alongside "You're the Top" and "It's De-Lovely." It's interesting that both Reno and Billy and are in two of those songs, and Billy is in all three; they are the "playful" characters, from whom the other characters have to learn about joy before our story ends.

"I Get a Kick Out of You" is much more intense than we recognize, maybe because we know it too well. But what's the central point of this song? I don't feel emotions and never have, but I"m starting to feel something for the first time. Literally "everything leaves me totally cold." That's quite an admission from the saucy, sassy, smartass speakeasy hostess. None of the usual thrills -- alcohol, drugs, or adventure (flying in a plane) -- can thrill her, only "you." And then right before the final verse, we find out her love is not returned. Wow.

In the original version, Reno starts the show with this, and it's about her feelings for Billy. In the revivals, this song comes along late in Act I, and now it's about Reno's feelings for Evelyn. It's much stronger in terms of story structure when it comes later -- here it reveals something we're already suspecting, and it sets up one of the narrative threads that will get resolved in Act II.

I know Porter loved to use the latest slang (like George M. Cohan), and it occurred to me that that meaning of the word kick might have been really new at that moment. But according to several sources, kick meaning "surge or fit of pleasure" (often as kicks) goes back to 1941, though the related meaning; "stimulation from liquor or drugs" (the first two verses) goes back to 1844. Anything Goes opened in 1934. Did Porter put that later meaning into our language?

Or are we reading that word differently than Porter meant it? Was he using that older meaning in a new way, suggesting that for Reno this feeling of love is a jolt of intoxication, not just a nice diversion...? Or does it feel that way to Reno because she's never felt anything before...?

By the time we get to the title song, almost every character has been thrown for a loop. Almost every character's world has been thrown out of balance. And everybody in the audience knows what that feels like. And then Reno says (sings) what we all know:

Life is Fucking Crazy. Literally anything goes.

The title of the show and the Act I finale has gotten too familiar to us. The impact of the phrase, "Anything Goes," has dulled over the years, maybe because it's always associated with this "old musical." But this lyric is incredibly well-crafted and tells us so much about that moment in our history, in the midst of great cultural changes. By the end of the song, we realize the title refers ironically both to the wild abandon of the 20s, and the unbelievable hardship and challenges of the 30s, yin and yang. You can read my detailed analysis of the lyric here.

The end of the first act leaves us with a plot cliff-hanger (has Billy lost both hope and Hope?), a big, noisy, full-company dance number, but also a feeling of slight unease -- our world really is that fucked up! Especially in the Trump era, it seems that literally anything goes, and that's as scary as it freeing.

And then off you go to intermission..

"Public Enemy Number One," a satiric hymn, starts Act II with what feels like a one-joke throwaway, but it's not. This song is the convergence of the show's two main themes -- the way Americans turn religion into show business and criminals into celebrities. In this song, they turn a (supposed) criminal into a celebrity, and then into a religious figure, in a satiric exaggeration of the public's love affair with real celebrity criminals of the 30s, like Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, et al. The irony here is even thicker because the audience knows Billy isn't really a criminal -- and inside the story, so do Moon, Bonnie, Reno, and Hope.

(I love that the big-time gangster Snake Eyes Johnson has a moll named Bonnie, presumably after Bonnie Parker...)

It's also interesting to note that in 1934, the Anything Goes audience wasn't there to see if Billy and Hope got together in the end. They were there to see three top show biz celebrities, Ethel Merman, William Gaxton, and Victor Moore -- and arguably by this point, Cole Porter himself was as big a celebrity. The audience was laughing at the onstage passengers being seduced by celebrity, but the audience had been too...

"Let's Step Out" is a curious 1962 interpolation to me. The lyric says virtually nothing the Act I finale didn't already cover ("So let's run wild, let's be fools, let's go crazy and break the rules!"), and there are already plenty of songs in Act II, more than in the original. Maybe it was just an excuse to get some more dance into the show...? The later revivals took this one back out.

"Let's Misbehave," on the other hand, was a brilliant '62 interpolation. Evelyn didn't get a song in 1934, because he was more a device than a main character. In 1962, with more focus on the Evelyn-Reno romance, the two of them got "Let's Misbehave" in Act II, which helps the audience root for this relationship. In the '87 revival, Evelyn got "The Gypsy in Me" instead, which had belonged to Hope in '34. And while "Gypsy" is a fun number for Evelyn, "Let's Misbehave" is much better at character, relationship, and plot advancement.

We don't just need to know Evelyn will loosen up; we need to know he's found his primal animal side ("we're merely mammals"), and also how perfectly he and Reno fit each other. Note that while Billy and Hope get songs about marriage ("De-Lovely") and chaste yearning ("All Through the Night"), Evelyn and Reno get a song about carnality. Evelyn doesn't invoke Romeo and Juliet, or Abelard and Heloise; no, he invokes Adam and Eve -- lovers in a state of pure nature, before morality, before judgment, before clothing. We are indeed in Shakespeare's woods here, and Reno and Evelyn are de-coupling from the wrong partners and re-coupling here with the right partners.

That's why we're here, after all. It's sort of parallel to A Midsummer Night's Dream, if you think of the starry night sky, or maybe Cole Porter's intoxicating score, as a substitute for Puck's magic drops. The show works less well without "Let's Misbehave" in that spot.

"Blow, Gabriel, Blow" runs head-on at one of the show's two main themes, the turning of religion into show business. You can read my deep dive into this song here.

"All Through the Night" has a fairly conventional early musical comedy point -- we can only be together in our dreams! In the '62 version, Billy and Hope sing exactly the same verses; in '34 the second verse was slightly altered. Though the lyric is fairly conventional, delivering no information we don't already have, dealing in awfully conventional images, the music is extraordinary.

I've always maintained that musicals are more powerful, more impactful, more emotional than plays, because of the abstract nature of music, the non-verbal language of emotion. "All Through the Night" lacks the irony of the rest of the score, but it works so well because the music tells us as much (or more) about Billy and Hope's feelings than the words do. Almost the entire main melody descends chromatically by half-steps, making the music feel like it doesn't have a home key, like the melody is just spinning out spontaneously, endlessly shifting back and forth between major and minor, happy and sad -- and sinking ever further down into despair. It's anchor-less, restless, uneasy, but also hauntingly beautiful.

The original version of the show used "All Through the Night" midway through Act I, as Billy and Hope's first song together. In that spot, it's too serious, too sincere for this crazy romp of a show, but repositioned here in Act II (where there was originally only a short reprise), it works beautifully.

"Be Like the Bluebird" may be my favorite song in the show. It's so crazy and so meta! Take a look at Mooney's intro verse:
There's an old Australian bush song,
That Melba used to sing,
A song that always cheered me
When I was blue.
Even Melba said this bush song
Was a helluva song to sing,
So be quiet whilst I render it for you...

There's so much that's funny about this. First, Mooney starts by invoking the famous Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (for whom Melba Toast is named), who had just died in 1931. A "bush song" is an Australian folk song (one famous example of this is "Waltzing Matilda"). It's funny that this world famous opera singer would think this folk song is "a helluva song to sing" -- does that mean it's a great song or a hard song? After all, Mooney himself then sings it. And as we listen to it, we realize this is not an Australian bush song -- it's just a Cole Porter comedy number. But that intro turns the whole thing into a very wacky joke. Also, Mooney is singing about him singing here, just like Hope does in "De-Lovely"

And what's the lesson Mooney is trying to impart to Billy? Just to chill, to take life as it comes, to be more Zen. Again, what a funny lesson to come from this mediocre gangster who's nervous as a cat. The whole number is a big meta goof.

"Take Me Back to Manhattan," as good a song as it is, doesn't need to be here. They sing the same verse two and a half times, and it gives us virtually no information beyond that these New Yorkers would rather be in New York, instead of docking in London. On the other hand, it does sort of connect to the two interlocking love triangles -- Hope has to choose between Evelyn (London) and Billy (New York), and we know Evelyn himself has chosen New York (Reno). In fact, everybody will choose New York... other than Reno, I guess...

Maybe also, "Take Me Back to Manhattan" reminds us that we've been in Shakespeare's woods all night, a place of freedom and magic, but now that everyone is finding their correct partners, they will have to return to the world of the City with their newfound wisdom.

Yes, Anything Goes is very silly and somewhat old-fashioned, but it's also a lot more than that. This is a really well-constructed, satiric farce, and as you can see, these songs are much richer than they might appear.

The adventure continues...

Long Live the Musical!

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