ANYTHING GOES!

Why is "the bad boy of musical theatre" producing the 1934 musical comedy Anything Goes, a show everybody does? What are they gonna do to it?

That's what I keep hearing.

Well, we're not going to do anything "to it," other than what we always do, take the show back to its roots, back to its creators' intentions, to let it be again the very pointed, very adult satire it once was.

Also, could a show title ever describe our company better?

My freshman year in high school, Anything Goes (the 1962 version) was the first "real" musical (i.e., a musical that had been on Broadway and not just written for school kids) that I had ever been in. I played Bishop Dobson (who's arrested in the first scene) and I was also in the tap chorus! I fell in love with the show, and all the songs. I knew it was an "old" show, but it didn't seem old-fashioned to me. It was sexual and cynical, and kind of wild and anarchic, and blazingly self-aware.

I now know it was very much in the vein of George M. Cohan's earliest musical comedies in the early 1900s, but more cynical, a little edgier.

Fast-forward to 2006, and I was writing a musical theatre history book, Strike Up the Band, and as I wrote about Anything Goes, I started to realize things I had never thought of before. Maybe it was because when I first got to know the show, I hadn't yet developed analytical skills, so I hadn't really looked beyond the surface. But now writing about the show, I realized there are two central themes running through the story, two delicious pieces of social satire that are just as relevant today as they were in 1934.

We still turn religion into show business -- and we've gotten so much better at it! And we still turn criminals into celebrities. Anything Goes is a New Line show.

I also had learned that Reno was based on two real-life people, the famous speakeasy hostess Texas Guinan (also the model for Velma Kelly in Chicago), and to a lesser extent, the first superstar evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. I just recently learned that, at one point, Texas Guinan pondered becoming an evangelist.

Notice the similarity in the names Texas Guinan and Reno Sweeney: two two-syllable names, and the first is a place name. Also, Reno, Nevada, legalized open gambling in 1931.

I also learned from an actor who was playing Moonface and had done lots of research on the show, that Victor Moore originally played Moonie very mousy, unassuming, jittery, with a high, nasally voice, and none of the Brooklyn accent we're used to from more recent productions. He was opposite every cliche about gangsters -- which was the joke. He was fundamentally, constitutionally ill-suited to being a gangster. That immediately struck me as much funnier than the usual characterization. I think Joel Grey in the latest revival came closer to that idea.

For some reason, now when I think of Moonie, I think of John Waters...

Also, it's important to me that Sir Evelyn is not gay, which is the usual default for unimaginative actors. But suggesting he's gay short-circuits a big part of the intricate plot. It's much funnier if he's obviously straight -- and terribly charming. After all, we have to believe that hard-boiled Reno falls for him.

It occurs to me that Reno and Evelyn are sort of Harold Hill and Marion, but with the genders reversed...

Since 2006, I've been telling people that one day New Line will do Anything Goes, and often I would then share with them my revelations about the show. In order for us to produce the show, I had to whittle the cast down to 16 at the most. So I actually sat down and figured that out three years ago. Just so I knew it could be done. Last year, once Dowdy and I started talking about actually producing it, I made some other decisions.

First, I don't want it to be a "tap show" -- I want it to be a smart, insightful comedy. After all, there were other kinds of dancing in the 1930s. There will be some tap, because I don't like frustrating audience's expectations without a good reason, but not a ton. Our angels will tap, and I'm told that our Mrs. Harcourt can tap too...

Also, pacing is everything. The performance style of musical comedy in 1934 wasn't far removed from vaudeville, very full front (no mics!), with only the slightest wisp of a Fourth Wall. This should be a big, crazy, nonstop, high-energy, perpetual motion machine, something closer to a Marx Brothers movie crossed with New Line's own fearless, high-voltage style. It should leave the audience and actors breathless.

And on that topic, I'll quote from our website:
Like the Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles, Joan Littlewood’s company in London, and the Steppenwolf in Chicago, New Line has developed its own style of performance, its own personality – very aggressive, very intimate, outrageous but serious-minded, and anchored by a phrase coined by the Actors' Gang, “the height of expression, the depth of sincerity.” The canvas is bigger, the colors richer, the brushstrokes more expansive, but the image is no less true, the details no less real, the textures no less subtle. Theatre scholar Tom Oppenheim writes about Stella Adler, in the outstanding book Training of the American Actor, "Stella insisted that characters must be multidimensional and grounded in oneself. They must be real human beings. But she does not shy away from painting characters in broad strokes. While she demands truth, she never shies away from size."

The height of expression, the depth of sincerity -- exaggerated and completely honest at the same time. The more seriously these characters take the stakes, the chaos, the plot twists,. the funnier our show will be. As we've learned from Bat Boy, Urinetown, Spelling Bee, Cry-Baby and Jerry Springer the Opera, there's nothing funnier than Too Serious.

Without changing much at all (other than the size of the cast), I really believe we can reveal things about this show that people don't usually see. And the way we'll do that is to trust the material and follow it where it takes us, whether or not that's where it took others...

We start rehearsals the day after our reading of The Zombies of Penzance. No rest for the wicked. But I can't wait to dive into the insane chaotic glory of Anything Goes.

We are going to have SO MUCH FUN. Click here for tickets!

Scott

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