Anything Goes
The 5th Avenue Theatre, 292-ARTS.
Through Dec 17.

THE COLE PORTER tunes from this show--"You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "All Through the Night"--are deliriously lovely, and, for many of us, practically emblazoned on the brain. And you can eat them all up in this classic 1934 musical that Porter put together with several scriptwriters (including Brit novelist P. G. Wodehouse). Like much Depression-era entertainment, the story is set amid wealthy socialites who don't have a financial woe in the world. On board a luxury transatlantic ship, the lead characters wrangle with their desires and some friendly gangsters until all kinds of romantic foibles unwind.

Despite the well-assembled musical numbers, though, the 5th Avenue's production is disappointingly flat. There's little chemistry or edge between leads Donna English as socialite Hope Harcourt and Michael Gruber as her tap-happy flame, Billy Crocker. And distinguished Broadway actress Dee Hoty as nightclub chanteuse Reno Sweeney seems oddly mechanical in this production. Except for a funny, dead-on performance by TV actor Bronson Pinchot as Sir Evelyn, there's a real lack of fire in this show.

Director David Armstrong (also the theater's producing artistic director) made the decision not to tinker at all with this dated and rather thin script, and it's presented almost completely at face value. That might've been okay, since it's the music that really holds this play together. But among the secondary and minor characters, there's absolutely no stage business or defining characteristics, such as among Reno Sweeney's four Angels (chorus girls). Apparently Armstrong only told these actresses, "Smile real big, girls!" Where there might have been character and detail among them, there's nothing but dumb-happy faces. The same goes for much of the ensemble. It seems Armstrong was counting on his audiences to be dull-witted enough to come see this famous show just so long as the lights and set are pretty.