This is the third blog post in a four-part series written by performing member Danielle Moore, who proposed Anything Goes for this fall’s show. The posts will discuss the history of Anything Goes and why it is a such a great show for Penn Singers.
Although, as musical theater historian and critic Larry Stempel observes, “The revivability of Anything Goes rests chiefly on its score,” since “Not only are there simply more hit tunes in it than in any other Porter work of the period, but many of them are now considered American musical comedy archetypes,” the core feature of the 1934 version of the show that proved, for over half a century, difficult to reconstruct, was the score itself. Only one copy existed, as copies had to be made by hand, and parts of it had gone missing. What may seem like outright negligence on the part of the composer, arrangers, and publisher was moreso a function of the musical theater mores of the day; as musical director Joe McGlinn, who did the detective work of piecing together the score for the now-definitive 1988 EMI re-recording, writes in album’s liner notes: “Musicals of this period were very much of the moment, and written to last barely a season or more … Few (certainly not Porter himself) believed their work would survive and be cherished by a future that would regard the best of Porter’s generation as an unparalleled group of geniuses.”
Additionally, the fact that several Porter songs from the original show went on to become extremely popular jazz standards presents other complications that all but ensured that the 2011 revival, taking place nearly eight decades and hundreds of recordings later, would differ from the original. This was certainly the case for the title song, which underwent a series of lyrical revisions. As James Hepokoski details in A Cole Porter Companion, beginning with Porter’s rejected first draft, which contained the then-saucy slang “love affairs … with young bears,” revisions continued through the version that was used in both 1934 and 1937, featuring soon-to-be passé references to figures ranging from the Roosevelts to film producer Max Gordon.
A “neutralized” version, scrubbed clean even of the song’s reasonably tame reference to “four-letter words,” also emerged, as well as transatlantic modifications made for subsequent London revivals. It turns out that the 2011 version (like the 1987 version before it) is a lyrical mélange, beginning with the verse from the original 1934 version and later incorporating lyrics introduced for the 1935 London production’s version. Adopting lyrics from multiple versions, however, does not mean that the 2011 revival cultivated the cream of the crop, in Hepokoski’s view. The 2011 Anything Goes director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall has discussed coming across the previously-discarded lyric “They think he’s gangster number one/So they’ve made him their favorite son/and that goes to show/anything goes” and how it informed her choreography for the number. Thus, a 1962 lyric that Hepokoski bills “astonishingly lame” became the final quatrain before the ending of the 2011 title song.
The element of the 1934 version that proves most difficult to reconstruct is its dances, originally choreographed by Robert Alton. Pity little has been written about the numbers that Alton, who is credited with the choreographic innovation of disrupting chorus line precision in the service of greater variety, assembled for the show. “Count as items worth sober consideration,” New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in his 1934 review, “a platoon worth of chorus girls whose dancing is also well-planned”; the Los Angeles Times’ review similarly draws attention to how “Prof. Alton’s fetching ballerinas trip their graceful dances.” What has been written about Alton’s work on other shows of this era gives an indication of what Anything Goes’ “graceful dances” might have looked like.
By contrast, the dancing in the 2011 revival – particularly, the tap numbers – took center stage, earning the revival the Tony award for Best Choreography (in addition to honor for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress for Sutton Foster). Comparing this revival to the last, musical theater critic Jack L.B. Gohn writes: “It has about twenty more performers than 1987, and conforms to modern big-Broadway expectations, making the song-and-dance last longer, giving the stars … more opportunities to show off for the audience,” highlighting, among these opportunities, “the Sutton Foster tap dance explosion” performed to the title number. The prominence of the dance-laden performances may be, as Gohn suggests, due to the production’s obligation to make the hefty ticket price worth it: $140, up from a minimum of $40 for the 1987 revival – a price about which, at the time, New York Times critic Richard Hornby tellingly quipped, “See it even if you have to rob your grandmother’s purse to buy the tickets.” However, it is also likely that dance became a prominent feature of the revival because its director and choreographer were one in the same. Heralded “Broadway’s ‘vintage girl’” by The Washington Post, director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall was no stranger to Porter material, having choreographed a Kiss Me Kate revival in 1999. Another driver of the prominence of the dance numbers, particularly the “showstopper” tap-laden finale, was the show’s starlet. “One of the first things we knew was that we were going to build it around,” said Marshall, was “Sutton Foster,” who had previously impressed the director with her tap skills as the title character in the Broadway debut of Thoroughly Modern Millie.