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Chicago Theater Review: ANYTHING GOES

R.M.S. Titanic was not unsinkable but the S.S. American really is. It’s been sailing strong since 1934 as Cole Porter’s biggest hit before Kiss Me Kate. It may have jettisoned its original ballast-heavy book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and taken on an equally cornball script by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, but this burlesque-broad Depression-era romp–the tale of a campy cruise ship of fools–remains fluff and folderol. Anyway, we’re here for the songs–“Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “It’s De-lovely,” “All Through The Night”–effortless melodies and sparkling lyrics that lift a peabrain plot from its vaudeville roots to earn the songs it so often perversely delays.

Pleasantly packaged and heavenly hoofed up by Marc Robin, Marriott Theater’s swift-moving, gag-ridden Anything Goes rampages all over the movable decks on an arena stage surging with sturdy sailors and dizzy ingénues. It’s pretty “Easy To Love,” despite a ton of concentrated mugging.

That is if you can get over its daffy storyline. Reno Sweeney, nightclub diva and the unofficial cruise director of this matchmaking voyage, still has a thing for “broken broker” Billy Crocker, a risk taker without collateral. Billy is gaga for Hope Harcourt, an heiress without a fortune whose desperate-for-a-dowry materfamilias Evangeline will make her marry into English nobility, namely dweebish Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. To get her, Billy will resort to assorted disguises, even impersonating Public Enemy No. 1 to give the ship a notorious passenger. (Transatlantic passages, it seems, all but required celebrity guests who only pretended to preserve their privacy.)

All gets sorted out before the iceberg-free Atlantic gets crossed, along with clandestine shenanigans perpetrated by gangster wanna-be Moonface Martin (“Be Like the Blue Bird”) and imbecilic assignations engineered by clownish and bibulating Wall Street mogul Elisha Whitney, perpetrator of a comic hiccough.

Intact as the silly story stays, this revival’s big change is gold-digger Reno Sweeney. She’s no longer a black-and-blue belter of the Merman or even LuPone persuasion. Lovely and lissome Stephanie Binetti plays her as a semi-siren, less brassy and more domesticated. She’s also a master of disguise, whether as an evangelist impersonating Amy Semple McPherson or a wronged Chinese princess pretending to plead for justice. Of course, all heck still breaks loose in the tap-dancing title number’s first-act finale, but in “You’re the Top” and “I Get A Kick Out of You,” Binetti gets about as contemplative and serene as Porter permits. Confident even when confused, Jameson Cooper’s resilient Billy delivers a face for every twist: As his best ballad puts it, he’s “so grand at the game.” His great Hope (Summer Naomi Smart) is conventionally cute as she sings the Porter rarity, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” a winsome ballad as calm as the sea.

...Getting in her kicks and flaunting her airhead credentials, Alexandra E. Palkovic’s vixenish Erma (“Buddy, Beware”) plays hard as the designated bimbo. Patrick Lane’s duffer/twit Lord Evelyn throws himself into “The Gypsy in Me” to convulse the crowd, and veteran Gene Weygandt’s Yale yahoo Elisha Whitney puts the “pat” in patrician.

Master manipulator Marc Robin’s skill set, of course, means that some boiler-bursting choreography fuels the go-for-broke evangelical excess of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” the frenzied leave-taking of “Bon Voyage,” and the title number’s intricate abandon, even if it seems that you wait forever in the first act for real dancing to develop. Even if it’s not the top, you’ll get a kick out of this.