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Marriott’s ‘Anything Goes’ is a lovely Spring awakening

Too often, it takes avant garde to get critics to notice. That’s why doesn’t publish critics, only reviewers.

So when word comes down from the Tribune Tower (unless Chris Jones surprises his readers with a fresh approach of his own) that Marriott Theatre’s Spring musical, Anything Goes, lacks a certain maiden voyage-ness, no one should be surprised.

All that means is that musical theatre patrons lucky enough to have made it to New York to take in the 2011 Tony-winning version of Cole Porter’s masterful musical comedy starring Broadway luminaries Sutton Foster, Joel Grey and Laura Osnes can feel self-satisfied enough to sit this one out.

The other 99% should buy a ticket and enjoy.

Because the Marc Robin-directed version of the 2011 revival, loaded with Chicagoland stage stars, is silly fun with an Americana songbook that catapults its audience members into this long-awaited Spring.

Porter’s musical farce set on board an ocean liner first appeared on Broadway in 1934 starring Ethel Merman as fictional song-and-dance star Reno Sweeney. Its 1988 and 2011 productions each won Tonys for Best Musical Revival. The simple, slapstick romance is really a vehicle for Porter’s songs, which have become among patrons’ most beloved.

Ryan T. Nelson’s musical direction and Patti Garwood’s Marriott orchestra lead this terrific cast through “You’re the Top;” “Friendship;” “It’s De-lovely;” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow;” “I Get a Kick Out of You;”“Easy to Love;” “All Through the Night;” the title song, “Anything Goes;” and more.

Robin’s Reno, the gorgeous Stephanie Binetti, hit her stride opening night in the midst of “Friendship” and never looked back. Joined by handsome leading man Jameson Cooper as Billy Crocker, the love interest of several, the two step into Marriott’s spotlight with strength and grace.

De Lovely Summer Naomi Smart is perhaps the perfect society debutante, Hope Harcourt, and comic partnerPatrick Lane as her English fiance, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, is superb, particularly in his solo performance of “The Gypsy in Me.” Alexandra E. Palkovic is wonderful as the dumb blond Erma; her “Buddy, Beware” is a showstopper.

But it’s the work of two well-known comic actors that might most be remembered in this production. Chicagoland veteran and favorite Ross Lehman is absolutely hysterical as buffoon gangster Moonface Martin. His “Friendship” duet with Binetti is a 2015 area stage highlight. And everyone’s favorite wizard, Gene Weygandt, who obviously enjoyed his recent Marriott run in La Cage aux Folles so much he decided to stick around, truly delights as the drunken (though not overplayed) robber baron Elisha Whitney.

Terrific dance, the great separator between professional and amateur productions, is present throughout thisAnything Goes. Cooper and Smart’s “It’s De-lovely” is truly elegant; Binetti and Lehman’s “Friendship” is pure joy; and the cast renditions of “Anything Goes,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and the finale are breathtaking.

To one observer, the too-often moved second deck set and narrow staircase allowing entrances and exits from above is confining and, therefore, limiting. But Nancy Missimi‘s costumes are their typically gorgeous selves. And Jesse Klug‘s fine lighting expertise is on display here again.

So leave the critics behind and step on board this delightful journey of young love, harmless gangsters, magnificent music and more than a few laughs. Let Cole Porter, Marc Robin and Marriott Theatre’s Anything Goes be the Spring awakening for 99% of Chicagoland’s musical theatre patrons.