Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everything Blows, Anything Gospel

This past weekend, the boyfriend, our best friend (his first, mine as of recently), and myself took an exhausting road trip from Long Island to Ocean City, NJ to see yet ANOTHER friend in a production of Anything Goes. He was great. His cast was spectacular. The direction and orchestra were phenomenal. And yet, despite all this, I wanted to dive off of the Music Pier and into the roaring sea below.

Why? Because Anything Goes, I quickly remembered, is a fine and one-of-a-kind example of a shitty show that is unfortunately tied tightly to some of the best music in the musical theater. It's sort of like meeting a really hot and sweet guy at a bar, but finding out when you go home with him that he was hiding a Siamese twin who belches a lot and never shuts up.

What's funny is that you probably know a ton of music from this show... you just don't know where it came from. And that's probably a good idea. Anything Goes, the show part at least, is abysmal. It tries to be funny, though often is not. It tries to stay on track, but derails into oblivion and absurdity rather regularly. And it's so patently ridiculous that your eyes roll backwards in your head 360 degrees, resulting in the pain of your eyes rolling back, and the further torment of still having to see the show.

But then there's the MUSIC. And, my God, these are some of Cole Porter's very best tunes including:

Blow, Gabriel, Blow

You're The Top


And, of course, the show's namesake, Anything Goes

All my life I heard these songs, not knowing their origins, and loved them a ton. It's probably better that way. The actual show, Anything Goes, makes no sense, and sort of just fills the air with spoken words in order to kill time between songs. I noticed this time around while watching the show that the songs, themselves, don't even advance the plot much. This is often a criticism heaped on composers like Frank Wildhorn: that the show comes to a screeching halt when characters start singing, which is not supposed to be the point. Songs in musicals, they claim, should continue advancing development and action, just in heightened ways.

But what happens, like in Anything Goes, when the show was never really going anywhere to begin with? Well, you basically find yourself trying to occupy yourself while unimportant characters yammer about nothing of importance, waiting with baited breath for the next amazing song and dance number.

Our friend Erin had mentioned something intriguing about the show, however, which makes a lot of sense. Apparently, Cole Porter had been paid to write songs after the show was made, and he just went into a bag full of music and came out with the score. If this is indeed the case, that would make Anything Goes nothing more than the first Jukebox Musical in history!

Of course, I Googled the show after hearing Erin's info, and found out a lot about it. First off, the show was originally called "Crazy Week" (because it's fuckin CRAZY!) followed by "Hard to Get" (I'd recommend too easy to not get, but anyway...) and then FINALLY "Anything Goes". Even funnier, apparently the show was to end with the boat sinking and all of the unnecessary people dying very necessary deaths. But that was changed when the SS Morro Castle, a passenger ship, caught fire and resulted in the death of 137 passengers and crew. So they basically threw together the ending of the show in a few days. And it shows.

Also interesting is a chart of side-by-side comparisons of the 3 productions of Anything Goes. What's interesting is that this show is basically rebuilt every time it is revived. Which is probably not that hard. Cole Porter's wonderful songs have so little to do with anything in the plot you can basically remove them from where they stand and place them anywhere else with the show hardly being affected.

See how songs are moved like puzzle pieces right here.

I don't like Anything Goes. Its plot, characters, Asian racism, and directionless ambling makes me want to go head-first off of a cliff. But its music? Oh man, some of the best Broadway that ever came from Broadway. And so I will continue listening to my cast recordings when I have the time, and, next chance I have to see the show, I will bring along the recording so that I can listen to it between the live musical numbers. All of the good parts of Goes, without the crap. Thank you very much.

To close this post out, allow me to share with you an exciting video: it's one of my favorite Broadway folks, Raul Esparza, performing a song written by one of my favorite composers, Alan Menken, from an upcoming Broadway show based on a movie I never cared to see, Leap of Faith. This is another example of the separation of mumbling and music in theater. I will see Leap of Faith. I don't care how good or bad the show shell around it is. The combination of Raul and Alan promises to give me everything that I want, regardless of how it is framed and driven.

What does this video teach us about Leap of Faith? Not much! It's just Raul leading a chorus of gospel singers in a positive, preachy gospel number. Nothing new about that. But frankly, I don't give a damn.

Anything Went,
- J


  1. Maybe my favorite post to date.
    You summed up Anything Goes, very well.
    (Though I enjoyed the silly humor, esp Evelyn, a little bit more than you did)

  2. The chart you link to showing the show changes is ridiculous! both times I've seen this show I've seen the 1962 version.