On paper, the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “Anything Goes” must have looked like a sure thing.
Leggy, clarion-voiced, star to play evangelist-turned speakeasy chanteuse Reno Sweeney? Check. Twinkle-eyed aging trouper to play Public Enemy #13, Moonface Martin? Check. Hot-as-a-griddle director-choreographer? Check. Lavish Art Deco settings on an ocean liner? Check.
Watch a YouTube clip of Sutton Foster strutting her stuff in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and you know there’s nothing this irrepressible hoofer can’t -- and won’t -- do onstage to win your heart. Here, too, there’s little she doesn’t try on the stage of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre as Reno. She taps, mugs, swings, sways and sings her way through Cole Porter’s 1934 trove of musical gems and vaudeville foolishness with dazzle and relish.
Reno is the role that made Ethel Merman a star and was played, in a performance still ripe in the memory, by Patti LuPone in Lincoln Center Theater’s smashing 1987 revival.
Yet this appealing performer generated more heat being wooed by an ogre in “Shrek” than she does here. With her eyes constantly darting around as if unsure of her place on the stage, Foster seems uncharacteristically out of sync both physically and vocally with her partners.
This may be due to a fatal lack of chemistry with her charmless partner, Colin Donnell, as the striver Billy Crocker. What she sees in him, I’ll never know and anyway, Billy’s in love with the heiress Hope Harcourt, played by Laura Osnes with strained earnestness.
The sexlessness may also be the result of Kathleen Marshall’s generic choreography, in which the romantic leads are several steps too far apart and the chorus is frequently off in the distance. Most of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” set on the ship’s several decks, seems to be taking place in a different theater.
As Moonface, Joel Grey is so puppy-dog cute you may be inclined to toss him overboard along with a pet dog named Cheeky. Jessica Walter shows proper hauteur playing Hope’s dowager mother (and Cheeky’s mistress). As Hope’s British intended, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, Adam Godley honks through “The Gypsy in Me,” in one of the more painful musical numbers I’ve ever sat through.
Best of the older generation is the reliably smooth John McMartin, as Billy’s boozy boss, Elisha Whitney.
Timothy Crouse and John Weidman’s re-revised book (first undertaken for the Lincoln Center production) turns the silly original into a dopey groaner. Fortunately, they couldn’t harm a score that also includes “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-lovely” and “Friendship.” And don’t worry: Cheeky survives, even if little else does.
At the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St. Information: 1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com Rating: *
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)