A Cole Porter score is like a box of champagne truffles. In this revival of one of his greatest, "Anything Goes," the box comes with deluxe wrapping. Even if a few of the pieces have hazelnut filling, the quality of the chocolate is so high, why complain?
"Anything Goes" is a sort of "ship of fools" with period types sailing to Europe at the height of the Depression with nothing more on their minds but which of their fellow passengers are celebrities. What gives these cartoon characters "redeeming social value" is that they sing songs like "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," "Easy to Love," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and the title number.
What makes this production so effervescent is that Jerry Zaks has directed it not as camp, but as if it really mattered. To cite one example, Anthony Heald plays an English lord captivated by American slang. The role is written as a joke, but Heald plays him so convincingly you greet his every entrance with glee, not a groan.
Among the production's other assets are Howard McGillin, who has a great voice; Linda Hart as a Betty Boop-like gunmoll; and Bill McCutcheon, whose deadpan is just perfect.
The disappointment is Patti LuPone, who sings with siren strength but whose mushy diction deprives us of a lot of Porter's wit. But judging by the audience response, some people like hazelnut.
The orchestrations have nostalgic power, the choreography great brio and the sets and costumes enormous style. Like last year's "The Front Page," "Anything Goes" draws its strength from its savvy use of the American vernacular. Lincoln Center has again restored to us an American treasure.
It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely, it's "Anything Goes," and everything does. It is the best musical in town, and probably will remain so for the foreseeable future.
This gift of the Lincoln Center Theater to New York City opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater last night, and it's delectable, it's delirious, it's dilemma, it's deluxe, and it's...Cole Porter, who so far has written most of this notice himself.
The show has everything, from some knockout performances spearheaded by Patti Lupone - a vest-pocket Merman as the hot-gospeller Reno Sweeney; marvelous cruise-line designs by Tony Walton, including a ship gorgeous enough to make the Love Boat seem platonic; split-second staging by Jerry Zaks and snappy choreography from Michael Smuin.
The fashionable thing is to dismiss '20s and '30s musical comedies as antediluvian playthings outmoded by the flood of Rodgers, Hammerstein and the worthy rest who gave the Broadway musical a serious place in the world.
Just how unserious were these confections? Admittedly, they were never about art not being easy, scarcely sang songs of social significance, and no one ever died at the end.
All the same, "Anything Goes" is about love and honesty, the one never running smooth and the other satisfactorily rewarded. Surely as serious as, say, Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte."
It was Gregory Mosher, director of the Lincoln Center Theater, who decided to take a chance with a new book of "Anything Goes" by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. This version follows the original at a respectable distance, being both sharper and more cohesive. He was clearly taking an inspired risk.
But it was a risk backed up by the inspired music and lyrics of Cole Porter. To make a sure thing even more sure, the present collaborators, including music director Edward Strauss, threw in a few extra Porter songs - including "It's De-lovely" - from other shows.
The result is a shipboard romance awash with melody and going full-steam ahead with wit. Of all the Broadway greats - including the Gershwins - no one has ever matched Porter's flair for mixing words with music.
The music is the nearest thing the 20th century ever got to Mozart, and for sheer verbal magic, simple dazzlement, Porter's lyrics surpass even such theatrical masters as Lerner and Sondheim.
The story - set aboard a transatlantic liner - was first dreamed up by the redoubtable English Broadway duo of Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse; then hastily revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse when its original shipwreck ending was made unpalatable by a real-life sea tragedy.
In this latest - not so different - manifestation, Reno Sweeney, a red-hot evangelist turned nightclub act, loves poor, honest but resourceful Billy Crocker (Howard McGillin), who in turn loves moderately poor but wildly socialite Hope Harcourt (Kathleen Mahony-Bennett), who is engaged to wealthy, titled Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Anthony Heald) who in turn loves Reno Sweeney without knowing it.
Billy Crocker stows away on the ship, to the eventual consternation of his charmingly drunken, myopic boss Elisha Whitney (Rex Everhart), who once knew passion for Hope's mother, Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (Anne Francine.)
The plot is thickened, and finally thinned out, by the presence on board of a gangster, Public Enemy No. 13, posing as a machine-gun toting priest, Moonface Martin (Bill McCutcheon) and Erma (Linda Hart), an odd but delightful gangster's moll who has lost her gangster.
It all ends happily, but not before everyone, especially the audience, has had a wonderful time.
It is first, foremost and last the music, lyrics and sensibility of Cole Porter that make "Anything Goes" so intoxicating, like champagne on an empty stomach to the sound of gurgling caviar amid muted trumpets.
But under Mosher's keen supervising eye and Zaks' inspired direction, anything that could be done to make "Anything Goes" go, triumphantly was done.
Is this the Vivian Beaumont Theater that people used to say was unusable? Tony Walton's scenery and costumes are totally delightful, adroitly moving from deck to stateroom with a carefree insouciance.
Also watch for the dances. Michael Smuin, former director of the San Francisco Ballet, is the first important classically trained choreographer to hit Broadway since Jerome Robbins, and he does a slap-up job with the dances, including the cleverest spoof tango to hit the stage since Frederick Ashton's immortal "Facade" for Britain's Royal Ballet.
While you are watching for the dances, also watch for the dancers. They are some of the best-looking kids on Broadway and seem electrically charged with vitality.
This vitality runs through the entire show, starting, of course, with the sensational Lupone, who sings - in a sort of soprano-like baritone - as well as dances and acts with supreme authority.
But Lupone, dominating the stage with a friendly but firm regality, is only the icing on the cake, and the fire in the cracker, for the rest of the cast is also terrific.
Forget about the Colosseum, the Louvre museum, a melody from a symphony by Strauss - Patti LuPone is the top. As Reno Sweeney, the sassy nightclub singer in the Lincoln Center revival of ''Anything Goes,'' Ms. LuPone has her first sensational New York role since ''Evita'' in 1979, and, given that Cole Porter is the evening's buoyant guiding spirit, you don't have to fear that she'll succumb to death scenes in the second act.
With her burst of Lucille Ball red hair, a trumpet's blare in her voice and lips so insinuatingly protruded they could make the Pledge of Allegiance sound lewd, Ms. LuPone's Reno is a mature, uninhibited jazz dame: loose, trashy, funny, sexy. Ethel Merman she's not - the difference in belting power is mainly apparent in ''Blow, Gabriel, Blow'' -but who is? Ms. LuPone has her own brash American style and, most of all, a blazing spontaneity: With this Reno, everything goes. At the end of Act I, which should by all rights conclude with the full-throttle dance number accompanying the title song, she has the audacity to upstage the entire company and bring down the act with a broad wink into the Vivian Beaumont's auditorium. By then, most of the crowd is ready to take Ms. LuPone home, and not necessarily to mother.
Although the star and her share of unbeatable Porter standards (did I fail to mention ''I Get a Kick Out of You''?) are the essential sparks for this ''Anything Goes,'' the production, directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Michael Smuin, has its other lightheaded though inconsistent virtues. Indeed, yesterday's performance by the stock market may allow the show to serve the same escapist mission in 1987 that it did in 1934, when it tickled those Depression audiences who could still laugh at jokes about suicide leaps on Wall Street.
In ''Anything Goes,'' nearly everyone has money and love to burn. The setting is a ship of foolishness en route from New York to London, the S.S. American, whose passenger list includes a stowaway swain named Billy Crocker (Howard McGillin), the debutante he adores from afar (Kathleen Mahony-Bennett), the debutante's foolish but wealthy English fiance (Anthony Heald) and Moonface Martin, a gangster disguised as a parson. Moonface, who is Public Enemy No. 13 and aiming higher, is played by Bill McCutcheon, most recently of ''The Front Page,'' and to say he has a moonface is to do the performer's priceless mug a disservice. His is a moonface that might have been carved out of pink, quivering Jell-O, with a bite taken out where the chin should be. Throw in a slow-burn comic delivery that harks back to the vanished traditions of burlesque -not even a dog's invasion of his trousers can excite Mr. McCutcheon -and you have to wonder if even the fabled Victor Moore got more laughs in the role.
The evening can use all the low humor at Mr. McCutcheon's disposal, because ''Anything Goes'' does tend to list when the singing subsides. Timothy Crouse and John Weidman have good-naturedly but perhaps too earnestly rejiggered the original book (a Guy Bolton-P. G. Wodehouse and Howard Lindsay-Russel Crouse affair). There's an excess of routine farcical exposition to get the right romantic partners together and to provide cues for songs that are too famous to require any windy introduction. The corny, sporadically amusing one-liners, many of them at the expense of Porter's alma mater of Yale, give the script the collegiate air of a Harvard Hasty Pudding show.
In keeping with contemporary practice, Mr. Crouse and Mr. Weidman have interpolated Porter songs not originally written for ''Anything Goes'' - some of them welcome (''It's Delovely,'' ''Friendship''), some of them dead weight (''I Want to Row on the Crew,'' ''Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye''). Mr. Zaks, the superb director of ''The House of Blue Leaves'' and other plays, reveals real promise as a stager of big-time musical comedies, but he as yet lacks the eye, or maybe the ruthlessness, required to trim those numbers or scenes that break the show's momentum. There are extended, avoidable sags in the shanks of both acts.
Mr. Zaks's casting also frays a bit around the edges. Though Mr. McGillin is an ideal clean-cut leading man - his full voice and Brooks Brothers looks are perfection without being saccharine - we never understand why his Billy prefers Ms. Mahony-Bennett's insipid ingenue to Reno Sweeney. There's far more eroticism in ''You're the Top,'' an early show-stopping duet for Mr. McGillin and Ms. LuPone, than there is in the subsequent pairings of Mr. McGillin and his sweetheart on ''It's Delovely'' and ''All Through the Night.'' In the secondary comic roles, the happy contributions of Mr. Heald's malaprop-prone, tango-dancing English twit and Linda Hart's brassy good-time girl are somewhat counterbalanced by mugging fellow passengers who look ready to ship out in a stock tour of ''No, No, Nanette.''
Nearly everything else has gone right. Mr. Smuin, inexplicably absent from Broadway as a choreographer since ''Sophisticated Ladies,'' does a clever job of finessing the limited dancing abilities of his leads even as he lets his chorus loose in beguine, tap, soft-shoe and ballroom routines that lovingly evoke the Hollywood of Astaire and Hermes Pan. That gifted lighting designer Paul Gallo bathes the dances in radiant hues that somehow reproduce the exact quality of moonshine in black-and-white movies while splashing the stage in the widest imaginable spectrum of Technicolor.
In this feat, Mr. Gallo is aided by Tony Walton, whose sets and costumes are a mad yet always tasteful fantasy of Art Deco glitz. The Beaumont stage becomes a two-level ocean liner, with Edward Strauss's swinging band holding forth on the top deck, that recalls the topography of Mr. Walton's design for Bob Fosse's ''Chicago'' yet also evokes Donald Oenslager's celebrated set for the original ''Anything Goes.'' The costumes, from the starched sailors' whites to the translucent red top hats of the most statuesque chorus women, are afizz. At one point Ms. LuPone is poured into a slinky white gown embroidered with a strategically placed silver highball glass. Reno Sweeney may get no kick from champagne, but the audience can't be blamed for drinking it all up.