Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”

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Cole Porter

The second half of our upcoming Pops show will consist entirely of wonderful songs from the classic musical “Anything Goes.”  Here’s a little history on this beloved show!

A bomb threat aboard an ocean liner leaves our lead characters shipwrecked on a desert island – hijinks ensue! Or maybe some of the lead characters, who already have false identities when they sneak on board, are forced to change disguise midway through the voyage – hijinks ensue! No, wait: two Broadway producers are looking for a new leading lady during their Atlantic crossing! In any case, hijinks will ensue somehow, and you can bet on a lot of singing and dancing. Other than that, well…Anything Goes!

Producer Vincent Freedley initially imagined a musical comedy set on an ocean liner. He tapped English humorist P. G. Wodehouse and British-American playwright Guy Bolton to write the story, and Cole Porter to compose the music, with Ethel Merman in mind as the comic lead. The resulting story contained the aforementioned bomb and shipwreck – but then, weeks before the opening, a real ocean liner caught fire, casing over a hundred deaths. This may have caused the production team to scrap the story line as being in bad taste; alternatively, some say they scrapped it because it was simply a mess. With the original authors now unavailable, director Howard Lindsey and press agent Russell Crouse cooked up a whole new plot.

When the show opened, audiences saw a tale of a stock broker attempting to woo an heiress who is engaged to someone else; he stows away on the ocean liner she is boarding, and in the process falls in with a pair of gangsters pretending to be missionaries. Disguises are donned, identities are swapped, and lead character Reno Sweeney, powered by Ethel Merman’s pipes after all, brings about happy endings all ’round. Porter had outdone himself on the score, creating a string of memorable songs like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and the title track, all of which went on to become iconic hits.

The original production ran on Broadway for 420 performances; when it opened in London’s West End, it lasted for 261. The show was revived as an off-Broadway production in 1962 with considerable revisions; later Porter compositions were added, and songs were shuffled from act-to-act as well as character-to-character. Ethel Merman reprised her role for a television production in 1954 that involved Bert Lahr, Frank Sinatra, and a plot that resembled the original only in that it was set on a ship. In 1956 came a film that changed the plot again, but kept the ocean liner and all the songs and dances, ably performed by Bing Crosby, Donald O’Connor, and Mitzi Gaynor.

Modern revivals, starting in 1987 with Patti LuPone and most recently in 2011 with Sutton Foster, have done further re-writes, whether trying to return the show to its original state, or making further changes. The one constant throughout the show’s history has remained Cole Porter’s songs, with their masterful blend of sparkling wit, beautiful melodies, and complex rhythms. Perhaps the best approach is the one we are taking in our Pops show: forget about the story line and don’t worry about who is singing to whom—just sit back and enjoy the music and dancing!