January was so cold and dead in the Chicago theater that I was daydreaming about going on a cruise. As luck would have it, someone pulled up to the Ruth Page Center for the Arts downtown on Friday night with the kind of headlining performer better suited to Broadway than the high seas.
This star would be Chicago’s own Meghan Murphy, a resounding powerhouse with a wry sense of humor and a fiercely intelligent, present-tense presence. Eschewing any pretense of being a generous spirit, Murthy is a surefire mainstay for a show like Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” (For the record, a Broadway revival of “Spamalot” could use her in the Lady of the Lake role, which she made her own at the Mercury Theater pre-pandemic). Here, Murphy stars as nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, a role originally penned for Ethel Merman. And whenever the ship’s doors open and Murphy emerges from the middeck in director Michael Weber’s production, you can feel the heat and hear the hiss of melting snow on the pavement outside.
“Anything Goes” first appeared in 1934 and gave the Great American Songbook such venerable recordings as “You’re the Top,” “All Through the Night” and “I Get a Kick Out of You,” along with the title track. .” This original book belonged to PG Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. But in 1987, writers Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) and John Weidman penned a new libretto for a Lincoln Center production starring Patti LuPone, keeping the character types but changing the plot slightly (not that big of a deal) and They rearranged the musical numbers. and who says them? More importantly, they built on Porter’s practice of adding songs he had written for other shows (such as “Friendship,” written for the 1939 musical “DuBarry Was a Lady”).). In summary, when almost everyone in this show opens their mouth to sing, the audience already knows the song from thousands of studio recordings.
Murphy isn’t the only good singer here: Luke Nowakowski (who plays male lead Billy Crocker) and Emma Ogea (as owner Hope Harcourt) also do justice to the music and manage to hold their own against Murphy; New face Ogea, who is still in college, makes her sonically rich debut in Chicago.
The comedy was much less successful than I’ve seen it work before; These scenes are now a tall order, given that even the significant 1987 revision is showing its age. However, it’s worth noting that this show satirizes the power of celebrities and mimics self-promotion long before it was fashionable to do so.
In this production, Act 1 is stronger than Act 2; because the show’s unveiling of its various romantic complications isn’t always perfectly in sync. At least on opening night, the finale felt rushed and abrupt. The production also needed more space and air around Tammy Mader’s choreography, which, as is often the case in Mader’s work, was not always remarkable. This is a big cast crammed into a small stage, and at times they seem a little nervous with this candidate.
But none of this will do much to spoil your enjoyment of a well-timed show marked by liveliness, honesty, vulnerability and a palpable love of old-school Broadway. Once the show settles at sea and the mostly young cast starts to relax and actually have fun, the show’s waves will get more of the suds they need. Murphy can take the surfboard.
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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Everything Passes” (3 stars)
When: Until February 25
Where: Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.
Working time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Tickets: $48-$72 porchmusictheatre.org