Preview: Kathleen Marshall brings Cole Porter's 'Anything Goes' to town


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Correction: Kathleen Marshall attend Smith College. The initial story included the wrong information.

This is Kathleen Marshall's 20th year as a Broadway choreographer, and three Tonys later, it doesn't seem like a New York season if a show doesn't have her stamp on it. The Pittsburgh girl who began as her brother Rob's assistant on "Kiss of the Spider Woman" in 1993 has become known for adapting classic musicals, earning Tonys for best choreography on "The Pajama Game," "Wonderful Town" and "Anything Goes."

While the Gershwin song-and-dance fest "Nice Work If You Can Get It" continues on Broadway, Ms. Marshall's "Anything Goes" is on the road, and she'll be here for the tour's 200th performance Wednesday at Heinz Hall.

'Anything Goes'

Where: PNC Broadway Across America -- Pittsburgh at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

When: Tuesday through April 21. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. next Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. April 20 and 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 21.

Tickets: $20-$68; trustarts.org or 412-392-4900.

The tour of the classic Cole Porter comedy on the high seas stars Broadway veterans Rachel York as the effervescent Reno Sweeney and Fred Applegate as gangster Moonface Martin. While singing Ms. York's praises, The Los Angeles Times' Margaret Gray wrote of the touring show, "Kathleen Marshall, who both directed and choreographed, has dazzlingly reinvigorated a classic escapist treat."

"I love putting together a new company because it's fun for everybody to learn and discover it together," Ms. Marshall said by phone from her New York home. "The great thing is Roundabout Theater Company produced the show on Broadway and also produced the tour, and they really did it up. We have the same size cast we had on Broadway, the same number of musicians, the same costumes. The only modifications were to the sets so we could travel with it, but we still have the beautiful three-tier set. So it feels as much like Broadway as possible, and the cast is so spectacular, you could bring this cast right into New York tomorrow."

Ms. Marshall's career as a choreographer, Tony-nominated director has led her through revivals of the cream of classic musical comedies, including "Grease" and "Kiss Me Kate." "Anything Goes" was a natural notch for her resume, and, besides, who wouldn't want to spend time with Cole Porter's music?

"I think this is one of the great American musicals and it's considered by many to be the best Broadway musical of the 1930s. It needs to continue to be seen and heard -- a lot. "A lot of these songs obviously have lived on in sort of cabaret and singing the American songbook," she said, "but it's also important to remember that these songs came from a story context and were character-based."

She recalled that when the musical was in its early stages at Roundabout in New York, there was talk that it might be too soon after the Lincoln Center revival. Then they realized that show was launched in 1987, "and we actually have several cast members who weren't even born when that happened," she said.

The show's songs read like a Top 40 list of 1930s hits, a lineup that includes "It's De-Lovely," which Robbie Williams sang for the 2004 Cole Porter biopic, "De-Lovely."

Ms. Marshall said it's great to be involved with a show that you know audiences will fall in love with, and spending time with Porter's songs isn't a bad gig.

"We all know his wit and his clever, smart and sophisticated lyrics, but he also wrote songs of beautiful, romantic yearning," she said. "That emotion is inherent in both the lyrics and the melodies, and it's really compelling. We can all sort of admire the cleverness of "You're the Top" and "Friendship," but when you think of something like "Easy to Love" or "I Get a Kick Out of You," and these really raw emotional declarations in a way, I think that's what makes it timeless. It's not just clever, but deeply emotional."

With one show on Broadway and one on the road and twin toddlers at home, Ms. Marshall isn't resting by a long shot. She is attached as director-choreographer to three new musicals at various stages of readiness. It was announced in January that there would be a delay bringing the musical adaptation of "Diner," with a book by Barry Levinson (who wrote and directed the screenplay) and music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow, to Broadway, and there's no timetable for when it might find a New York spot. The same goes for "Ever After," based on the Drew Barrymore film and with a book by Julia Jordan and a score by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler.

"I'm on my way to an 'Ever After' meeting because we're going to do a semi-staged workshop in May and figure our next step after that," she said Tuesday. "Then later this afternoon, I have a 'Diner' meeting to figure out our next step. We want to get a production up somewhere, but will we do a regional production, somewhere, just to get going? With new musicals, you have to have several percolating at once because it can take such a long time to develop and there's the real estate game in New York of getting a theater."

She likened that "game" to planes circling, each looking for a theater in which to land.

The same week she was meeting about "Diner" and "Ever After," another project was taking shape -- an adaptation of the Charles Aznavour French musical, "Lautrec," with Jason Robert Brown ("Parade," "The Last Five Years") adapting the lyrics into English and Alfred Uhry working on the book.

"It has really beautiful music," she said. "We just did a very short two-day reading with actors to hear about the first third of the show. But you never know who's going to get to the finish line first."

Ms. Marshall has worked on new musicals before, including as choreographer of "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Seussical," but it's been a while, and she's enjoying the collaboration process and watching what materializes -- even if development can take years.

"It's exciting when you're working on something like 'Ever After' and you know the score is so beautiful. I just can't wait for the audience to hear it. It's like having a great Christmas present for someone and you can't wait for them to open it."

Attending a show at Heinz Hall will be nothing new for Ms. Marshall, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and followed in the footsteps of her brother, Broadway and Hollywood director-choreographer Rob Marshall. Her parents moved after they retired, but she welcomes the opportunity to visit the old neighborhood.

"I grew up seeing CLO shows at Heinz Hall from the very top balcony and then I performed there and got my Equity card dancing in the ensemble, and the tour of 'Sunset Boulevard,' which I choreographed, opened at the Benedum. So this really is a homecoming in every way. I grew up sitting in those theaters -- the old Stanley and Nixon and Heinz Hall, and that's where I fell in love with musicals. If you told me 40 years ago when I was a little girl that some day I would direct and choreograph a show on that stage, I would have said, 'You're out of your mind. That can't possibly happen.' "

Next week in Pittsburgh, the wraps come off "Anything Goes" for her hometown crowd.

theater

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. First Published April 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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