Get a Kick Out of These 7 Iconic Reno Sweeneys
As Music Theater Works gears up to perform Cole Porter’s classic musical “Anything Goes” at the Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, Ill., we felt it was time to share our favorite Reno Sweeney performances from the hundreds of productions that have happened around the globe since the show solidified its place in theatrical history in its Broadway premiere 84 years ago. These delightful and de-lovely performances are so easy to love. Baby, if we’re the bottom, then these seven actors are most certainly the top!
No listicle about leading ladies can be started with anyone but Patti Ann LuPone. Her 1987 turn as Reno Sweeney at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center won her the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress, and listening to her belt the show’s famous title number at that year’s Tony Awards it’s easy to see why.
In addition to coproducing the 1989 West End revival of “Anything Goes” at London’s Prince Edward Theatre, Elaine Paige also took on the show’s most famous role to critical acclaim. In the Daily Telegraph, Charles Osborne raved, “Elaine Paige carries the show magnificently,” adding that she delivered the show’s demanding songs “with a power that equals [Ethel] Merman’s.”
Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2011 revival of “Anything Goes” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre took audiences to a whole new level of nautical campiness; Sutton Foster’s Reno Sweeney was described by Ben Brantley in The New York Times as “a big, gleaming presence that floods the house,” and earned her a second Tony Award.
The original West End Reno, Jeanne Aubert remains the only actor to play the role under a different character name; Reno La Grange. The change was one of several made by the acclaimed British author P. G. Wodehouse to the original book in order to make the show more accessible to an English audience.
Stephanie J. Block
Initially standing in for Sutton Foster for just three weeks, Stephanie J Block’s performance was such a hit with audiences that she returned to the role for the final four months of the run. The timing of her initial engagement was such that she performed “You’re the Top” on the Thanksgiving Day Parade, introducing the whole country to her unique and winning turn as Reno Sweeney :
When it was announced that Andrea McArdle was going to be stepping into the role for a new production of “Anything Goes,” every theater kid who grew up watching “Annie” set sail for Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Her unique and instantly recognizable voice breathed new life into Porter’s 82-year-old score, winning her praise from critics including a glowing review in the Press Herald in which she was described as being “simply perfect in the role.”
Sometimes there’s no beating the original. Ethel Merman opened the original production of “Anything Goes” on Broadway in 1934, in the first of what would turn out to be five leading roles she would take on in Cole Porter musicals. She went on to reprise her role in the 1936 film version, but not without a fight. Bing Crosby made his appearance in the film conditional on his wife Dixie Lee being handed the role of Reno Sweeney, and the role wasn’t given back to Ethel until Dixie unexpectedly dropped out of the role after shooting had already begun.