"Anything Goes" is a 1934 Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and a book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, starring Ethel Merman as Reno Sweeney, the evangelist-turned-nightclub-act and William Gaxton as Billy Crocker, the actual main character.
"Anything Goes" is, in short, the definition of a troubled production. The production's history begins with producer Vinton Freedley putting together a team to write a musical which takes place on a boat. This basic idea, and Cole Porter's music, would remain the only consistent elements of the musical.
The show has been revived on Broadway four different times, with four different scripts. Each revolves around the same seven person main cast, all of whom can be largely described in one sentence:
Reno Sweeney - Reno exists purely to be a large part so that directors can cast famous names as a cheap audience draw.
Billy Crocker - The only other role who is nearly as large as Reno, Billy exists to further the plot.
Hope Harcourt - Hope is the ingenue who exists to be the morally pure love interest.
Lord Evelyn Oakleigh - Pronounced "eevee-lynn", Lord Evelyn exists to be British.
Moonface Martin - The public enemy number 13 exists to be the comic relief.
Bonnie/Erma - Moon's moll exists to be a slut.
Elisha Whitney - Billy's boss (who is sometimes questionably a lead role) exists to cause conflict and be drunk.
Each script revolves around Billy stowing away on a ship which Whitney (who is referred to on a last-name basis) is also taking, and Billy's attempts to avoid his boss while making Hope fall in love with him. There is also always some aspect of Billy masquerading as a gangster and Moonface masquerading as a minister, as well as two aggressively racist Asian characters. Everything works out much as you would expect from a Broadway musical, and the audience leaves the theater smiling and thinking they got their money's worth of safe, (mostly) family-friendly entertainment.
Now pointing out that the characters and plot devices involved are all somewhat flat doesn't mean that this is a bad musical. Though admittedly not much happens, plot-wise, the jokes are funny and the songs are catchy. The show is also noteworthy for its (aforementioned) troubled production, which I want to elaborate a bit on.
Originally, the script involved the wacky hijinks of the main cast as they tried to foil an anarchist on board the boat, who is intent on placing a bomb. Now, depending on who you believe, one of two things changed the plot of the musical forever. Either:
1. A fire on board a real cruise ship a few weeks before the show was to open in Boston made the topic seem somewhat tasteless, or
2. One of the creators (either the producer or Porter, depending on what you read) hated the mess of a play and used the fire as an excuse to completely rework it.
This lead to the show being completely rewritten into the somewhat stereotypical romantic comedy it was performed as. The 1934 version had sixteen musical numbers (and a few reprises), and is notable for having markedly different characters than the other productions. Most interesting, Hope - who is the essence of pure and pristine in the revivals - sings the song "The Gypsy in Me," a song about how wild her sex drive was due to having gypsy blood in her.
But things would change, characters would be flanderized, and three more notable productions would happen.
In 1962, a revival of the musical was done on Broadway. This production came after two different movie adaptations of the play (both, strangely, starring Bing Crosby), both of which had cut the majority of the plot and music from the original. The 1962 production kept this change-happy attitude, and ended up shuffling the majority of the play around while also adding in much music from other Cole Porter plays. In total, six songs stolen from other Porter productions were added to the score, while a total of nine songs (and multiple pieces of other songs, alongside some reprises) were cut entirely. The character of Bonnie was made a larger part of the show, and Reno's character becomes, if not more involved in the plot, more developed. This production's best quality is, without a doubt, the development of the relationship between Reno and Evelyn; where in other productions the two end up together due to the law of "pair the spares," here Reno is shown slowly falling in love with Evelyn throughout the story.
Then, in 1987, the show was revived for a second time. Though the production aimed to stay closer to the 1934 original, it reads much more like a meld between the two stories with an additional twist. While only two of the 1962 added songs stay and many of the original songs are returned, the show actually adds two other Porter songs into the mix and changes many of the songs from plot-drivers into comic moments. This production is probably most notable for starring Patti LuPone as Reno.
Finally (so far), in 2011 a revival was staged - of the 1987 version. This version stays very, very close to the 1987 script with only a few changed jokes and added lyrics. This is also the present version of the musical.
While every version is a perfectly decent, if not world-changing, musical, people's favorites tend to be the first one they saw. However, it's mostly agreed that the 1934 script is the worst of the four, and that the 2011 script is an improvement over the 1987.
Again, this is a perfectly serviceable show. It's something you can take the whole family to, and is very much "classical" musical theater. Now, while I'd recommend more modern shows to anyone looking for a great musical - more recent musicals have begun to venture into darker and deeper stories, veering away from the romantic comedy outline - Anything Goes is still worth seeing if you have the money. Or, really, if you want to see a show and have few other options.