Lisa Helmi Johanson and Corbin Bleu in “Anything Goes” at Arena Stage. (Maria Baranova)
Theater critic

The Cole Porter musical comedy “Anything Goes” exists to put a daffy grin on your face, and nothing in the sturdy new Arena Stage production is better at making that happen than Corbin Bleu. When he dances, the former “High School Musical” star has blithe style — he’s easy and light, bliss with class from the moment he starts swirling to “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

Bleu is the ace in a deck of jokers, for the 1934 “Anything Goes” is the deliriously overstuffed farce about mobsters and bankers and lovers crisscrossing on a transatlantic cruise; if you’re looking for sheer escape, this is your ticket. Bleu plays Billy Crocker, who falls hard for debutante Hope Harcourt (a winsome Lisa Helmi Johanson), who’s engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, an Englishman who delights in American slang and usually gets it wrong.

“You’re the rat’s pajamas,” Jimmy Ray Bennett says in his jolly turn as Oakleigh, which includes some limber comic dancing in “The Gypsy in Me.”

Ah, the dancing: If you know “Anything Goes,” you’re primed to have the title tune cycling merrily through your brain for days and for the rhythmic rattle of a stage full of tap dancers lifting your own step. Parker Esse’s choreography largely delivers as the title tune sends the audience out to intermission; playing nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, Soara-Joye Ross heads an ever-growing chorus wearing red, white and blue in a long unison tap, feet clacking and arms swinging free to the sky.

Ken MacDonald’s set on the in-the-round Fichandler Stage features a small unit occasionally popping up from the floor — ship’s cabins, a brig, a platform lifting Reno to starry heights as numbers swell. As the antic gangster Moonface Martin, Stephen DeRosa even jokes about the nautical railings toted on and off between scenes, firmly lodging his elbow in the audience’s ribs. The performance isn’t really that loose — the disguises, double-crosses and wisecracking can be awfully hard-working as the high jinks wind past two and a half hours — but DeRosa’s in high second-banana mode, and his caffeinated clowning has spunk.


Jimmy Ray Bennett and Soara-Joye Ross in “Anything Goes.” (Maria Baranova)

Ross’s Reno Sweeney isn’t the kind of dancing dynamo that drove Kathleen Marshall’s thoroughly razzmatazz Broadway revival, seen on tour here in 2013. Ross’s formal-sounding singing is more concert than nightclub, but she’s tough and funny, and her Reno is plenty ritzy as costume designer Alejo Vietti wraps her in gown after shimmery gown. As Moonface’s sidekick Erma, Maria Rizzo is a flinty moll squarely in the 1930s mold — tight dress, tart tongue — and her sultry, aloof love ’em-leave ’em dance slaying four separate sailors in “Buddie, Beware” is as stylish as anything Esse fashions.

Smith doffs her cap to Porter by spotlighting conductor Paul Sportelli during the overture; the nine-piece orchestra he conducts is just out of sight below decks. The vintage score sounds silky, if not fully brassy (Paul Sportelli is the music director), the energy’s high, and the old script has been gently tuned up for modern ears. A line like “You always did know how to fill out a girdle” makes the audience groan, but modern sensitivities won’t otherwise be ruffled much by Smith’s alert handling of the material.

The engine hums pretty well, though the revival isn’t solid gold. As winning as Bleu is, his singing could use more leading-man muscle (he has a soft Gene Kelly thing going on), and romantic sparks seldom ignite amid all the hellzapoppin’ comedy, which can wear you down with its aggressiveness. But if you’re in the market for a lark, this bright, high-octane show will probably do, especially when Bleu takes center stage to tap and glide his cares away.

Anything Goes, music and lyrics by Cole Porter, original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. Directed by Molly Smith. Lights, Kimberly Purtell; sound design, Daniel Erdberg. About two hours and 40 minutes. Through Dec. 23 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. $40-$125, subject to change. 202-488-3300 or arenastage.org