Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Guy Bolton and P G Wodehouse with Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse and subsequently John Weidman and Timothy Crouse
When Broadway chooses to develop a large-scale revival of a musical classic, you can pretty much guarantee that it will be sensational. That was certainly the case with Kathleen Marshall’s 2011 Roundabout production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
Like the ocean-going liner on which the drama develops, the 2021 London production has had something of a stormy ride, several times having to beat back the tempestuous waters of coronavirus during its London transfer to the Barbican.
Pleasingly, the show has been recorded for posterity by the BBC and is available on iPlayer for the foreseeable future. It is also returning to the Barbican this summer, with a new cast fronted by Kerry Ellis.
It will undoubtedly give pleasure to anyone who enjoys classic romantic musicals from what might now be regarded as a golden age for the genre.
The starting point was a book, originally written by one of the best humorous writing duos of the period, Guy Bolton and P G Wodehouse, who create a delightful screwball comedy carried along by a series of timeless songs from Cole Porter.
A decade on from its Broadway debut, the London production was built around the original star, Sutton Foster, and what a star. She is the complete triple threat, singing, dancing and acting her heart out as good, goodtime girl Reno Sweeney.
The plot is always witty if rarely original. It follows a young couple who are in love but find themselves consistently thwarted when they end up with a rare group of fellow passengers on an ocean-going liner.
Supporting Reno, whose unrequited love for the romantic lead adds poignancy, are lonely old folk portrayed by favourites Gary Wilmot and Felicity Kendal, while Robert Lindsay is an epic scene stealer in the laugh-a-minute role of gangster Moonface Martin.
Their fellow passengers both help and hinder the young lovers, Samuel Edwards playing Billy Crocker and Nicole-Lily Baisden as Hope Harcourt, in their efforts to find eventual happiness in a preposterously charming story, the happy conclusion to which is so inevitable that this is not even a plot spoiler.
In addition to the leading lights, there are fine comic cameos from Carla Mercedes Dyer playing a dippy gangster’s moll and Haydn Oakley portraying his noble almost namesake Sir Evelyn Oakleigh.
The plot keeps you going for 2¼ hours, constantly predictable but always very funny. That is only part of the attraction of a musical that includes a stream of catchy songs that have long been classics such as “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “It’s De-Lovely” and “You’re the Top”.
Kathleen Marshall not only directs the production but also came up with choreography which peaks on either side of the interval with the title song and then “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”.
These allow the whole cast to show their fine steps, with Sutton Foster in the vanguard demonstrating exactly why she was flown across the Atlantic to take over the leading role once again.
In these times, we all need feel-good shows and few will make you feel better than this de-lovely version of Anything Goes.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher