Anything Goes

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, original book by Guy Bolton and P G Wodehouse, revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Trafalgar Theatre, Elaine Davidson and Hill Street Productions, Rupert Gavin, Bookmyshow, Wys En Scene and David Lazar
Palace Theatre, Manchester

Anything Goes
Anything Goes
Anything Goes
Anything Goes
Anything Goes

The current production of Anything Goes, now on tour, was one of the first ’big’ shows to hit the boards as theatres timidly emerged from lockdown. As such, it was a symbol of the resilience of the entertainment industry which adds gravitas to a show with a lightweight plot that serves as a clothesline upon which to hang some of the greatest tunes in musical history. The cheerful whacky nature of the evening is apparent even before the show starts; during the overture, the orchestra conductor gets so carried way he (deliberately) knocks the sailor’s hat off his head. An effect slightly spoilt on opening night by a helpful patron returning the hat, so the gag had to be repeated.

It is hard to see how so many writers were needed to devise a plot that is skimpy at best. Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards,) a young investment broker, rejects amorous advances from club singer Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis), explaining he is in love with socialite Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden). She, along with Reno and Billy’s boss Elisha J Whitney (Simon Callow), are travelling on the SS American and Billy sneaks onto the ship hoping to make contact despite the fact Hope’s social-climbing mother Evangeline Harcourt (Bonnie Langford) has arranged an engagement between her daughter and Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley). The captain of the ship hopes rumours the notorious Moonface Martin (Denis Lawson) has stowed away will be enough to satisfy the desire of the passengers to hob-nob with celebrities. Thus, the scene is set for a series of confusing events resulting in Billy becoming celebrated as Public Enemy Number One.

The silly plot really does not matter; the title refers not just to a resigned acceptance of a decline in moral standards but a willingness to suspend disbelief and accept a larger-than life setting. This is a world in which a patron asks a barman for a double and is given two bottles, or a woman complains she is unaccustomed to a man not trying to take advantage.

The nature of Anything Goes makes it hard to determine a focal point. The plot is so vague, Kerry Ellis emerges as the star by virtue of the fact she gets to sing the best songs. Ellis is not overawed by the classic nature of, and is willing to shape, the songs. "I Get a Kick Out of You" subtly changes from a flirtatious come-on to a rueful acknowledgement of a lost opportunity. Ellis can, however, recognise an opportunity and raises the roof with the title song and especially the ersatz-spiritual "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" sung with the passion of a true believer.

As there is no obvious star; everyone gets a chance to shine. The helium-voiced Carly Mercedes Dyer and chinless wonder Haydn Oakley are glorious comic grotesques and demonstrate the great strength of the production: all of the characters are likeable.

Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall keeps her powder dry, taking a restrained approach until the end of act one. The tile song becomes a full-on all-singing, all-tap-dancing number; so excessive at times, the music pauses just to allow the audience to appreciate the sheer noise of the stamping feet. Typical of a show which rejoices in life, a song in which the lyrics mourn a decline in standards becomes a visual celebration of this deterioration. If there is a flaw in the musical, it is that "Blow, Gabriel, Blow", a song which is climactic in every sense of the word, comes at the opening, rather than the end, of the second act.

This is a classy production; leaving aside the quality of the score and the performances, the set and costumes by, respectively, Derek McLane and Jon Morrell are pure sophistication. Morrell’s stylish set-within-a-set allows cinematic effects with a scene featuring Billy, in a small room lamenting his lost love, to suddenly open up and reveal Hope atop the ship in full voice.

Anything Goes is a gloriously silly and fabulously stylish celebration of everything that theatre, and indeed life, has to offer.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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