Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
New Book: Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Director and Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall
Anything Goes is certainly a hoot and a half. This new production, which welcomes full capacity audiences back to the Barbican, arrives alongside Chichester’s South Pacific and Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in a nostalgic summer of musicals looking back to the golden age of Hollywood and Broadway where all your need to do is kick up your heels and sing your troubles away.
Star-crossed lovers Billy Crocker and Hope Harcourt haven’t a chance of marrying; she’s shipbound for England with aristocratic fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh while he’s been ordered back to Wall Street by his boss.. But Billy becomes an accidental stowaway where he bumps into old friend and nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and disguised gangster Moonface Martin who give Billy hope.
With Kathleen Marshall at the helm, this all-star revival of Anything Goes certainly wows the audience, earning two impossibly rare mid-show standing ovations and ecstatic applause after every number. It’s not all plain sailing thought, the plot is slight with coincidences, disguises and plenty of farce, and there are a lot of comings and goings in the high octane first Act where some of Cole Porter’s famous tunes support the who- loves -who exposition in a whirl of activity that doesn’t hold still long enough to really know the characters.
And while the big names will earn most of the plaudits, this is a choreographer’s show, and it absolutely belongs to Marshall who stages a breath-taking sequence of dance numbers performed by an impressive ensemble on Derek McLane’s stunning art deco cruise liner set that comes in a close second place. Using three performance heights, McLane fill the stage with exterior deck sequences, luxurious if tiny cabin interiors and a shimmering dance hall.
Just before the interval Marshall stages an exhilarating and extended tap routine to the title song Anything Goes that involves complex changes of rhythm, different configurations of the partial and full cast as well as using every level of the staging. The stamina, dexterity and coordination needed to coordinate such a long routine is incredible and this glorious end to the first half is the moment the show finally has the wind in its sails.
Throughout Act Two, Marshall delivers hit after hit beginning with Blow, Gabriel, Blow filled with equally intricate movement but set to a gospel soundtrack with darker notes from Latin rhythms. Here the ensemble move as a tight pack, drawn together in close formation that emphasises the sultry nature of Marshall’s jazz choreography. Later, Haydn Oakley and Sutton Foster gamely perform a hilariously overcooked paso doble during The Gypsy in Me and Carly Mercedes Dyer shines in Buddie, Beware. This really is a night for dancing.
The big draws, of course, are the famous faces in the leading roles; Sutton Foster warms up as Reno, a quiet start that preserves her energy for the song and dance masterclass to come while Robert Lindsay shines as Moonface Martin with some brilliant physical comedy and a character that develops a bit of a heart. Gary Wilmot’s buffoonish Elisha Whitney and Felicity Kendal’s screeching Mrs Harcourt complete the celebrity cast. Samuel Edwards brings an excellent vocal range as the likeable Billy developing a convincing chemistry with Nicole-Lily Bisden’s Hope.
The show isn’t quite perfect but it’s full steam ahead from the end of the first Act, begging the question why doesn’t the Barbican stage more musicals? It has hosted transfers from Regent’s Park but with production values of this quality and plenty of imaginative choices, Anything Goes is De-Lovely.
Runs until 31 October 2021