Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Book: PG Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay
New Book: Timothy Crouse, John Weidman
Director: Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Alex Ramon
Following its highly acclaimed and hugely successful run as Sheffield Theatres’ 2014 Christmas show, Daniel Evans’s production of Anything Goes now tours, arriving at Wimbledon before heading on to (deep breath) Aylesbury, Stoke-on-Trent, Bromley, Bradford, Hull, Liverpool, Eastbourne, Southampton, Manchester, Glasgow, Dartford, Northampton, High Wycombe, Belfast, York, Plymouth, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Wolverhampton, Aberdeen, Dublin, Torquay, Bournemouth, Woking, Oxford, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Sunderland and Bristol (phew!) over the coming months. This epic tour is an occasion to celebrate, for this is a charming and energetic production of a show that can’t be called perfect in its construction, but that still – eighty years on from its debut – clearly boasts ample audience appeal.
The action of Cole Porter’s 1934 musical comedy unfolds on a Southampton-bound transatlantic liner, where a motley group of passengers – most of them pretending to be someone they’re not – flirt, fight and fall in love. Among the travellers is an English lord, his younger American fiancée and her mother; a Wall Street stockbroker who’s in love with the aristo’s girl and who’s stowing away in the hope of convincing her to change her mind about her impending marriage; a priest who’s actually a gangster; and a nightclub singer who’s in love with the stowaway but who ends up bewitching the lord.
Multiple cases of mistaken and falsely assumed identity ensue, of course. But, busy as it is, the book for this particular musical – which was originally written by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and then revised by Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, Timothy Crouse and John Weidman – comes off as pretty much a mere skeleton on which to hang the Cole Porter numbers. There’s a whole lot of rather imprecise farcical plot: much of it creaky and corny, it must be said. But, for the most part, Anything Goes works fine as a revue-like item since it’s glitteringly studded with some of Porter’s most seductive songs, which are delivered divinely here by a crack cast.
As the chanteuse Reno Sweeney (a rôle previously played by Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige), dynamic Debbie Kurup gives a star-making turn, dancing up a storm, duetting delightfully with Matt Rawle (who plays the ever-disguise-donning Billy Crocker) on “You’re The Top” and sharing several priceless interludes with the very funny Stephen Matthews as the slang-mangling nobleman who falls for her. The likeable Rawle partners Zoe Rainey (playing the fiancée) charmingly on “It’s De-Lovely,” and there’s lovely work from Simon Rouse as an oft-sozzled banker.
Meanwhile, Hugh Sachs (for many of us always the much-missed Gavin in ITV’s Benidorm) demonstrates his great timing as Moonface Martin (“Public Enemy Number 13”) whether duetting with Kurup on “Friendship” or stuffing a Pekingese down his pants (and suffering the consequences) in one of the show’s most memorable madcap moments.
These performers help to ensure that, after a slightly flat opening, Evans’s pell-mell production does justice to the show’s goofiness and its romance. Also adding to the fun is deluxe (if at times rather indulgent) choreography by Alistair David (including a Busby Berkeley homage and an absolutely delirious tap-happy routine for the show’s title song), swish designs by Richard Kent, cheeky ensemble work, and a tight band that swings fetchingly under Tom Brady’s musical direction. The patchy book perhaps prevents Anything Goes from being a true classic musical, but this is certainly an effervescent, highly enjoyable production.
Runs until 7th February.