Original Book: PG Wodehouse &Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay &Russel Crouse
New Book: Timothy Crouse &John Weidman
Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Director: Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Laura Maley
After an acclaimed festive run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, director Daniel Evans’s energetic and stylish Anything Goes takes in Manchester’s Opera House on its lengthy UK tour.
Summarising the plot of Anything Goes in a sentence would be tricky. It features a criminals stowed away on a transatlantic cruise ship; several misunderstandings, disguises and deceptions, romance (of course) and much more ridiculousness besides.
At the centre of Anything Goes is stockbroker Billy Crocker (Matt Rawle), and his singer friend, Reno Sweeney (Debbie Kurup). Reno’s in love with Billy, but Billy’s in love with a girl he has only met once, debutante Hope Harcourt (Zoë Rainey). However, Hope is engaged to English aristocrat Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Stephen Matthews). They all end up on a cruise ship. Essentially, there’s a paper-thin plot linking together a series of Cole Porter songs. But that convoluted plot hasn’t stopped Anything Goes being a favourite with audiences for the past 80 years.
In spite of PG Wodehouse’s involvement in the original script, the show is not as funny as this might suggest and some of the more dated jokes fall flat. Though it has some farcical elements, it lacks the intricacy and pace of a really good farce. And the plot’s thinness means some of the scenes between songs turn into lulls.
As Reno, Kurup gets the best numbers. Kurup is a brilliant performer and consistently lights up the stage. She has a gift for quirky physical detail and comedy, quite apart from her vocal and dance abilities. Well-known duets You’re The Top (with Billy) and Friendship (with gangster Moonface Martin – a very entertaining and well cast Shaun Williamson) both meet the audience’s approval with their witty silliness and excellent on-stage chemistry. But the title number is the biggest highlight at the end of Act One. Anything Goes is a total showstopper: a high energy party that makes many an audience member want to clamber on stage and be part of; with Kurup leading the way.
However honorary mentions to Matthews with his transformative and rampantly comic, The Gypsy in Me, and gangster’s moll Erma (Alex Young) who holds the audience’s and the accompanying male ensemble under her spell for the duration of Buddie, Beware.
Rawle and Rainey as the young lovers are well matched, and make it all look and sound very easy. Rawle has the requisite appeal of a leading man and Rainey’s vocals are rich and beautiful, though underused as Hope’s songs aren’t quite as memorable and the character suffers from lack of anything really substantial to do. Billy and Hope are, dare I say it, just a little bit wet.
All told, this is a stylish production, creatively as well as in the performances. Alistair David’s choreography is at times captivating – no opportunity is wasted, including some on-stage synchronised swimming, and the wonderful tap numbers. The swift set transition from cocktail lounge to on-board the SS America offers a clever wow factor early on and Richard Kent’s costume designs (particularly the ladies’) are as elegant as his set design. The covetable costumes include beautifully cut, flowing gowns and palazzo pants in pale metallics for debutante Hope Harcourt, and more revealing, red, white and blue outfits for Reno Sweeney and the chorus.
A very enjoyable night out which should have you humming some of those old classics, tapping your toes all the way back home; and looking out for Debbie Kurup in future productions.
Runs until 18 April 2015 | Photo: Johan Perrson