As regular readers know, I love a good old-fashioned musical, and this summer, one of the first musicals I have ever seen returns to London for a limited run at the iconic Barbican Centre. So, I donned my sailor suit, walked up the gangplank, took my seat and settled back to revisit Anything Goes.
In a New York bar, businessman Elisha J. Whitney (Gary Wilmot) is waiting for his assistant Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards) to confirm the arrangements for his trip across the Atlantic on the SS American. Elisha is desperate for Crocker to arrive as he has a hot Wall Street tip that he needs Billy to act on while he’s away. Arrangements made Elisha departs, and Billy is joined by his old friend, the sultry evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Sutton Foster). The two talk and Reno expresses her feelings for Billy who unfortunately doesn’t reciprocate as he has fallen in love with a beautiful girl he met at a party. The next day, Billy goes to the docks to bid his boss farewell and spies the girl getting onto the ship. He quickly learns that she is Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden) an heiress from a wealthy family wiped out by the Wall Street crash. Hope’s mother Evangeline (Felicity Kendal) has decided the only way out of their financial predicament is to marry her daughter off to a wealthy member of the English aristocracy, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley). Billy doesn’t know this and, forgetting his boss’ orders, sneaks aboard the ship to meet Hope and win her over. With the help of Moonface Martin (Robert Lindsay) – a sort of gangster and officially Public Enemy No 13 – and his mol, Erma (Carly Mercedes Dyer) Billy must find a way to stay on the ship, meet Hope and avoid his boss, while all around him, the SS American turns into a love boat bringing people together for high seas hi-jinks and romance.
With music and lyrics by Cole Porter and an original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, Anything Goes is off to a winning start before the conductor raises their baton. The story, revised by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman, is a mixture of drama, comedy and farce as various groups of people either try to get together or avoid one another. In fact, it is definitely not a conventional story of boy-meets-girl, falls in love, has problems, and finally wins out. There are multiple love stories going on, not to mention some fascinating insights into the fickle world of fame and pride. But it is easy to follow and really works well. Does everything come out right in the end for everybody? Well, that would be telling, but on the way, there is a great story and some truly memorable music with songs including “I Get A Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top” and the literal show-stopping “Blow Gabriel Blow”.
So, we’ve got a good story, great musical numbers, what else do we need? Oh yes, a stellar cast. Musical theatre stalwarts Gary Wilmot and Robert Lindsay deliver the polished and superb performances you have come to expect from them. Felicity Kendal, who at 74 is starring in her first stage musical, shines as the scheming mother and Carly Mercedes Dyer, Nicole-Lily Baisden and Samuel Edwards excel in their roles as Erma, Hope and Billy respectively. But this is Sutton Foster’s show. From her first entrance, she dominates the stage with a performance that cannot be bettered. On the evening I saw the show, there were three standing ovations, two of which were for Foster’s performances. I’ve only twice seen standing ovations for individual songs in a musical – Kerry Ellis singing “Memory” in Cats, Imelda Staunton singing “Rose’s Turn” in Gypsy – but foster’s performance of “Blow Gabriel Blow”, backed by the entire cast, had us all on our feet clapping, stamping and cheering for a good five minutes or so. Foster doesn’t just sing and dance but acts as well, making her the perfect triple threat. In fact, this is a very talented cast all around, and the dancers, in particular, are really put through their paces with some of the most energetic tap routines I’ve seen since 42nd Street returned to London.
Derek McLane has created two main sets for the show. The first is a wonderful art deco style Manhattan bar and the second is a perfect multi-level representation of a cruise ship in the 1930s which leaves lots of space for the large cast to sing, dance and perform Kathleen Marshall Direction & Choreography. And a quick word about costumes. They are many and varied and wonderfully authentic-looking, with Foster never seeming to wear an outfit for more than 5 minutes. Full credit to Designer Jon Morrell. And this comes not only from me but also from the lady I was sitting next to who is a costume designer on a very well-known period drama. I can’t say which one, but Lady Whistledown would be familiar with it.
I’m guessing by now you have realised I was totally enamoured by Anything Goes. It’s a high octane, high energy nautical romp that completely blows away the cobwebs and sends its audience home floating on a cloud of memorable music and unforgettable performances. The show is on a limited run, which has been extended until the 31st October, and is definitely the must-see musical event of 2021… (until Frozen opens).
Review by Terry Eastham
All aboard for this saucy and splendid major new production of Cole Porter and P. G. Wodehouse’s classic musical of pure escapism, Anything Goes. Featuring a joyful, gold-plated score of theatre’s most memorable standards, including ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘It’s De-Lovely!’ and Anything Goes, with a 50 strong company featuring a full-sized live orchestra and 15 tap-dancing sailors, it’s everything you want a big Broadway musical to be and more!
Silk Street London EC2Y 8DS
Booking to 31 October 2021