Barbican Theatre, London
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse
New book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
It says much for the quality of writing in the 1930s that nearly some 90 years after it opened on Broadway, Anything Goes can still pack a hilariously powerful punch with its heady cocktail of song and script. This is a show that lampoons (harpoons even) much of both British and American cultures and many of today’s emerging writers (with only a few exceptions) would do well to get themselves to the Barbican to see what good musical theatre – book, lyrics and score - really is.
Meanwhile, having completed its UK tour, the SS America returns to tie up in London, offering the capital another chance to wallow in the unabashed joyous glory of Kathleen Marshall’s Anything Goes. The big four names from last year’s outing of this revival are gone – replaced by Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeney, Simon Callow as Elisha Whitney, Bonnie Langford as Evangeline Harcourt and Denis Lawson as gangster Moonface Martin and for the most part this quartet are excellent.
What also drives this show immeasurably is the featured artistes who have remained onboard from 2021. Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker, Nicole-Lily Baisden as Hope Harcourt and the deliciously named Haydn Oakley playing Lord Evelyn Oakleigh are all as magnificent now as they were then – with this whole crazy pot-pourri of a show giving rise to one of the most fantastic evenings of entertainment to be found anywhere in town.
The show’s songs and plot are the stuff of legend – this cast however take them to another level. Ellis captures the insouciant brilliance of Sweeney, not just in her perfectly pitched vocals and footwork, but in her delivery of the rapid-fire gags too. Good comedy requires not only a finely tuned script, but split-second delivery and Ellis (and her troupe) truly are the tops.
Callow was born to play crusty aristocrats, not least this Yale-educated captain of industry and he adds comic heft to an already inspired creation. The writers knew how to mock stereotypes and Callow milks every precious moment that he is granted on stage with sublime precision. Callow's singing nor his footwork may not be the best – but the matured genius of his stage presence more than compensates. Bonnie Langford equally has a role that is paper-thin in its perfectly structured two-dimensionality and yet again, every second of her performance is exquisitely on the money.
Baisden is handed the tough role of being almost completely non-comedic – yet she handles the critically important role of Hope flawlessly. Carly Mercedes Dyer as Erma remains an absolute scream, while Oakley’s Oakleigh is truly one of the most inspired comic turns around. Even if you’ve seen the show countless times before, this iteration will have you moist-eyed with its whip-sharp delivery. And then there’s the dancing - Ellis leads her company through a demanding range of numbers with none surpassing the title number that closes the first act and which seems, breathtakingly, to go on forever.
For a production built for the road the sets are ingeniously lavish as doors and decks slide away, revealing the ship’s cabin interiors. Derek McLane’s designs enhanced by Hugh Vanstone’s lighting plots are simply top-notch. In the pit Mark Aspinall makes de-lovely work of Porter’s score, his 16-piece band delivering a lavish sound.
This production stunned London in 2021 as the city was beginning to emerge from the pandemic and one year on, its return is equally welcomed. In a song and dance show that is drilled to perfection, this is musical theatre at its glorious, frivolous finest.
Runs until 3rd September
Photo credit: Marc Brenner