Anything Goes, the tunes of Cole Porter:
rocking to the fabulous Sutton Foster

You’re the top!
You’re the Coliseum
You’re the top!
You’re the Louver Museum
You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss
You’re a Bendel bonnet
A Shakespeare’s sonnet
You’re Mickey Mouse
You’re the Nile
You’re the Tower of Pisa
You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa

Lyric from You’re the Top sung alternately by Billy and Reno
 
Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Every so often in London we get a treat which is the essence of a Broadway big musical and this is the case with Cole Porter’s musical Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre.  This is essentially the production that wowed New York in 2011 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and winning Tonys. 

Only one member of that American cast has come to London but “who could ask for anything more?” (Sorry, right era, wrong musical!) Sutton Foster as evangelist turned night club singer, Reno Sweeney, can not only dance wonderfully, sing astonishingly but thrill and involve us with her facial comedy.  She is amazing!  For every moment that she is onstage we simply cannot stop looking at her for every acting nuance adding to her performance.  We all want her as our best friend.  She is such fun to be with!

Another essential to have transferred is designer Derek McLane’s beautiful ocean liner set with its three huge chimneys and decks dominated by portholes which can be lit from behind.  The starting set is a New York bar with a lit bottle of every imaginable spirit available in 1934.  Maybe the ending of the Prohibition Era in 1933 was an inspiration for the title Anything Goes?  Here Reno meets Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards) the man she loves who has rejected her for some other girl and she sings the fabulous song “I Get a Kick Out of You” with a real sense of loss of romantic ideal. 

There are also added box sets with the inside of cabins, and the brig or prison on board ship.  Hugh Vanstone’s lighting effects are spectacular and immersive.  Wonderful night time scenes with stars twinkling over the ocean and the portholes glowing orange, “It’s De-Lovely” has a red, purple sunset, the ocean liner later blue lit merging to green lit.   

Michelle Fox as Tybalt (Photo: Jane Hobson)

The plot is really complicated with its gangsters disguised as men of the cloth, stowaway Billy who hopes to meet up with the girl he has fallen in love with and not with his employer Elisha Whitney (Gary Wilmot).  Fortunately Elisha is very short sighted after his glasses have been taken by Erma and walks around using a pair of binoculars and apologises after bumping into the deck furniture.  Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden) is accompanied by her mother Evangeline Harcourt (Felicity Kendal) and Yorkshire Terrier, who once upon a time might have had a fling with rich businessman, Elisha Whitney; the mother I mean not the dog. 

Mrs Harcourt has brought about an engagement between her daughter and a stuffy English aristocrat Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley) to restore their family fortunes.  Also on board, but disguised as a priest is Public Enemy Number 13, gangster Moonface Martin (Robert Lindsay) and his assistant the resourceful and seductive Erma (Carly Mercedes Dyer). 

The SS America is on its way to London, where Hope is to get married, and Elisha Whitney is to go to the Henley Regatta. 

Another top gangster, Public Enemy Number One, Snake Eyes Johnson was due onboard and after Billy identifies a real bishop as Moonface, a grateful Moonface gives him Snake Eyes’s ticket and passport.  I’m going to stop detailing the plot now because although complicated to write, it is quite easy to follow during the show but the book of this musical, apart from the gags, is its weakest point.

When Billy asks Reno to help him split up Hope and Lord Evelyn, Billy and Reno confirm their friendship with “You’re the Top”.  Billy and Hope each sing “Easy to Love” and dance a lovely quick step. 

Robert Lindsay is a real trooper and, as Moonface is an old friend of Reno’s, they interact together with a certain charm, including a Rogers and Astaire dance number.  Is this the American Smooth? A spotlight becomes the extra dancer they compete over in “Friendship” and they take so many encores that they have to hooked off stage by a giant metal hook!

Haydn Oakley as Lord Evelyn practises the American idiom and describes Reno as the rat’s pyjamas.  The title song “Anything Goes” thrillingly closes the first act with an ensemble tap number of all the sailors and the magnificent Sutton Foster in sailor’s outfit. 

Haydn Oakley as (his namesake) Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, Nicole-Lily Baisden as Hope Harcourt, Felicity Kendal as Evangeline Harcourt, Gary Wilmot as Elisha Whitney and Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Act Two opens with Moonface and Billy being lauded as celebrities for the celebrity hungry passengers with the scene lit in diagonal red and yellow stripes like a Lords MCC egg and tomato tie. 

Reno’s stage show is set up and she and her angels Charity, Purity, Chastity and Virtue (ironic names we assume) in “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” whip off their choral robes to show girl outfits in red sequins and along with the male dancers there is a great escapist dance number and another opportunity for the crowd to give a standing ovation. 

A shout out to Jon Morrell for some luxurious and sumptuous costumes in 1930s style which greatly add to the visual enjoyment of this show. 

Fortunes take a bad turn for Moonface and Billy and they are thrown into the brig.  Meanwhile Lord Evelyn convinces Reno that he isn’t all stuffed shirt but has Romani ancestry in “The Gypsy in Me” and astonishes us all, especially Reno, as he dances a paso doble and throws her around. She is pulled along with one leg on his shoulder and her facial comments are to die for.

Meanwhile Erma on deck in a lifeboat, is successfully flirting with six assorted sailors in “Buddie, Beware”.  Don’t say they weren’t warned! 

A triple wedding is organised and the captain starts the wedding by reading from the funeral service!  When Evangeline realises that Hope will not be marrying Lord Evelyn, and what her subsequent poverty will mean “I shall have to spend the rest of my life living in hotels!” she says. Someone will come to the rescue!

Anything Goes could run even past the end of October, except that Sutton Foster is due back on Broadway with Hugh Jackman in The Music Man.  The Barbican’s massive stage can accommodate the full ocean liner set and this show feels the right size for this large theatre. Certainly Anything Goes hits the spot of re-entry to joyous theatre after an enforced Covid break.

Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney, Selina Hamilton as Purity, Alexandra Wright as Chastity, Charlene Ford as Charity and Frances Dee as Virtue (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Musical Numbers

Act One

 Overture  

 I Get a Kick Out of You  

 There’s No Cure Like Travel

 Bon Voyage

You’re the Top

Easy to Love

Easy to Love  (Reprise)

The Crew Song

There’ll Always Be A Lady Fair

Friendship

It’s De-Lovely  

 Anything Goes  

 

Act Two

Entr’acte

Public Enemy Number One

Blow, Gabriel, Blow

Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye

Be Like the Bluebird

All Through the Night

The Gypsy in Me

Buddie, Beware

Finale

 

Production Notes

Anything Goes 

Music and Lyrics Cole Porter

Original Book: PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton

and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

New Book Timothy Crouse and John Weidman

Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall

Cast

Starring:

Sutton Foster

Robert Lindsay

Felicity Kendal

Gary Wilmot

Samuel Edwards

Nicole-Lily Baisden

Carly Mercedes Dyer

Haydn Oakley


With:

Jon Chew

Alistair So

Clive Hayward

Graham MacDuff

Mark Akinfolarin

Simon Anthony

Frances Dee

Charlene Ford

Selina Hamilton

Alexandra Wright


Ensemble: 

Georgie Ashford

Vivien Carter

Natalie Chua

Eamonn Cox

Jordan Crouch

Maddie Harper

Michael Lin

Robin McMillan

Tom Partridge


Swing:

George Beet

Gabrielle Cocca

Emily Ormiston

Liam Wrate

Jack Wilcox

Creatives

Director and Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall

Set Designer: Derek McLane

Musical Supervisor and Director: Stephen Ridley

Lighting Designer:  Hugh Vanstone

Costume Designer:  Jon Morrell

Sound Designer: Jonathan Deans

Orchestrations: Michael Gibson

Additional Orchestrations: Bill Elliott

Information

Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval

Extended and Booking until 31st October 2021 

 

 

Theatre:

Barbican Theatre

Barbican Centre

Silk Street

London EC2Y 8DS

Box Office: Book online

Tube: Barbican or Moorgate

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Barbican Theatre on 5th August 2021