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
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.
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.
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.
I Get a Kick Out of You
There’s No Cure Like Travel
You’re the Top
Easy to Love
Easy to Love (Reprise)
The Crew Song
There’ll Always Be A Lady Fair
Public Enemy Number One
Blow, Gabriel, Blow
Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye
Be Like the Bluebird
All Through the Night
The Gypsy in Me
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
Carly Mercedes Dyer
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
Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Extended and Booking until 31st October 2021
London EC2Y 8DS
Box Office: Book online
Tube: Barbican or Moorgate
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Barbican Theatre on 5th August 2021