Musical theatre returns to the post-covid Barbican with US director Kathleen Marshall’s Tony-Award-winning, a toe-tappingly joyous revival of Anything Goes. With her adept hand at the helm, the passengers and crew of the SS America sail breezily through this Depression-Era, Wodehousian romp of mismatched lovers, small-fry gangsters, aristocrats, Yale men and conmen, all on the route from New York to England, to the accompaniment of one of Cole Porter’s greatest scores. You’re the Top, I Get a Kick Out of You and De-Loverley are just some of the first half’s numbers.
This is the first major London revival of the Porter classic since Trevor Nunn’s 2002 Olivier-lauded National Theatre production. Where Nunn’s company was one of up-and-coming talent (John Barrowman, Sally-Ann Triplet, Mary Stockley), Marshall’s is an unashamed, star-laden Broadway show. And no one is more stellar than Sutton Foster, reprising her Tony-winning role as the ballsy, unlucky-in-love nightclub singer Reno Sweeney. Her adoring cognoscenti audience greeted her appearance on stage with a near minute’s applause, even before she had spoken a word or sung a note. However, when she does exercise those celebrated vocal cords, it’s clear the adulation is warranted. Her vocal virtuosity extends from Mermanesque belting as in ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ to an understated mastery of the poignancy of ‘I Get a Kick Out of you’. Added to this is the ability to lead a tap-line to such a ridiculous crescendo of hoofing extravagance that it brought the curtain down to a giddy standing ovation. However, it is as an exceptional comic actress that she both surprises and enthrals, with pin-point sharp timing and precision for every Porter witticism.
The fact that Robert Lindsay, as the cleric-in disguise, on-the-run mobster Moonfaced Martin, matches Foster toe-to-toe (literally in their gusto duet ‘Friendship’) is testament enough. Nearly 35 years since his Tony laureate (in Me and My Girl), he delivers a comic tour-de-force, while showing he can still soft-shoe a song–and–dance routine. He is suitably aided and abetted by the every likeable Gary Wilmot as the wealthy Wall Street widower Elisha Whitney and Felicity Kendall (remarkably in her first West End musical) as Evangeline Harcour, the wittering, twittering ageing socialite who now finds herself penniless.
An inevitable consequence of any production brimming with such established talents at the top of their game is that it can overshadow the younger performers, as is the case in Anything Goes. Samuel Edwards, as the love-sick Billy Crocker and Nicole-Lilly Baisden as the ill-betrothed fiancé Hope Harcourt, turn in more-than-competent performances but lack both the genuine emotion or fizz of their illustrious co-stars. Foster and Lindsey on stage effervesce like vintage champagne. Edwards and Baisden never quite rise above the superior Prosecco. Of the youngbloods, it is Carly Mercedes Dyer as the crowd-pleasing gangster's moll Erma who shines, giving Lindsey as good as she gets in their comedy duels while imbuing her big-number ‘Buddy Beware’ with just the right counterbalance of tease and caution. Also deserving of special mention is Hayden Oakley, whose Wooster–like English aristocrat Lord Evelyn ‘Are you drunk or just mad?’ Oakleigh skirts skillfully short of the two-dimensionality, being farcically funny and engagingly appealing at the same time.
Stephen Ridley directs the orchestra with the jest and musical sophistication Poter requires, while Derek McLane’s sumptuous sets are the embodiment of art décor splendour.
I advise you to get your ticket - it's hotter than a hot tamale.