After a long period of closure, we are slowly but surely getting back to normal with some absolutely huge musicals opening. One of the biggest is this long awaited revival of the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. With delays and cast replacements, the question is would it live up to the hype?
First appearing on Broadway in 1934 and the West End in 1935, Anything Goes is surely one of the most iconic musicals of all time. With film adaptations and containing a songbook full of timeless classics, most people have some experience with this show. This exciting new production moves across the pond to the Barbican Theatre following a well received run in Broadway in 2021.
The lead role of Reno Sweeney was originally due to be played by Megan Mullally, but following an accident, Sutton Foster was flown in to reprise the role she won a Tony award for. To say she is a revelation in the role would be an understatement. Full of charm, charisma and wit, Sutton ensures all eyes are fixed on her when she is on the stage, dazzling with her top notch vocals and flawless dancing, never missing a beat and displaying chemistry with every fellow cast member she interacts with - even matching them if they go off script. It is clear to see why she won an award for her last outing in the role and why she will doubtlessly be adding more awards from her turn this side of the Atlantic.
It would be easy to dismiss Anything Goes as a one woman show but when you have a cast as talented as this, it very obviously becomes an ensemble piece. Robert Lindsay makes a welcome return to the stage as Moonface Martin, delivering a masterclass performance in comedy. All Lindsay has to do is strut across the stage with swagger without saying anything and he already has the audience in the palm of his hands. Forming a formidable double act with Sutton, the times they appear together are the highlights, and the fact Robert brings different ad-libs to the role every night only adds to the genius of his performance.
Felicity Kendal is delightfully batty as Evangeline Harcourt - ensuring her over the top dramatics are played to the full extent of her laughs, she is responsible for some of the funniest moments of the night. Gary Wilmot thrills as the flirty Elisha Whitney - never without a drink in his hand and providing another great double act with Felicity. Samuel Edwards and Nicole-Lily Baisden provide another romantic highlight as Billy Crocker and Hope Harcourt, while Haydn Oakley plays the hopeless but loveable Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. When another character in the show falls in love with him, the audience are right there with her.
It is hard to steal scenes when you share a stage with a cast as strong as this but step forward Carly Mercedes Dyer whose insatiable Erma provides standout moments throughout. As she ticks off every sailor in the cast, every appearance she has on the stage leads to a laugh out loud moment. Brilliantly characterised by Carly, she has all but guaranteed an Olivier nomination for this genius portrayal, and her big number 'Buddie Beware' is one of the most fantastic of the evening.
A large cast make up this fabulous production and every single one deserves to be mentioned by name but that would make this review longer than a mid-show standing ovation so let me just say every cast member in this show is part of what makes this so special - all delivering fantastic performances. A special mention goes to the dog Cheeky who goes on one of the greatest journeys (or should that be voyage) in the show despite being a stuffed toy.
The staging for this production has to be one of the greatest I have ever seen. The moment it reveals itself as a huge ship is jawdropping - and the way it adapts itself throughout the piece never fails to amaze. The lighting is among the best you will see, with genius touches in songs 'Friendship' and 'Be Like The Bluebird' as well as setting the scene on stage, gradually transitioning from day to night in a way that immerses the audience in to the scene.
The dialogue throughout the show is often hilarious with brilliant visual gigs coinciding with witty one-liners. Between that we are treated to a number of iconic songs such as 'I Get A Kick Out Of You', 'It's De-Lovely' and 'You're The Top' - all of which feature genius staging - none more so than surprising act two number 'The Gypsy In Me' which sees Sutton Foster and Haydn Oakley at their most playful and featuring probably the best exit from a stage you will ever see.
It's time to talk about the title number and act one closer. The 'Anything Goes' sequence is bar none the single greatest performance I have ever seen in all my years of theatre-going. On my first visit to the good ship Barbican, tears formed in my eyes as I witnessed what can only be described as pure theatre perfection. Witnessing the entire cast build up to that joyous tap-dancing routine was awe-inspiring and more than deserved the mid-show standing ovation it receives every single night. It's not the only mid-show standing O the show has been getting though as early act 2 number 'Blow, Gabriel, Blow' comes very close to matching the genius of 'Anything Goes' with a truly sensational routine.
I have seen hundreds of shows throughout all my years of theatre-going. I suspected this could be among the best on my first visit so have attended two more times during previews to make sure, and it's official - This is, without a doubt, the best show I have ever seen. I don't make that statement lightly, but this show ticks every single box. A truly remarkable cast having the time of their lives on the stage, great musical numbers, hilarious dialogue, genius staging, flawless choreography, stunniong costumes and amazing lighting. This show does not put a foot wrong... literally when it comes tpo the tap-dancing.
If you only see one musical this year, make sure it's Anything Goes. Everyone should go to see how a show can be as perfect as musical theatre gets. This show really does set the benchmark for what can be achieved when you get a show so flawlessly right. Not all shows are created equal - and with Anything Goes, it really is the top.
Anything Goes plays at the Barbican Centre in London until October 31st. Tickets are available from https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/event/anything-goes
Photos by Tristram Kenton