Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Original Book by P G Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Barbican Theatre – until 31 October
“Musical comedy, the most glorious words in the English language!” bellows big shot Broadway producer Julian Marsh at a climactic moment in that quintessential backstage musical 42nd Street. It’s a preposterous claim of course but after encountering this delightful, transporting revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, now ensconced at the Barbican, it’s hard not to agree with him. This is the kind of show, and production values, that helped create Broadway’s reputation as the ultimate musical theatre wonder factory. A madcap farce set on a luxurious Transatlantic cruise ship, it’s as slick as oil, camp as Christmas and as joyous as a rabble of Labrador puppies.
Anything Goes is hardly an unknown property: although it dates from 1934 when Ethel Merman first blasted “I Get A Kick Out Of You” , “You’re The Top” and the title number across Manhattan, there have been at least three London revivals, the most recent being the terrific 2002 National Theatre staging by Trevor Nunn with an on-fire Sally Ann Triplett as brassy cabaret singer/unlikely evangelist Reno Sweeney. This Barbican staging was first seen to great acclaim in New York in 2011, but it couldn’t have come at a more welcome time for a pandemic-exhausted London. As with Hairspray and Joseph, both also enjoying never-better remountings in the West End, what stuns most right now about this happiest of shows is just how damn moving it is when the joy really kicks in. It’s like medicine for the spirit.
Well, that’s the second most stunning thing actually….. the predominant one is Sutton Foster as Reno, giving the kind of performance musical theatre students should go and watch as part of their curriculum.
Adorably goofy one moment and implacably elegant the next, she is the living embodiment of the idea of somebody having “funny bones”: her performance is a rare combination of inspired clowning, exhilarating belting and sheer old fashioned razzmatazz stage presence, all the stuff of which theatregoers memories are made. It’s also heartwarming to note her onstage generosity to her co-performers, owning the spotlight but joyfully willing to share it. She repeatedly finds that elusive musical theatre ‘sweet spot’ where a character expresses themselves through dance and song because that is the only way they can express themselves. It’s both heightened yet rooted in a euphoric reality, and it’s a rare pleasure to behold. She won a Tony for this role on Broadway a decade ago, she’s even better in it now.
There’s always a danger, when the headlining turn is as captivating and magnetic as this one, that the star is missed whenever they’re off stage, and it says much for the quality and talent of the rest of this magnificent company that this doesn’t even prove to be the case here. Robert Lindsay brings a gorgeous, James Cagney-like swagger to gangster Moonface Martin and comes pretty close to stealing every scene he’s in, or at least he would if his co-stars weren’t such dazzling pros as Gary Wilmot as a permanently drunk Ivy League money man and Felicity Kendal as a clueless socialite, hell bent on betrothing her daughter (a luminous Nicole-Lily Baisden) to the wealthiest possible match.
Samuel Edwards skilfully negotiates the thin line between cocky and confident and makes an attractive triple threat male lead. Carly Mercedes Dyer and Haydn Oakley are flat out sensational as, respectively, a hilarious, man-eating gangster’s moll and an adorably buffoonish English aristocrat, bringing the house down with their individual numbers.
There has been some grumbling about the high seat prices but from Derek McLane’s gleaming ship setting to some of the most opulent costumes (by Jon Morrell after the late Martin Pakdeniz) to grace a London stage in many a year, you can really see where your money has gone. Broadway veteran Kathleen Marshall directs and choreographs with such showmanship and panache that you’ll have trouble wiping the grin off your face. When the whole company rips into the title song led by the thrilling Ms Foster, it’s like tap dance heaven. The second act showstopper “Blow Gabriel Blow” even out-tops that, it’s utterly glorious.
Just cannot recommend this highly enough, it’s a life enhancing triumph and you should do whatever it takes to get a ticket…I can’t wait to go back.