If there was ever a musical overdue for revival it’s not Anything Goes, however with a solid gold score, hilarious script and the opportunity for spectacular dance routines, it’s always a welcome sight to behold – and this production doesn’t disappoint in its delivery of that golden triumvirate.
The classic Cole Porter musical about a cruise liner trip between New York and London took its current form in 1987 when John Weidman and Timothy Crouse updated the book (a combination of the original from 1934 and the 1962 revival), sweetening up the comedy, re-ordering musical numbers, dropping some and including others from Porter’s songbook. This update centres around stock market junior Billy Crocker, who stows away on the ship in order to woo wealthy heiress Hope Harcourt away from her fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Nightclub singer and evangelist Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy Number 13, Moonface Martin aid Billy in pursuing Hope and avoiding being caught by both the ship’s staff and his boss, Elisha Whitney, who thinks Billy is back in New York selling his stocks and making him rich.
An instant hit, this version has had innumerable restagings around the world, including a 1989 Australian production and no less than two Production Company versions, the latter of which has spawned this production. In 2011, director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth lead the Production Company staging that also saw Alex Rathgeber in the role of Billy, Wayne Scott Kermond playing Moonface and Todd McKenney as Lord Evelyn. But it’s the new additions to this version that make are making the Princess Theatre stage sparkle.
In particular, Caroline O’Connor as Reno brings her inimitable style and world-class standards to the role. O’Connor is never predictable and always refreshing as she finds new and wonderful comedic moments within the material. Vocally flawless, O’Connor is likewise a wonderful dancer and defies her age as she leads the cast through the title number and the glorious ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’.
As Hope Harcourt, Claire Lyon is a revelation. This is a role well known in the pantheon of musical theatre as being sappy and one-note, however Lyon makes it anything but that. Her Hope is no simpering debutante, but rather an intelligent woman, with a wicked streak. Hope has always had some lovely songs in the show, but Lyon makes them glitter with detail, even while showing graceful dance skills, especially in Hallsworth’s choreography of ‘It’s De-Lovely’.
Delightful and delicious is a perfect way to describe this number as Lyon and Rathgeber sing along with the underscoring through the dance break. Adding to the chemistry between the pair it’s the cherry on top of an enchanting routine.
Rathgeber demonstrates a charming singing voice in the vocally tricky role of Billy, making the octave leaps and falsetto in ‘Easy to Love’ sound easy to do. Full of ebullience, Rathgeber garners ready rapport with his supporting cast mates and dances up a storm throughout, if becoming just a little cheesy in those moments.
Moonface Martin and his moll, Erma are given a nicely dangerous edge by Wayne Scott Kermond and Deborah Krizak. Kermond is a fantastic dancer, which makes for a delightful surprise as Moonface features front and centre in the big ensemble dance numbers and makes for a wonderfully detailed version of his duet with Reno, ‘Friendship’. Krizak fills Erma with an exciting edginess that makes for a deliciously unique interpretation. Full of withering glances and constantly on the hunt for her next conquest, this hyper-sexualised version of a character that was already a sex kitten feels right for today’s audience.
This is a show full of great bit-parts and in this production there are some wonderfully full performances in those roles, especially Bartholomew John as the frisky Elisha Whitney and Gerry Connelly as an hilariously camp ship’s Captain.
Todd McKenney brings an unusual style to Evelyn Oakleigh, in a wig and glasses that make him look more gestapo than foppish Englishman. McKenney is a crowd pleaser and earns a big cheer as Evelyn wins over Reno, but is regularly upstaged by his cast mates as he throws away great comedy with an overly affected and misjudged characterisation.
Technically, this production is very slick. Costumes by Dale Ferguson are a delightful reflection of 1930s couture and are uniformly stunning. Wigs are perfectly set and lighting and sound hit all the right marks. Sets (also adapted by Ferguson) are quite a disappointment however, not seeming to have moved on at all since the 1989 Australian production, showing little in the way of innovation or technical achievement.
Musical Director and Conductor Peter Casey has assembled an orchestra of flawless skills and coached excellence out of the vocalists, while Hallsworth’s choreography is generous and fascinating, full of interesting ideas.
Director Dean Bryant has put together a very faithful production here that still feels as fresh and funny as the first time it hit our stages. A must-see for lovers of musical comedy, although it’s hard to believe anyone wouldn’t enjoy this production.
Anything Goes is now playing at The Princess Theatre, Melbourne
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby