Written by Kellie Warner
It is hard to resist starting a review of Anything Goes without using an appropriately themed pun. That Brisbane will get a kick out of this splendid and innovative production or that anything goes in Brisbane’s QPAC as the star studded ensemble on board the S.S. American docks safely into Brisbane.
It’s easier instead to say that Anything Goes landed with a bang last night and that the musical comedy has been bought to new heights with stunning direction and outrageously funny performances.
The first time Anything Goes played to Australian audiences back in 1936 it was not popular; considered in bad taste, garish and vulgar. Those days are gone and this revival, thanks to local Opera Australia and producer John Frost, was received much differently. This time audiences whooped it up and loved every garish minute!
For the uninitiated, Anything Goes is a riotous musical comedy written in the 1930’s as pure escapism, featuring the music of Cole Porter. Though it has evolved over the years and there has been a re-write since the original (upon which this production is based) it has always been a fabulous hot mess. Featuring madcap characters, star crossed lovers, celebrity mania, corny humour, physical comedy, tap dancing, singing, outrageous one-liners, exotic disguises and loads of fun, it all takes place on an ocean liner, the S.S. American as it sails from New York to London.
Nightclub entertainer, Reno Sweeney (Caroline O’Connor) is in love with Billy Crocker (Alex Rathgeber) who is in love with high society debutant, Hope Harcourt (Claire Lyon) who is engaged to the fabulously foppish Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Todd McKenney). All are on-board along with a variety of characters, including a gangster in disguise, armed with a gun in a violin case (of course!)
Under the award winning partnership of Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth, Anything Goes is staged like never before with fast paced action, perfect timing, zappy comedy, perfectly polished performances and epic dance numbers.
Caroline O’Connor has cemented her place as one of Australia’s greatest entertainers. The audience saved the biggest applause for her and it was well deserved. Her voice was strong and true, her tap dancing spirited and she managed to induce the audience to almost hysterics during her mock evangelical performance of ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow.’ You could feel the thick veil of anticipation when she started singing the opening words of the title song, ‘Anything Goes’. The audience were taken for a wild ride with the enthusiastic rendition by Reno and Company, ending Act One leaving hearts beating just that little bit faster.
McKenney is delightful as the bumbling Englishman Evelyn, and he has some of the most delicious one-liners which he delivers with aplomb. He performs ‘The Gypsy In Me’ with an ostentatious glee.
Lyon’s Hope was played with sweetness and melancholy as she grapples over whether to follow her heart or marry for money. Her songs called for a simpler performance as she sings mostly of love and longing. Lyon delivered with grace.
Rathgeber as Billy played all his cards right. Although his voice wobbled a little at times, this is easily forgiven. Rathegeber was a great foil for O’Connor when they performed ‘You’re The Top’, the tongue in cheek hit song.
Other characters managed to steal a few scenes. Erma Martin (Debora Krizal) oozes over the top sexuality, especially with her sensuous delivery of ‘Buddie Beware.’ No wonder the sailors were all gaga about her. Her physical comedy alone could win awards.
Also impressive with a wickedly outrageous performance was the gangster Moonface Martin (Wayne Scott Kermond) who duelled with Reno, vaudeville-style, on the classic ‘Friendship’ with wit and style. The Captain (Gerry Connolly) was a delight. Imagine a demanding tap dancing scene, perfectly choreographed, interrupted for a second as the inept but loveable Captain tries to join in, only to fail miserably? The audience could hardly contain themselves.
Overall, this show was a dazzling production. Bryant as director made use of everything at his disposal. The ensemble cast all performed brilliantly and in sync with the stars. Two lovely girls on-board ship even managed a game of badminton in the background. Hallsworth’s choreography was perfect. Incredible singing and dancing numbers, with the tapping of shoes just enough to make the heart pound.
The orchestra were mostly behind part of the ship which made the music seem to appear from nowhere and always just at the right time. The sets moved seamlessly. In fact, everything was a well-oiled machine – so much so that the performers truly were the main focus and you never wavered from them.
Special mention should be made about the costumes, which were incredible. Those 1930’s dresses were stunning and the jewellery sparkled under the lights, just as the stars performances did. Hope’s society dame mother, Mrs Harcourt (Carmen Duncan) spent one scene in a gown that could only be worn for dinner on a cruise liner, a beautifully excessive silver sequined number that perfectly expressed the character, even if it was almost blinding.
If this is the future of musical comedy, I want to be front and centre. This was a night of frolicking, great fun. Two standing ovations proved the audience were in love. The performers, too, looked like they were having the time of their lives, and isn’t that what it’s all about? Don’t let the S.S. America set sail from Brisbane shores before booking your passage.