After a couple of false starts and a cast substitution due to injury, the most recent Broadway revival of Anything Goes finally arrives in London and The Barbican Theatre. The Cole Porter and P.G. Wodehouse musical has been a perennial favourite for close to a century, albeit in various guises, but this version, directed and choregraphed by Kathleen Marshall will surely now become the definitive version for years to come.
Set on the SS American, an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic from New York to London, high farce ensues as an unlikely band of characters are thrown together for the voyage. Billy Crocker, a Wall Street broker should have disembarked to make an important trade for his boss, but ends up as a stowaway as his true love, Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden) is also on board.
Miss Harcourt is due to be married to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley), but Billy attempts to win her hand with the help of old friend, Reno Sweeney and the 13th Most Wanted Gangster in the US, Moonface Martin (Robert Lindsay). Mistaken identities, subterfuge and miscommunication all combine to make a very funny, if at times fantastical, plot.
But it’s not the plot that makes Anything Goes stand out, this is a big song and dance spectacular, with a large ensemble tap dancing their way through beloved musical favourites, most notably the title number. Marshall is also choreographer and while this is a traditional kind of dance musical it feels fresh and exciting.
The withdrawal of Megan Mullally from the production due to injury meant a substitution was found in the form of Broadway royalty Sutton Foster. Foster earned a Tony Award for her portrayal of Reno Sweeney in the 2011 Broadway production, so to have her reprising the role in London, mid-pandemic, is quite the coup.
Sutton Foster sails through the big song and dance routines, making every step look completely effortless. Foster’s ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ is just one stand-out in what is a truly fabulous performance, and one that London theatre goers will undoubtedly be talking about for some time.
The marketing focuses on the big name stars; Sutton Foster and Robert Lindsay are also joined by Felicity Kendal in her musical theatre debut, and West End favorite Gary Wilmot. But this is a huge cast, who deliver number after number with perfect precision, and while it’s a real treat to have these stars on stage, there are two principal cast members who are worthy of note.
Carly Mercedes Dyer absolutely thrills the audience with a joyous portrayal of sex-mad Erma, and the characters only solo number ‘Buddie, Beware’ is the perfect set up to take us in to the finale. The real linchpin in the cast is Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker, Edwards gives a first class performance throughout, and shows off incredible vocals, particularly in ‘Easy to Love’.
The SS American is brought to life in Derek McLane striking set design; constructed over several levels there always seems to be something happening on another deck, as staterooms slide in and out of view. The altering of the ending makes this timeless musical more appropriate for the modern age, without losing the ability to neatly tie the story together.
After the last eighteen months it is truly wonderful to have a production like Anything Goes on stage in London, especially with such an illustrious cast and creative team. This spectacular song and dance triumph is a madcap adventure that everyone can get a kick out of this summer.