Even with his status as the golden boy in a golden era of music, I’m not sure that Cole Porter could have ever imagined that his 1930s screwball musical comedy Anything Goes would still be being staged over 80 years after its first appearance – but here it still is, after an initial festive run in 2014 at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre under the direction of Daniel Evans and now on a relatively lengthy UK tour, the question that must be asked is: “is this grande dame of musical theatre ageing well?”. On the ocean liner SS American bound for London from New York, lovelorn stockbroker Billy Crocker (Matt Rawle) has stowed away in an attempt to win the heart of heiress Hope Harcourt (Zoë Rainey) a girl he’s only clapped eyes on once, unfortunately for Billy, Hope is engaged to upper class aristo Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Stephen Matthews). Also on board, and adding to the shenanigans, are former evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Debbie Kurup), Public Enemy no.13 Moonface Martin disguised as a priest (Shaun Williamson), some saucy sailors and a slew of showgirls. The plot is tissue paper thin with mistaken identities and everyone loving everyone else but no one loving the right people back, but that said it is, as the song says, ‘a delicious, delightful, de-lovely’ piece of fluff. P.G. Wodehouse’s original script has undergone several revisions: in 1962, 1987 and 2011, presumably to update some of the more dated aspects of the comedy, however it must be said that further revision is required to prevent many of the ‘jokes’ from falling flat, much time has passed and some of the more obscure references illicit only a few knowing groans. The thing that really elevates the whole production are the glorious melodies and pithy lyrics of Porter. The opportunity to wallow in these wonderful tunes (a few of which have been added from the Porter back catalogue) sung by a tuneful chorus is glorious. However it must be said that Debbie Kurup in the pivotal role of Reno Sweeney was, on the night of this review, somewhat off-kilter in her renditions of these much-loved classics: be it the arrangements imposed upon her or just a voice unsuited to this style of music, there were times when the melody was wandering dangerously into tunelessness. Having seen Miss Kurup in other productions I can vouch for her singing talent, so it gives pause for thought here. Kurup is ably supported by a fine ensemble: in particular Matt Rawle who manages to deliver a vocal performance that was era-evocative, (however his facial expressions at times looked like gurning), TV favourite Shaun Williamson is an engaging gangster with an unexpectedly tuneful voice, but is Stephen Matthews who delivers the night’s show stealing performance as Lord Evelyn – releasing his inner passion in “The Gypsy in Me”. It is a slow build to the rousing Act One closing title number and the whole production only truly comes to life when the cast are tapping and singing as one – it’s these moments that the audience have been waiting for. It must be said too, that following hot on the heels of a recent tour of the truly outstanding Top Hat, it may suffer a little in comparison. This old lady of musicals still has tunes to delight in but it’s showing a few wrinkles and bags, however if it’s a night of escapist fun played out on an absolutely beautiful set with a talented ensemble you’re looking for, then Anything Goes is the show for you. Runs until Sat 25 April then touring This review was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com
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Anything Goes is classic musical theatre, complete with tap numbers, cheesy jokes, unlikely happy endings and an unforgettable score by the legendary Cole Porter, it includes some of his best known tunes: “De-Lovely,” “I Get a Kick Out Of You” and of course the title song itself, to name a few.
Set aboard the ocean liner S. S. American, nightclub singer Reno Sweeney is en-route from New York to England, her young pal Billy Crocker has stowed away to be near his love, socialite Hope Harcourt, but the problem is Hope is engaged to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Joining this love triangle on board the luxury liner are Public Enemy #13, Moonface Martin and his sidekick-in-crime Erma. With the help of some elaborate disguises and some good old-fashioned blackmail, Reno and Martin join forces to help Billy in his quest to win Hope’s heart.
This latest offering from Our Lady’s Musical Society has all the hallmarks of a winning night’s entertainment, great songs, great costumes and a light-hearted storyline, it’s the perfect piece for a large ensemble cast and there are some delightful highlights to be had: Christopher Morris shines as Billy Crocker, his era-evocative voice and golden-age of Hollywood characterisation are perfect in this pivotal role; Robert Kirkham is a delight as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, his spot-on accent and comic timing provide some of the biggest laughs of the evening and Jonathan Procter, a stalwart of many musical societies, proves why he is such an asset to any cast – his professionalism and ease on stage are a delight to watch.
However, unlike previous productions from this top-notch society, this one suffers from a lack of the requisite high energy that the show requires. This is a show renowned for its large ensemble tap numbers (and the tap skills of its leading lady) and to be frank the dancing just wasn’t up to scratch and whilst Marie Hannigan was in very fine voice as Reno Sweeney her maturity of years and lack of dancing skills were at odds with what is expected from the role. Heather Slamin too seemed somewhat miscast as Hope Harcourt, at times rather lifeless, she appeared to suffer from pitch issues throughout, though this may have been thrown into more sharp focus acting alongside the fine-voiced Hannigan and Morris.
That said, there was plenty of fun (and dodgy American accents) to be had throughout and the mature members of the audience around me seemed to be having an absolute ball. One can only hope that Our Lady’s Musical Society will be back on track next time and hopefully with an injection of some youthful new talent to balance out the high number of more mature performers they will be.