"Times have changed/And we've often rewound the clock." The first words of Cole Porter's title song don't half sum up the rest. Now into its eighties, Anything Goes can still swell into occasional euphoria – and Daniel Evans's tourable staging, fresh from its seasonal stint at Sheffield Crucible, turns on the tap to do just that – but there's no denying that the majority of it has grown awful creaky.
Less a full-blown musical than a cruise-themed revue show, it ties its skits and songs together into a loose farce, as a Wall Street broker (salary: $35 a week!) stows away on an ocean liner to break up an impending marriage. The plot, which eventually untangles itself as easily as any fairytale, is just about still ship-shape, but it's the gags that groan: every hide-the-specs routine and every boom-tish innuendo. When it's at its worst, Evans resorts to mocking his material. Plenty of punchlines come with an eye-roll.
What he can't find, and what the first half sorely needs, is the lunacy of farce. It should feel like those on board are lurching this way and that, only half in control of themselves, as the roll-call of gangsters-in-disguise, plummy aristocrats, showgirls and saucy sailors lose their heads in the sea air. Written at the tail end of prohibition, Anything Goes celebrates the unregulated hedonism of the high seas and Cole Porter pokes fun at the cult of criminals and showgirls, by having his sinners sing hymns and gospel. Richard Kent's witty design, which turns the ship on its end, nods to the church and suggests the SS American is sinking fast.
However, Porter's songs remain a treat, from the smooth lilt of "I Get a Kick Out of You" to the heady delirium of the title number. Alistair David's choreography, though reliant on charades-style illustration in duets, really finds its sea legs with the ensemble at full tilt. "Anything Goes" explodes into a glorious, knock-kneed tap routine, and "Blow, Gabriel Blow" seems to harness the power of a sea-storm.
It's no coincidence that both numbers have Debbie Kurup's Reno at the helm. Both sassy and steely, she finds in Reno the born-entertainer's ability to harness an audience, almost flirting with us as her songs swell towards inevitable ovations. Next to her, though, Matt Rawle looks limp as Billy Crocker: a matinee idol in a five o'clock shadow role, he's too toothsome by half as the stockbroker-shagger. Hugh Sachs is a hangdog Moonface Martin, wringing more mileage from sending his part up than from playing its truth, but Alex Young's Erma and Stephen Matthews's Evelyn prove that there are laughs within, as both blossom into lust.
Anything Goes is at New Wimbledon Theatre until 7 February, then touring.