Ship ahoy! Trevor Nunn's production of Anything Goes has set sail from the National, where it was first seen last Christmas, and docked right across the Thames at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where it's in shipshape condition. There is, however, just one cloud on the horizon of this otherwise entirely sunny affair, and that is that one actor from the original National run is missing: Denis Quilley sadly died two days before this production re-opened. But the show must go on, and it does - with overwhelming confidence and a winning panache.
Maybe the production is now both a touch too pleased with itself and a little too eager to please, but then it has good reason to be on both counts, for this is a staging as slick and sleek as they come and a real crowd pleaser from overture to curtain call.
Nunn - who helped shape the British musical behemoths of the 80s as director of Cats and Les Miserables, amongst others -- has more recently spent time re-shaping American classics like Oklahoma! and South Pacific at the National, mining them for their inherent darkness.
But Anything Goes is of an earlier generation of 30s screwball Broadway musical comedy, designed to showcase tall girls and low jokes, with scant attention to the sense, let alone sensibility, of plot. This show recognised that in its very title, which was partly a joke at the haphazard way its original storyline of an ocean liner that gets shipwrecked had to be hastily adapted when a passenger ship really did sink off the New Jersey coast.
Instead of the ship going down, the plot goes overboard with the tale of Reno Sweeney (feisty, irresistible Sally-Ann Triplett), a nightclub singer aboard a transatlantic passenger liner who selflessly surrenders the man of her dreams, Billy Crocker (the still dashing John Barrowman, returning to a role he originally took over in an earlier 1987 West End revival of the show). He surrenders to the woman of his, a debutante (Mary Stockley who is herself already engaged to be married to a Bertie Wooster-like English gent (hilarious Simon Day).
As the tangled improbabilities mount up of mismatched romances and minor celebrity gangsters, it's carried along by the most effervescent of musical scores by Cole Porter, full of songs that are by turns romantic and ravishing, sardonic and sassy.
They make the show, in the title of one of its songs, "Easy to Love". The de-lovely, de-lightful, de-lectable cast are the tops and spread an infectious pleasure throughout, particularly when they mass ranks for such set-pieces as the finale to Act One of the title song, which choreographer Stephen Mear turns into a tap routine so furious that it threatens to take the roof off. It's great to have it back in town.
- Mark Shenton
NOTE: The following review dates from December 2002 and this production's earlier run at the National's Olivier Theatre.
When Anything Goes first opened on Broadway in 1934, it was during the midst of the Great Depression. But Cole Porter had no interest in reflecting the woes of the day with this frothy little number. And neither, it seems, does Trevor Nunn circa 2002/3. Forget the threats of war, terrorism, redundancy or whatever else might be troubling you in the big scary outside world, joy is running riot inside the Olivier with Nunn's swansong musical.
Set aboard the SS American cruise liner, Anything Goes teems with almost too many romantic liaisons. Evangelical nightclub singer Reno Sweeney is smitten with Billy Crocker who's head over heels for debutante Hope Harcourt who's engaged to twitty English aristo Lord Evelyn Oakleigh who's got a crush on Sweeney. Meanwhile, stowaway Billy's hiding out - from the law and his millionaire boss Eli Whitney who's wooing Hope's mum - with Public Enemy Number 13 Moonface Martin who's accompanied by gangster moll Erma who's on intimate terms with countless sailors. Of course, everything comes good for everyone with a triple wedding and all-round happy ending.
While Nunn's previous productions of classic musicals like Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and South Pacific and Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady have been acclaimed for their contemporary reclamation of the texts and their darker nuances, there's no attempt at such pretence here. Nunn uses Timothy Crouse and John Weidman's updated book - with its infusion of more topical 1930s references and inclusion of Porter songs from other musicals ("It's De-Lovely", "Friendship" and "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye") - from the 1987 Lincoln Center production (staged in London in 1989). And he seems quite happy leaving well enough alone in this unashamedly feelgood production.
He's even carried that ethos through to the casting, with John Barrowman recreating his 1989 role as Billy. Amazingly, this Tom Cruise lookalike seems not to have aged in the intervening years; he's fit and fantastically fine of voice. Opposite him, Sally Ann Triplett's Reno is nothing short of outstanding, exuding energetic oomph and a belter of a voice that brings the house down with "Blow, Gabriel, Blow".
The rest of the company is also spot-on and refreshingly free of gimmicky appointments. In the smaller but highly effective comic roles, Annette McLaughlin, Martin Marquez and Simon Day stand out as a very saucy Erma, gruffly out-of-tune and favour Moonface and slang-challenged Lord, respectively. But there are no real weak links and, when the entire ensemble gets going on choreographer Stephen Mear's tap numbers, the effect is awesome.
The one disappointment is John Gunter's shipboard set. Another triple tier Goliath, it's at first sight imposing but ultimately - all white and with ceaseless and often pointless inner and outer revolves - quite bland.
Thankfully, this is a niggle that can be happily cast overboard when you submit to the dazzling effect of one Porter classic after another (my top being "You're the Top") delivered by a faultless company of performers.
- Terri Paddock