If you do not know the show itself, chances are you know the fantastic title song. The great thing about this wonderful show is that there are so many other great tunes. But Cole Porter's memorable musical numbers are such classics that it would be so easy to just build a soulless production crafted around them still sending the audience home smiling. But not so here, this touring production of the Broadway classic sails across the stage with style, energy and precision.
A transatlantic luxury liner heads towards England with an unlikely mix of characters; stowaway Billy Crocker, the apple of his eye, Hope Harcourt, master of disguise, Moonface Martin, and the raunchy Reno Sweeney. Add an eccentric rich American mother seeking love and some slow-witted FBI agents and you have all the ingredients of a high farce. Like Thoroughly Modern Millie, this show has an irresistible quality as it revels in absurd plot twists.
Of the performers, Chris Ellis-Stanton manages to hit all the high notes and display considerable comic prowess making Billy's antics a treat to watch. Angela Rippon is over the top but it suits her Evangeline Harcourt as she is a hysterical character. Michael Starke is excellent as Moonface Martin; his singing voice is not the best but his songs require comedy and he achieves that wonderfully.
The ensemble and swings are all brilliant as they offer much more than mere support. Many of the musical numbers including "Anything Goes" come to life as they tap dance their way across the stage with real flair.
I have saved the best until last, Ria Jones as Reno Sweeney. This enigmatic actress has considerable stage presence - so much so that you can see the entire cast raising their game alongside her. "Blow Gabriel Blow", the title song, and "I Get a Kick Out of You" are sung with such passion and show-stopping brilliance that jaws hit the floor. Jones was impressive in High Society but here she owns the stage.
Director Ian Talbot brings real verve to the material, even though at times the pacing is slow in Act One. Bill Deamer's dance sequences are toe-tappingly brilliant, complemented by Bob Bailey's static but multi-level set.
Hop aboard as there is much to enjoy here, Bon Voyage.
-Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Lowry, Salford.)