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Anything Goes at the Barbican – review

The classic nautical musical returns with Kathleen Marshall at the helm

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The cast of Anything Goes
© Tristram Kenton

Before getting into the nitty gritty it's worth commenting on the experience in a full-capacity auditorium at the Barbican – the coruscating waves of unanimous applause, washing over you like a much-neglected friend. It's truly good to be back.

When it comes to the Golden Era musicals – Cole Porter's Anything Goes is le grand fromage – with gargantuan numbers, epic choreography and farcical tales worthy of a Shakespearean comedy. A romantic extravaganza with a mélange of larger-than-life characters, machine gun-toting gangsters and slapstick skits nestled between whip-sharp dialogue, it's easy to see why the piece has stood the test of time – having last been seen in the UK as part of a 2015 tour, with the show also wowing at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2003 thanks to the work of Sally Ann Triplett.

Back now for a major revival at the Barbican (one of few large-scale shows announced, planned, marketed, cast and rehearsed during the pandemic), director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall (returning to the show after bagging a Tony Award for reviving it on Broadway in 2011), crams the two-hour ride with cheesy, feel-good moments: this is vintage stage magic at its most explosively joyous.

When previously announced lead Megan Mullally dropped out just before rehearsals, Sutton Foster (who worked with Marshall on her New York revival) was sailed over to UK shores with great gusto to save the day. Her arrival coincided with the re-emergence of a decade-old video in which the Tony Award-winner was seen impersonating Jennifer Holliday – leading to outrage across the web. Foster even discussed the event in a feature with The Stage, stating she had apologised to cast members on her first day in the rehearsal room.

Whatever the opinions on the video, Foster returns to the role of Sweeney with the same wildfire energy that won her a Tony Award on Broadway – "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" in particular building to a bombastic crescendo that coaxed a further standing ovation from the audience (one of three). "Anything Goes" is a masterclass in tap dancing from the entire company.

Only a crook could steal a show, and Robert Lindsay was clearly born to play gangster Moonface Martin: his grizzled, goofy comedic swagger a constant crowd-pleaser. A stand-out turn also comes from Carly Mercedes Dyer (following successes in Curve's The Color Purple and West Side Story) as Moonface's partner-in-crime Erma.

Samuel Edwards and Nicole-Lily Baisden
© Tristram Kenton

Samuel Edwards drives the show as the earnest Billy Crocker, generating a believable romance with Nicole-Lily Baisden's Hope Harcourt. The pair glide into a dream-like "So Easy To Love" with enchanting grace – a quiet moment amidst the boisterous comedy. Speaking of boisterousness, Haydn Oakley blasts through "Gypsy in Me" with sensational aplomb, while Gary Wilmot and Felicity Kendal generate cackles with every line laced into Guy Bolton, P G Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's book.

Derek McLane's set delivers the goods – multiple decks from the SS Americana layered on top of one another like some nautical wedding cake. While giving Marshall the chance to show off the dancing prowess of her company, an extra six or so feet at the front of the stage may not have gone amiss for some of the bigger ensemble numbers – sometimes the choreography feels slightly too constrained by the lack of space.

A few missteps fail to land (though do less to derail the show's consistent wow factor): Lindsay's "Be Like the Bluebird" has some shaking follow-spot effects, and the musical's concluding ruse definitely reflects its penning many decades previously.

But you've got to hand it to the producers for reading the room perfectly – coming out of the gloominess of the last 16 months, there might not be a better musical to see than Anything Goes.

Tickets are on sale now.

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