I don’t think I’ve witnessed such anticipation for an actor given star billing at the Barbican Theatre since Benedict Cumberbatch played the title role in a production of Hamlet in 2015. There’s a reason why Sutton Foster won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the Broadway revival of Anything Goes – it’s a stand-out performance, which says something when she’s performing the same role ten years later, sharing a London stage with the likes of Gary Wilmot, Felicity Kendal and Robert Lindsay. Foster, 46 years young at the time of writing, glides across the stage with the energy of a dancer half her age, and Kathleen Marshall’s sparkling choreography allows the large cast to provide the kind of big song-and-dance numbers West End and Broadway audiences adore.
For a show with as many extended dance breaks as this one, the storyline is engaging and gritty, although the programme mentions a ‘new book’, written by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, so it’s safe to assume that the original 1934 libretto isn’t (entirely) the one presented to contemporary audiences, for better or worse. The press night standing ovations (yes, plural) for this incredibly joyous production were well deserved. It’s magnificent. I might as well say it – it’s de-lovely (if you know, you know). If you can, go see it.
Now, if you’re still reading this, there are also excellent performances from Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker, the love interest to Nicole-Lily Baisden’s Hope Harcourt, and Carly Mercedes Dyer’s Erma brings the house down with the punchlines. Robert Lindsay as gangster Moonface Martin made me laugh out loud with his ad-libs (different every night, I am reliably informed). Cole Porter’s music and lyrics are given a vibrancy and joy that are – if I may be so bold in this choice of word in a global pandemic – infectious.
The passengers on board the SS American aren’t the only ones converted by Foster’s Reno Sweeney, who began as an evangelist but now uses her singing and public speaking talent for live entertainment. Even Foster, with plenty of experience with the rapturous applause of Broadway audiences, seemed a little surprised by the roof-raising reaction from the audience at the close of ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’.
Okay, it’s hammy. But it’s a good kind of hammy, the kind that allows the comedy value to be maximised. This is all-out, all-American fun with a capital F. I’ve never seen Felicity Kendal in a musical before, though that would be because she’s never done one before: I hope she does more than a few more in years to come. The title musical number in particular brings out the best tap dancing from the company. A fifteen-strong orchestra is ably conducted by Stephen Ridley, and with costumes, staging, lighting and sound quality all utterly flawless, this is musical theatre at its finest.
Review by Chris Omaweng
All aboard for this saucy and splendid major new production of Cole Porter and P. G. Wodehouse’s classic musical of pure escapism, Anything Goes. Featuring a joyful, gold-plated score of theatre’s most memorable standards, including ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘It’s De-Lovely!’ and Anything Goes, with a 50 strong company featuring a full-sized live orchestra and 15 tap-dancing sailors, it’s everything you want a big Broadway musical to be and more!
Silk Street London EC2Y 8DS
Booking to 31 October 2021