The nautical blues and whites of Anything Goes, along with sparkling costumes, music and dialogue, prove the perfect antidote to an ever more sombre world. The effect is heightened by its contrast to the all pervasive brown of its home at the Barbican Centre. It’s the second summer the SS America has set sail from here and key members of last year’s company are on board along with four new top-billing stars in the shape of Kerry Ellis, Denis Lawson, Simon Callow and Bonnie Langford (although Bonnie is off for the first full week of the run, returning from 5 July, with Anna McGarahan ably stepping in until then).
The story is almost pure froth, concerning the romantic misadventures of a mixed band of criminals, entertainers and socialites as they set sail for England from New York. It’s what Gilbert and Sullivan would have been writing if they’d been around in the 1930s, although it largely lacks their satirical edge. Cole Porter’s songs are just perfect and you’ll know most of them as they’ve become standards in their own right – something that’s easier to happen with musicals of this era where people burst into song in ways which don’t necessarily move the action or characters forward – they just stop the show for the pure joy if it!
Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeney is stunning. She’s delivers a role packed with songs and huge dance numbers with apparently effortless ease. The title number ends the first act and has one of the longest sustained dance breaks you’ll ever see. She’s in the whole number, singing and dancing and looking like she’s having a ball. This love and enthusiasm pervades the whole company and reaches out into the audience. A word, too, about the ensemble dancers, particularly the men who do some energetic posing during Blow Gabriel Blow.
Our hero is Billy Crocker, hopelessly in love (as he sees it) with debutant Hope Harcourt. Samuel Edwards as Billy is a delight. Great singing voice, naive charm and smooth dance moves. But for me the real star of the show is Denis Lawson as gangster Moonface Martin (public enemy number 13 and struggling to get into the top 10). He’s an actor who clearly knows how to showcase his charm and humour and really does so to great comic effect.
As an avid cruiser I can vouch for the authentic atmosphere of the cabin sets, with their cosy lighting and elegant fittings. And to top it off we have a superb band in the pit which plays a significant part in injecting pace into the proceedings.
As an aside, the Barbican has lovely spacious seats with plenty of leg-room. But as an infrequent visitor I must say it’s not well sign-posted from the tube (in fact as far as I could see there is no reference anywhere to the Barbican ‘theatre’) and the walk along an underground dual carriageway to the venue was enough to put you off ever going again! Thank goodness the show itself couldn’t have been more of a contrast.
Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office: