Describing Anything Goes as romantic, saucy antics on an ocean liner likely conjures one particularly unflattering image in one’s mind: a musical which borders on pantomime and appeals to the older generations. Though Anything Goes is anything but.
Granted, younger audiences – to their shame – may not be familiar with greats such as Bonnie Langford and Simon Callow, and so the perception around the target audience may be somewhat accurate. However, there are a lot of things which are taken seriously when the show itself might not be. Director Kathleen Marshall’s choreography is meticulous and genuinely faultless, gorgeous hues from Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design give a warm and cosy feel, and the towering nature of Derek McLane’s set is frankly astonishing.
Yet it feels as though such tight focus breeds complacency among the cast. There’s a few breaks in character, conversations between each other in the background which don’t exactly look like your typical fake discussion, and dancers with neutral facial expressions during what is otherwise a jolly dance number.
It rubs off on the audience as well, prompting a reaction which is mostly satisfaction than awe or excitement, and passive instead of active engagement. It’s an easy watch, which is alright for some, but there’s little in terms of stimulation or deep thinking which many may well be after. Instead, such a tone lends itself well to the farcical comedy in the production. Denis Lawson excels as cha-cha’ing gangster Moonface Martin, Callow uses his experience with Shakespeare to nail a posh Elisha Whitney, and Haydn Oakley bags a few laughs as the eccentric and naïve Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.
In a true display of the formidable team effort behind the show, one of the funniest moments occurs when conductor and musical director, Mark Aspinall, intervenes in the middle of chaotic dance number, Friendship. The title number, Anything Goes, is another demonstration of the sheer scale of the production, bringing the first act to a close in a tap-dancing spectacle.
Yet tragically, Cole Porter’s music and lyrics do little to stand out beyond these two songs, and perhaps the repetition in Blow, Gabriel, Blow. If the music isn’t familiar in its two-step rhythm, then they blur in similarity by being mostly about love and seduction – there’s little in terms of deviance which perhaps would have made the musical more active than passive, as mentioned previously. In fairness, though, the orchestrations – sometimes jarring with their off-beat tempo – still manages to make the 160-minute running time fly by.
Anything Goes is a swooning, swinging and soaring crowd-pleaser – not least in the glorious razmatazz of Kerry Ellis’ Reno Sweeney and Samuel Edwards’ Billy Crocker – but ultimately enjoyment comes down to whether one can settle for just plain sailing…
Anything Goes is now playing at the Barbican Theatre until 3 September.
Captioned performances take place on 26 July and 4 August, while audio described performances are scheduled for 9 August and 18 August.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Anything Goes’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.