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Review: ANYTHING GOES, The Barbican

Review: ANYTHING GOES, The Barbican

The magnificent musical returns to the Barbican with some new faces.

Anything GoesNo, no, it isn't déjà vu: Anything Goes really is back at the Barbican less than a year after it last opened there. The cast has some new faces but, other than that, it is just as joyful as it was last time out. If you missed out on tickets then, now is the perfect opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Perhaps even more than last year, it's not hard to look at Anything Goes and think that this is an exceedingly apt show for our times. When it debuted in mid-1934, the USA was in a dark place: the prohibition laws had only just been repealed and the country was still in the grip of an economic crisis in the form of the Great Depression. The show's original story revolved around a bomb threat, a shipwreck, and human trafficking on a desert island before those ideas were ditched in favour of far more wholesome (if rather trite) romantic fare which finds time to lampoon celebrity culture and British aristocrats.

Kathleen Marshall's production really does do Cole Porter's songs (including "I Get A Kick Out Of You", "You're The Top" and "Anything Goes") justice and she turns many of them into jaw-dropping spectacles. This is the kind of show that pretty much demands there be a twenty-person tap dance number at some point and then, when it does happen, leaves everyone breathless, on their feet clapping or both. Even the quieter numbers like "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye" are gems of staging and intense emotion.

Set on the SS American (brilliantly realised by set designer Derek McLane), the plot - such as it is - doesn't do this show many favours, being overcomplicated, dated and derivative. Junior Wall Street broker Billy Crocker is head over heels in love with Hope Harcourt but, alas, she is now engaged to Lord Evelyn, a wealthy peer. Stowing away on the boat which will take her to England and her wedding, he connives to win back her affections aided and abetted by close friend and nightclub singer Reno Sydney and career criminal Moonface Martin. At the same time, he tries to keep a low profile: the captain is on the lookout for uninvited guests on his vessel and Crocker's boss Elisha J. Whitney is also aboard and believes Billy is back in the office.

While there are zingers aplenty, references to the likes of Jimmy Durante and John Dillinger may fly over the heads of most people without a history degree. The plot was old hat even in the 1930s but thankfully we're not here for that. What we're really here for are the acting, the songs, and the set piece dance routines and Anything Goes delivers in spades on all fronts.

From last year's crew, Kerry Ellis takes over from Sutton Foster and doesn't drop the baton, delivering a masterclass in singing and dancing as Reno Sweeney. Dennis Lawson adeptly steps into Robert Lindsay's shoes as Moonface while Simon Callow and Bonnie Langford take over from Gary Wilmot and Felicity Kendal respectively to play Elisha and Hope's mother Evangeline.

The central trio of Samuel Edwards, Nicole-Lily Baisden and Haydn Oakley deservedly retain their roles as Billy, Hope and Evelyn and are superbly supported by the newcomers. Ellis is particularly fabulous in her role but each and every member of the ensemble is a fantastic asset to this show. Callow plays the aged, lonely moneyman who likes a drink or seven anytime of day with delightful relish and Carly Mercedes Dyer (replacing Alex Young) sparks every time she appears as the libidinous Erma.

Outside of opera houses, it is unusual for a venue to stage the same non-seasonal show two years running, but the return of this light comedy shouldn't be seen as a sign of lazy programming or selling out.

So far this year, The Barbican has given over space to an eclectic range of high concept and high quality theatre including Belarus Free Theatre's Dogs Of Europe, the near-four-hour-long Dutch-language take on the Trojan War Age of Rage and provocative dance show The Wedding as well as a celebration of trans culture. If this repeat outing helps the Barbican fund its brave and exceptional programming, I happily look forward to seeing Anything Goes appear there again in 2023.

Anything Goes continues at the Barbican until 3 September.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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