sat 20/07/2024

Anything Goes, Barbican review - shipboard frivolity still fizzes, mostly | reviews, news & interviews

Anything Goes, Barbican review - shipboard frivolity still fizzes, mostly

Anything Goes, Barbican review - shipboard frivolity still fizzes, mostly

Recasting offers pluses and minuses in return of last year's musical smash

Bon voyage: Kerry Ellis and the ensemble of 'Anything Goes'Images - Marc Brenner

This is the summer, in musical theatre terms at least, of the revival of the revival, with several recent remountings of iconic titles (South Pacific, now in London previews) getting a renewed lease on life, alongside the likes of My Fair Lady, Crazy for You, and Sister Act on hand in or near London to swell the ranks of the familiar yet further.

So it's a delight to report that England's own Kerry Ellis – a onetime Eliza Doolittle as it happens – has taken over from Broadway powerhouse Sutton Foster in Kathleen Marshall's transplanted take on Anything Goes for an encore engagement at the Barbican. Even better: Ellis makes the role of the evangelical goodtime girl Reno Sweeney entirely her own.

Looking sensational in a svelegant parade of costumes courtesy of Jon Morrell, Ellis brings her signature pipes and a peppery delivery to a frothier confection than one associates with this alumna of Wicked and We Will Rock You. And lest anyone think her touch might be too heavy for the shipboard shenanigans that make up the show's crazy-pants plot aboard the SS America ocean liner, Ellis brings a breeziness to the task that could well take her career in exciting new directions: a onetime musical theatre rock chick (you can't quite imagine Foster touring with Brian May) who on this evidence can lend her clarion voice to the tongue-twisting titillations of Cole Porter as easily as she proffers the full-on vocals required by Queen. Denis Lawson at the Barbican in 'Anything Goes'Whether Ellis is trading lyrical japes with soon-to-be stowaway Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards, one of several invaluable holdovers) on "You're the Top" or leading an energised ensemble in the title number so as to send the audience into the interval already on their feet, Ellis communicates a joy in what, for her, is a potentially unlikely assignment. Not far off Foster in age, she's every bit as fleet-of-foot, and, within the score itself, meets the (almost) back-to-back challenges of "Anything Goes" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" with tireless bravura.

An additional wow factor last year was the across-the-board splendour of an eclectic line-up of talent coupling newbies to this sort of thing (you don't expect to find Felicity Kendal doing Cole Porter) with seasoned pros like Tony winner Robert Lindsay, whose invaluably lunatic Moonface Martin earned the show one of a cascade of Olivier nominations back in April. The new recruits this time round boast ample star wattage in their own right, without giving the sense that they have quite got to grips with the effortless buoyancy required to fulfill the potential of such folderol – a harder task than it might seem. 

Denis Lawson (pictured above), the current Moonface, brings a sheepish quality to the part of a moll-happy gangster/conman that sent Lindsay into some blissed-out stratosphere of his own: Lindsay and Foster emitted a shared chemistry that sailed across the footlights, each raising his or her game in admiring response to the other. Their teamwork has been captured on film, along with the rest of the 2021 production, so can be savoured in perpetuity. Simon Callow's Yale man in 'Anything Goes'Bonnie Langford, no stranger to takeovers as proven by her ebullient star turn some years back in 42nd Street, isn't quite as delectably zany as was Kendal in the role of the money-minded mum to ingenue Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden, as sweet-voiced as before). But she's game enough, as is Simon Callow (pictured above), inheriting Gary Wilmot's role as the sight-challenged Yalie whose way with a compliment – "you always did know how to fill a girdle", he tells Langford's appearance-conscious Evangeline – can't quite be imagined these days. The actor's trademark bullishness is amusingly deployed and may account for his eccentric pronunciation of that totemic Yale refrain, "boola boola". 

And I was more taken than ever by a scene-stealing Carly Mercedes Dyer as the adventuresome (well, that's one way of putting it) Erma, the performer here sounding as if she might well be stealing a march on Miss Adelaide in the Bridge Theatre's forthcoming Guys and Dolls. And Haydn Oakley, who took a while to hit his stride last time out, is now entirely at home with the verbally addled delirium of Reno's eventual intended, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh: a trans-Atlantic Mr Malaprop if ever there was one in a performance that, happily, doesn't put a foot wrong even if the separate spelling to his character's surname must keep an actor possessed (what are the chance of this?) of the same name on his toes throughout. 

Kerry Ellis aside, the new recruits haven't quite got to grips with the effortless buoyancy required


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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