Anything Goes – UK Tour
Sometimes if you’re lucky the spectacle of theatre can dazzle you so much that you are reminded of the joys of life. It can lift you up from the everyday hum drum of normality and transport you into a world of pure happiness. I believe it was Miriam Margolyes who once remarked ‘Theatre is a broad church’ and it is there is something for everyone.
I was lucky enough to attend the Liverpool premier of ‘Anything Goes’ (2022 revival). I’ll admit it, I can foolishly be a bit of a theatre snob sometimes, but I was delighted at the idea of seeing such a legendary show performed by such an acclaimed company. I was hoping for something spectacular, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.
Anything Goes seems rather like the musical that everyone imagines in their head when they imagine what musical theatre really is. It’s got the glamour of early Hollywood and the excitement of an F.Scott Fitzgerald novel, just a little lighter. We must remember that this is the exact job of the musical which originally premiered not long after the world suffered the stock market crash of 1929. It was written for an audience that had just emerged from a major war and a financial crisis. It’s meant to take you by the hand and remind you that everything will be alright in the end and this production most certainly did.
Set aboard a Cruise Ship, the musical follows the story of a group of people from the middle/upper class of America bound from New York to London. Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards) is a hapless young man, madly in love with debutante Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden). All that stands in his way is his drunkard boss Elisha Whitney (Simon Callow) and Hope’s socially climbing mother Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (Bonnie Langford). To add further complication to the matter, showgirl Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis) and Hope’s oh-so-English fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley). There is also wonderful comedic relief Billy’s unlikely guardian angel, gangster Moonface Martin (Denis Lawson).
One thing that must be mentioned about this production is that it plays to all of its strengths. The music is arranged and performed beautifully. The musical supervision of Stephen Ridley has given this show the glamour and showmanship it deserves. When you’re playing music written by the like of Cole Porter, it can so easily go wrong but Ridley and the orchestra have ensured no promise is left unfulfilled. The choreography and direction of Kathleen Marshall is spot on. Nothing is wasted in this show, every moment a feast for the eyes. It is so tightly bound together that you are able to do what theatre really wants you to do – suspend your disbelief.
The greatest strength for the audience is that the show is cast so beautifully. We are all aware of the main cast because they are so legendary in their field of work. We as the audience get to see such an acclaimed group of stars showing us just how talented they are. Kerry Ellis did make you wonder if there is an end to her talents as she glided from an almost ten minute tap-dancing routine to deliver what was perhaps the biggest note of the whole show. You could see the note powering out of her like an almighty charge of energy but you were still left certain that there was definitely more gas in the tank if she needed to put her foot down.
What was equally refreshing to see was Denis Lawson taking a character that could so easily become a cardboard figure and make it into such a charmingly funny performance. You looked forward to see him enter the stage because it felt as if he knew he didn’t have to take it seriously, he could just have all the fun he wanted and we were so grateful he did. Samuel Edwards character is supposed to be likeable and someone who the audience can relate to. What was so refreshing about Edwards performance is that he continuously surprised you, you were left wondering how he would play the next scene. The dramatic journey of the character is strangely straightforward. His hopeless desire for the love of someone who is not available is given such warmth and charisma. I have no doubt that many members of the audience wished that they were being romantically pursued by Edwards.
Simon Callow’s equally comedic performance was all the more powerful for having the sheer pleasure of seeing him work his craft so near to you. Callow is an actor of such enviable talent that it just makes you like him even more. He has the ability to make every sentence he says sound like a familiar poem.
It was also thrilling to see Bonnie Langford back on the stage. Langford is an actor and performer of legendary status. Her home is the stage. Yet what must be mentioned is just how likeable of a star Langford is. You feel better for knowing she is there, you know you are in safe hands. The last time I saw Langford was when she played the role of Carmel Kazemi in Eastenders (which she played to perfection). To see her in such a different role and equally as perfect in it is a reminder of Miss Langford’s talents.
We must also not forget Nicole-Lily Baisden and Haydn Oakley in their roles. Oakley’s performance could easily have become the boring stereotype of an Englishman, but Oakley drew us in and made himself believable, he was touching and sentimental but equally as comedic and stellar in his performance. Whilst Baisden did the almost impossible, she made us empathise with her character. She was able to put us in the shoes of her character and make us see the complexities of her situation, being engaged to a man who whilst charming is clearly not suited for her and in love with a man that she believes she will live a happy life with. It could be easy to get cast adrift with the sheer showmanship of the musical but what the actors and dancers did was give the show heart and that’s what this show has – a heart.
Finally, we should give equal applause to the ensemble who gave everything to such complex and demanding routines. The show requires energy from start to finish and to give that night after night must be exhausting but we were not short changed. Although I must say one member of the ensemble did stick out and that was Josh Barnett whose cheeky charm was always noted and always welcome whenever he was on stage – which was most of it!
The show is nothing short of wonder. It will cheer you up and lift you back to where you need to be. Every penny of the ticket is given back to you in the feeling of pure enjoyment you will have when you exit out of the theatre two and a half hours later. You will leave wishing you could turn back the clock and watch it again just one more time.
Anything Goes is at The Liverpool Empire until 30th April 2022 -https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/anything-goes/liverpool-empire/
You can buy tickets for the rest of the UK Tour here – https://anythinggoesmusical.co.uk/tour-dates