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A CurtainUp London Review
By Ben Clover
The National Theatre had a little criticism after producing musicals like this. My Fair Lady and South Pacific were seen as cashings-in or pandering to public taste, as if this were a bad thing. Everyone knows that musicals make money, whether in the Lyttleton or on a transfer to the West End, and a portion of this goes straight back over the river to the National's coffers. The glamour of theatre is an undeniable part of its attraction, Anything Goes is an embodiment and recollection of it from a very specific era.
Cole Porter's world, the one he crams aboard the SS America is the same as we would find in the pages of Heat had it been running then and edited by PG Wodehouse. Full of joyous archetypes -- the young lovers, the vamp, the drunk and a foppish Englishman -- the plot puts them in a confined space and lets them bump into each other. The effect is comic and very, very tuneful; for example "I Get A Kick Out Of You", "You're the Top" and of course the title track, Anything Goes.
The plot is simple and reliable: confused identities, mis-matched lovers and super sized characters. It all ends happily of course, with more onstage marriages than a Moonie convention, but gets there with enough charm to force your forgiveness. The plot is there as a vehicle, a delivery system for its sophisticated passengers: the songs.
Cole Porter is perhaps the greatest of a crop of songwriters that distinguished the period and Anything Goes is arguably the best collection of Porter songs in a single musical. They all have lyrics that demand concentration if you are to enjoy their wit fully. My favourite was "You're the tower, that leans in Pisa. You're the smile, on the Mona Lisa" from "You're The Top" but there are plenty of other contenders.
Stand out performances were all around but in a crowded field Sally Ann Triplett and Simon Day as Reno and English Evelyn were excellent. Their dance to "The Gypsy in Me" was hilarious and very sweet. The central lovers "a-twain" (John Barrowman and Mary Stockley) were very good but outflanked by the eccentricity of the other characters. Two bit gangster Moonface (Martin Marquez) was a fine, scene stealing example of this, although his greatest moment is actually offstage with a Tommy gun and a clay pigeon. But it is really Triplett's performance that defines the show; her sheer presence in set pieces like "Blow Gabriel Blow" could make you think you were in the golden age of Broadway Theatre 70 years ago. It's also a tribute to her and Day's acting that the marriage of their disparate characters seems normal rather than grotesque.
It might have seemed like Reno's show entirely were it not for the awesome dance numbers. Stephen Mear's choreography showcased both individual virtuosity and feats of ensemble dancing that made you gape. "Blow Gabriel Blow" showed both elements best and gradually teased the audience's involvement back to levels they'd reached by the end of the first half.
Overall this is a hugely enjoyable, highly stylish revival with credit due all around, not least to the technicians. The set design team pull off some impressive transformations in this production; a revolving stage allows us onto the deck, the bar and even the brig of the SS America. Trevor Nunn and the crafts team must have designed the lighting and look of the show minutely, for a piece with such potential for over-indulgence, it dodges the garish at every step. Between the design and the cast the whole enterprise seems effortlessly stylish, as all style must be, and the evening is mightily entertaining. If you are in the market for a musical, catch Anything Goes before it sails away.