What: Anything Goes
When: May 31
Where: Princess Theatre
Music and Lyrics by: Cole Porter
Directed by: Dean Bryant
Musical Direction by: Peter Casey
Choreography by : Andrew Hallsworth
Cast includes: Aljin Abella, Gerry Connolly, Carmen Duncan, Bartholomew John, Wayne Scott Kermond, Nicholas Kong, Debora Krizak, Claire Lyon, Todd McKenney, Caroline O’Connor, Alex Rathgeber.
Designed by: Dale Ferguson
Lighting by: Matt Scott
Sound by: Michael Waters
John Frost and Opera Australia have joined forces to bring us the 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. It is currently playing at the Princess Theatre, before eventually heading up to Sydney.
When Todd McKenney was asked if he could pick a musical what would he want to see, his response was that he would love to see an old fashioned tap extravaganza such as Anything Goes. And here we are.
Anything Goes is the story of a luxury cruise ship heading from New York to London with a crazy crew and a passenger list full of hidden agendas and secret plots. Think of The Love Boat and you will get the idea. Most of the passengers are on board to meet celebrities but there are arranged marriages in the works, runaway gangsters, evangelical priests, and – of course – true love. Awwww….
Anything Goes has a fabulous cast with Connolly as the captain for the Melbourne season (I think we won the lottery there as he will be replaced by Alan Jones in Sydney), Kermond as Moonface, McKenney as Evelyn Oakleigh, and O’Connor as the pivotal character Reno.
Even before it opened Anything Goes went through several rewrites, but over the decades (eight of them so far), there have been three or four major reworkings for stage, and two films made – the original starring Ethel Merman and Bing Crosby. In fact, the part of Reno in the stage version was originally written with Merman in mind.
Anything Goes is a madhouse romp and introduces classic show tunes such as ‘Anything Goes’, ‘You’re The Top’, and ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’. Having said that, this is a musical that borrows songs from other Porter works and producers have felt some significant freedom to cut and add numbers depending on how they want the story to work. More recently the trend has been to revert more closely to the original, but there are still some significant shifts that to me seem dramaturgically unfortunate. Some are also spectacularly successful.
One of the best changes is making ‘Friendship’ a duet between Moonface and Reno. Kermond and O’Connor work brilliantly together as both have a really strong understanding of and talent for delivering that strong vaudevillian energy and technique. Kermond is brilliant throughout the whole show. He understands every nuance of the role of Moonface and never gets lost in the crowd. Kermond and O’Connor do a wonderful tap duet during this song which took me back to the days of Fred Astaire.
Connolly’s Captain is quite a wonderful buffoon style character. Connolly takes his moments when he can but it is not a fully developed character. Another change has been the placement of Reno’s solo ‘Blow, Gabriel Blow’. Reno is on board as the cruise nightclub singer. For the Melbourne season, and in most modern revivals, the song is sung before Billy (Rathgerber) is arrested. For me it just didn’t make sense. Why is Reno singing such a powerful song of faith and hope when nothing has gone very wrong yet?
The song ‘Gypsy In Me’ has been shifted from Hope Harcourt as a joyous moment when she finds out Billy loves her, to being a comic number sung by Evelyn Oakleigh as he falls for Reno. Whilst I understand that McKenney needs and deserves a number of that size and power – and it is the only one he really gets – it just comes from nowhere. This seems to shift the show from a story about Billy and Hope to one about Evelyn and Reno. My problem is that the rest of the show really doesn’t support that emphasis.
Apart from these small logic problems this is just a wonderful mistaken identity farce full of misdirection and mayhem. The audience has as much fun trying to keep all of the plot twists together as they do watching the song and dance numbers and looking at the glorious set and costumes by Ferguson.
Ferguson has designed the prow of a cruise ship (the SS American) with two decks, and some clever art deco references. The costumes are divine although they may tend more to the forties and fifties (perhaps an homage to the films) than the thirties. Gorgeous gowns, tuxedos, and enormous sun hats abound.
The cast are a wonderful ensemble, with standout performances by Kermond, Connolly, Krizak and Duncan (her dog does steal the show, though). McKenney is delightful as Evelyn Oakleigh and is almost unrecognisable in act one. O’Connor is able to showcase her amazing voice, superb comic skills, and stunning tap dancing. I would suggest that she is getting a bit old for the part of Reno, but it is only an issue because it makes the relationship between Reno and Billy hard to believe. On the other hand, it is what makes the relationship history between Moonface and Reno as old cohorts a perfect play device. Swings and roundabouts as they say.
I would really liked to have seen Reno sing ‘Buddie Beware’ as in the original version. O’Connor would have belted it out of the park. Instead the song is now sung by Erma (Krizak) playing with the sailors. Krizak does an amazing job with both the song and her role, really lifting it to the level of hilarity delivered by Kermond. It just doesn’t make sense.
I guess what you can gather from my commentary is that I think this production of Anything Goes is wonderfully performed, beautifully presented and a whole lot of fun. My reservations are about the tweaking that has taken place over the decades dramaturgically. In many respects this is a really good lesson that when you change one thing – even something small – you change the entire balance of the work, and in many cases that means that you have to keep changing everything else to then have it make sense.
Go and see the show, relax, have fun and enjoy amazing singing and tap dancing. Anything Goes was written during The Great Depression and is all about escaping reality for just a short period of time. It is exactly what we all need right now!