Updated: Jan 22
Revival / Review.
Celebrating a classic, rip-roaringly entertaining musical then and now. Stopping off in the West End, a dash across to Lord's, then to the East End, Down Under and finally settling into the best seat in the house.
Thirty three years ago, newly arrived in London and raring to go. My first major production in the West End. Hoofing it up on stage and embarking on a soon to be glorious career in the world of razzle dazzle. That was John Barrowman by the way, not me, but I was there too, roaring him on in Anything Goes. How delightful to discover such an exciting new star, a sprightly fellow with charm, pazazz and oh such piercing eyes. What a dazzingly performance he gave as Billy Crocker, in partnership with Louise Gold as Reno Sweeney and Matt Zimmerman as Moonface Martin.
Earlier that summer, the England cricket team enjoyed a trip to the Prince Edward Theatre at the end of a hard day’s play. It was the Thursday, the first day of the Lord’s test, the second test of shambolic summer. The score at the close of play? 286 all out. Untold riches in comparison to the totals scrambled together by Joe Root’s misfits in 2021/22, but not much to shout about even then when Steve Waugh’s team replied with 528. Ultimately the series ended in a disastrous 4-0 defeat by the Australians. Anything went in those days. Plus ça change.
The revival of the musical (not the England cricket team) at the Barbican last summer should have been an absolute joy. Delayed by a year due to you-know-what. Anything Goes was finally coming to life in July. To say this was eagerly anticipated would be an understatement. Come on, we were gasping for it. And yet I was still not comfortable about being surrounded so closely by other people in a confined space. So I missed out on the live musical event of the year. Thank heavens for the BBC and the screening of the show as live over the festive season.
On board the SS American (production photos: Tristram Kenton)
And boy, what a revival this was! A star-studded cast, notably including two giants from the world of British sitcom. Felicity Kendall as Evangeline Harcourt and Robert Lindsay as Moonface Martin. Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker was a relative unknown (to me). The true star of the show was Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney. Simply brilliant. But then, she’s done it before, in the same role on Broadway ten years ago, winning a Tony award.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking Was looked on as something shocking. Now heaven knows, anything goes.”
Did Cole Porter ever write a better line? It’s possible, I suppose, but unlikely.
Back to London, 2021. On screen. The SS American covers the vast expanse of the stage at the Barbican. Public enemies are fighting over the right to stand in the limelight. Young lovers are struggling to triumph over a potentially disastrous class system. A betrothal that breaks the heart until the magic of the musical does its thing. Shakespeare would have loved this mix up of identities and relationships on a voyage taking us full steam ahead towards a disastrous climax that we all know will simply never happen but can’t quite imagine how it won’t. Even when we’ve seen it all before.
Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards), Reno Sweeney (Sutton Foster) and Moonface Martin (Robert Lindsay)
There are some fabulous songs in this musical. The title song, of course. Then there’s De-Lovely, which is beautifully haunting and evocative of 1936 (I imagine), Friendship (“If you’re ever in a jam, here I am”) and I Get A Kick Out of You. Yes I do. But Blow Gabriel Blow takes me by surprise this time. This is sensational! Sutton Foster leads the line superbly in a sensuous red number. This routine, which is far from routine, seems like it will go on forever. I want to shout “don’t stop!”, but that won’t travel far through virtual space.
Performing Blow Gabriel Blow, Sutton Foster in red
The jokes are not all that funny. Some of them are simply of their time, which is never a simple thing. Robert Lindsay isn’t Wolfie Smith anymore, nor is Felicity Kendall Barbara from The Good Life. Nostalgia can be a pain. Despite this, the performance is full of fun, with just enough wisecracks and japes still hitting the mark.
Evangeline Harcourt (Felicity Kendall)
Alas, all good things come to an end and we are left marvelling at an explosion of energy and joy that has just blasted through our living rooms. Bad jokes included, this has been such high class entertainment. Exactly what so many of us needed after such a difficult two years. Sadly the show is over now and I'm wondering if I’ll still be around in another 33 years time to see another revival. And another collapse by the England cricket team. There must be a chance.
© Eddie Hewitt 2022