REVIEW: Anything Goes (Auckland Music Theatre)

Anything Goes
Did anyone ever think to tell Cole Porter that 'De-lovely' isn't a word?

When reviewing shows, anything goes… [by James Wenley]

Anything Goes
Did anyone ever think to tell Cole Porter that 'De-lovely' isn't a word?

Anything Goes is currently enjoying a very successful revival at the home of musical theatre: Broadway. If you believe the hype headliner Sutton Foster is akin to the second coming, and it received the 2011 Tony Award for ‘Best Revival’. It’s a classic musical that truly earnt its ‘classic’ tag, how could it not when it features a writing credit by PG Wodehouse (of Jeeves and Wooster fame), and songs by brilliant composer Cole Porter.

Aucklanders get to see what the fuss is about with a local production playing at the Civic by Auckland Music Theatre (who previously bought RENT and 42nd Street to the big stage), directed by Grant Meese.

Anything Goes is set on an ocean liner, bound to London from New York, which is judged not by its service, speed or style but on the quality of the passengers list and whether any celebrities will be on board.

It’s a familiar bag of comedic ingredients, reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy or a Gilbert & Sullivan Opera… Reno Sweeney (Jackie Clarke) fancies Billy Crocker (Tyran Parke),but Billy’s in love with Hope Harcourt (Delwynne Winter), but she’s engaged to Evelyn Oakley (Richard Neame). Throw in some gangsters, mistaken identities and a lost pair of glasses, and we are set for a very silly, but very entertaining plot. We know who’s destined to end up with whom, and we know it will all come right in the end, but with these things it’s all about the journey. Or the cruise.  

It’s a very witty, farcical script, as expected from PG Wodehouse and collaborator Guy Bolton (though heavily revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and revised again for its 1987 and 2011 revivals) with many a zinger and pointed social skewering, all with a keen sense of fun.

Cole Porter is a much praised composer, and it’s easy to see why. His lyrics and tunes are both elegant and playful and Anything Goes contains a great number of his hits including I get a kick out of you, It’s Delovely, Blow, Gabriel, Blow, and… er… Anything Goes*. It’s rare for all the songs in a musical to consistently zing, but for my money the Anything Goes score gets pretty close.

The 16 strong orchestra under Musical Director Penny Dodd know how to bring a Porter tune to life, and sound great doing it. For this show they are out of the orchestra pit, and up on the top deck of the stage, and I enjoy being able to see them in action.

Jackie Clarke has pizzazz to spare as evangelist turned nightclub performer Reno Sweeney. She exquisitely excels in her many numbers, bringing an otherwise wooden show opening to life with first song of the night I get a kick out of you, and belts out the title song and Blow, Gabriel, Blow with style.

Aussie import Tyran Parke, who made his mark last year in Auckland productions of Sweeney Todd and Cabaret, makes a welcome return to our shores as Billy Crocker. He’s got something of a character actor look about him, but leading man chops n’ lungs, holding the whole ship together. Seriously, this guy is a talent –  can we keep him?

Delwynne Winter has less to do as Crocker’s love Hope Harcourt, and the role is something of a sweet cookie cutter stock love interest. It’s difficult for her to step into the limelight when she is surrounded by a company of whacky characters.

In these comedic roles, it’s obvious the actors are having as much fun as we are. Richard Neame’s owns the mincing English ponce Evelyn Oakley, and his big number Gypsy in Me, where he reveals is family secret, is a definite highlight. Bumbling gangster Moonface Martin (Nigel Godfrey) and his mole Erma Latour (Alexandra Foster) are a riot, and I’m a big fan of Foster’s squeaky voiced performance. It’s a shame entertainment statesman Ray Woolf doesn’t get a song as Elisha Whitney, but he has some good comedy moments, and credit for playing much of his performance with a squint after Moonface hides his glasses! Lynn Webster shines as snotty Evangeline Harcourt. And I have a soft spot for converted Christians Luke and John (Erwin Cifra and Jarrod Lee), who have a weakness for gambling, and always shuffle across the stage with their heads bowed and arms clasped.

I’ve felt slightly uneasy about ‘pro-amateur’ shows in the past, that use the formula of pairing paid ‘names’ with the unpaid ensemble cast. Often this ensemble cast has been rather large, and not as ‘tight’ as touring professional shows might be. With this in mind, Anything Goes has been the first local pro-am show I’ve seen with the most ‘professional’ ensemble. Numbering 18, it’s large enough to provide the spectacle, without cluttering the stage. There are many speaking and minor roles within the show, so some get their own featured moment. They are a hard working group too, clocking up many costume changes through the show, with the boys going from sailors to passengers back to sailors again many times through the show.

The choreography (Leigh Evans) is impressively performed by the cast, with the tap numbers especially good. The romantic dance interlude within Its Delovely was less assured, but this was the only noticeable misstep.

I was also impressed with the grand original set (John Hodgkins) and stylish costumes (Alf Weston) designed for this production. With shows of this kind often bringing in costumes and set from elsewhere, it meant these important elements could be uniquely tailored for this production’s demands.

Anything Goes is a great musical, and this is a great production of it. With its mix of romance, laughs and music, it’s a ship I recommend boarding!

* According to theatrical legend, the show was a mess as they quickly worked to rewrite it before opening. A stressed production team member asked “How in the hell are we going to end the first Act?”, to which the producer replied “at this point, anything goes”… the title number was born.

The Mondo Travel Season of Anything Goes is presented by Auckland Music Theatre and plays at The Civic Theatre until 22nd October. More information at The Edge.

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