Cole Porter’s nautical musical comedy is awash with the likes of classics I Get A Kick Out Of You, You’re The Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and the show-stopping title number. Based on an original book by PG Wodehouse, it’s endlessly giddy fun as a madcap cast of swindlers, stowaways, gangsters, showgirls and star-crossed lovers collide on a trans-Atlantic luxury liner. The original 1934 Broadway cast boasted Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman and, over the years, a parade of leading ladies like Elaine Paige and Patti Lupone have raised the roof as sharp-tongued showgirl Reno Sweeney before Sutton Foster won a Tony Award in the 2011 New York revival. Following Megan Mullally’s injury-related exit earlier this year from the latest London production, Foster stepped in to save the day at short notice.
On opening night, the London crowd showered her with love and applause (and two standing ovations) throughout the night as the seasoned pro sassed and high-kicked her way to the show’s irresistibly feel-good finale.
For me, though, the real joy somewhat unexpectedly lies in the supporting cast. Who knew Robert Lindsay would be such an utter treat as second-rate gangster Moonface Martin? He’s fully invested and convincing in every louche shrug and broad Brooklyn vowel. It’s an absolute masterclass.
Lindsay’s matched in delirious hamminess by Felicity Kendall, making her long-overdue musical debut as bankrupt society grand dame Evangeline Harcourt and clearly having a blast in between faux fainting spells and foghorn pronouncements.
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Lesser-known but even more delightful are two of the supporting players who thoroughly deserve praise.
Hadyn Oakley’s caricature British toff Lord Evelyn Harcourt is increasingly ridiculous and yet somehow adorable until he brings the house down on the sublimely silly The Gypsy In Me. Meanwhile, Carly Mercedes Dyer steals absolutely every scene, shamelessly wringing every ounce of hilarity out of brassy gangster’s moll Erma.
Unfortunately, in contrast, the central romance between chancer Billy and heiress Hope should be swoonsomely sweet but lacks any discernable chemistry. Samuel Edwards has a lovely clear voice and affable charm but Nicole-Lily Baisden underwhelmed in both vocals and footwork.
Slickly staged, it all breezes buoyantly by and the supporting dancers are excellent. It is undeniably entertaining and yet…
The direction (by Broadway legend Kathryn Marshall) and, surprisingly, Foster herself somehow feel a little contained and careful even on the biggest numbers. The show also squanders some of the sensational script’s zinging one-liners, although there is already an embarrassment of riches in that department.
It feels churlish to find fault but, to paraphrase Mr Porter, this de-lovely production could have been deliciously 5-star de-luxe with a little more wildness and wind in its sails.
ANYTHING GOES AT THE BARBICAN THEATRE TO OCTOBER 31