Superlatives don’t do justice to the seemingly ageless national treasure of musical theatre in Caroline O’Connor, who gives one of the performances of her life in this hilarious, fun-filled new Australian production. Anything Goes is a big, bold and sassy musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.
It debuted on Broadway in 1934, so we are talking the Depression era … and this was a good way to chase away the Blues. J.C. Williamson first introduced it to Australian audiences in 1936. Anything Goes played for six weeks in Sydney, ten days at His Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane and seven weeks in Melbourne and then disappeared from Australian stages for 35 years. It was revived in 1971 and again to widespread acclaim in 1989, before The Production Company introduced it in its 2001 season and staged it again a decade later. That year Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth were responsible for direction and choreography and now the pair is back at the helm with three of the stars of that show.
The story concerns madcap antics aboard the ocean liner S.S. American, bound from New York to London. Billy Crocker is a stowaway in love with heiress Hope Harcourt. They spent one passionate night together and he knew she was the one for him. She feels similarly, but has become engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, whom she is due to marry in three days. The reason is simple – her family fortune is no longer and her mother sees this as a good way out of their financial predicament. Complications abound and it is left to evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney to help Billy in his quest to win over the former heiress.
Todd McKenney reprises his role (from 2011) as wealthy Englishman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, while Alex Rathgeber has been recalled as young Wall Street broker Billy Crocker. Wayne Scott Kermond is also back as Moonface Martin, a second rate gangster. O’Connor plays Reno Sweeney, Claire Lyon is Hope Harcourt and Debora Krizak has been cast as Erma, Moonface’s girlfriend. Carmen Duncan plays Mrs Harcourt, Hope’s haughty and overbearing mother and Bartholomew John appears as Elisha Whitney, an Ivy league Wall Street banker. Gerry Connolly rounds out the principal cast as the ship’s hapless captain.
The cast in total numbers 28, excluding the band. Vocally, it is particularly strong. Anything Goes introduced such songs as “Anything Goes”, “You’re the Top”, “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “It’s De-Lovely”. There are 21 musical numbers in all – 12 in the first act and nine in the second. None is better than the sensational signature tune (and accompanying electrifying tap dancing) that closes the first act and has the audience jumping to its feet, clapping and cheering in appreciation.
Soon after the break, O’Connor and her bawdy dancing quartet, have a less than conventional way of encouraging sinners to repent as they belt out “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”. Another showcase number that has the crowd in raptures is the display of friendship between old mates Reno and Moonface.
Todd McKenney, almost unrecognisable when he first appears on stage as Lord Oakleigh in a fawn double breasted suit, hat and glasses, milks his floppy hair for all its worth whenever he reappears. Like O’Connor, he is a sheer delight as he captures the essence of the confounded Englishman in his limited time in the limelight. As a matter of fact, the principals all had their opportunities to shine and did so on cue, with the comic timing of Rathgeber, Kermond, Krizak, John and Connolly particular fancies. Sure, some of what they are asked to do is corny, but much of it is laugh aloud funny and witty to boot.
I was particularly taken by the rapid fire action that moves along the plot, which takes place in finely tuned vignettes in the first act. It is then that the cleverly conceived central stage area rotates back and forth to reflect the amusing repartee of several of the key players in respective cabins. The imagination of set and costume designer Dale Ferguson is to be applauded, as a central bar in Manhattan gives way to a ship’s deck on two levels. Remaining prominent throughout is the ship’s bow, for which credit must also go to lighting designer Matt Scott.
Winner of three Tony Awards during its most recent Broadway revival, Anything Goes is set to delight Australian audiences, for it is truly deserving of yet more gongs. But the real star of the piece, in every sense of the word, is the peerless Caroline O’Connor, whose range and showmanship has rightfully earned her global recognition. She is brilliant. Long may she continue to reign.
Anything Goes is on at the Princess Theatre before moving to Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre from 28th July and the Sydney Opera House from 8th September, when Alan Jones will assume the role of the ship’s captain.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television