It was fun, fun, fun, all class and a spirit reviving couple of hours in the Lyric at the Anything Goes opening night – and we got a lot more than a glimpse of stocking, we got a sparkling, energy packed marvel of a show, with leggy showgirls, great comedy, super singing and character creation fantastic dance numbers and – thanks to Opera Australia – sublime choral singing. Add to that an amazing 16-piece jazz orchestra playing toe-tapping tunes that are as familiar as they are timeless and you have a recipe that has “hit” written all over it. And to top it all off both acts ended with wonderful, rhythmic, hand-clapping, foot stomping tap dance routines that delighted me and the rest of the packed Lyric theatre. You can forget Les Mis and Phantom, give me a show-stopping full company tap dance routine any time. They knew what a show stopper was in those days.
Anything Goes was first produced when the Great Depression was haunting America and anything that brought a little joy was well received. These days the show is a period piece and this one was an opulent showcase of the rich people of the times with impeccable period costuming that screamed ”class” from every angle. There was even a wedding dress that looked worth every bit of a couple of thousand dollars.
The plot is as flimsy as was Wall Street at the time: the scene is shipboard on an ocean voyage and poor boy, Billy Crocker, loves debutante Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to an English Lord; Reno Sweeney, an older cabaret star loves poor boy. Then we have mistaken identities, mobsters with machine guns and gangster molls, even a couple of pigtailed Chinese hustlers – and everyone lives happily ever after.
There was nothing in this show that wasn’t top shelf – a trio of Helpmann awards attests to that – Caroline O’Connor, who played Reno won Best Female Actor in a Musical, Alex Rathgeber as Billy won Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical, and Andrew Hallsworth won Best Choreography in a Musical. Todd McKenney was compére on the Helpmann’s night and after a flight back from Sydney was scintillating on stage the next night as he had the audience in stitches with his over-the-top- performances as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. But he had them applauding later as he showed his dance moves.
O’Connor, tiny as she is dominated the stage and sang with a true stage musical voice – big and brassy (echoes of Ethel Merman) while Rathgeber had a sweet, penetrating tenor voice and perfect diction, his It’s Delovely duet with Hope was terrific. Claire Lyon played Hope, and was as sweet as she should be. It was nice to see a couple of blasts from my past with couple of stars from the heady days of Crawford Productions in Melbourne, Carmen Duncan made a successful first venture into musical theatre as Evangeline Harcourt and Bartholomew John was delightfully sleazy as Wall Street banker Elisha J. Whitney with shades of Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell. There was more fun from Wayne Scott Kermond, who I am sure could double for Dustin Hoffman, as public enemy number 13, Moonface Martin and the delightfully dizzy blonde Debora Krizak as Moonface’s girlfriend Erma. Then we had Gerry Connolly as the Captain of the S.S. American, his was another stand out performance.
On top of all this brilliance it was almost a sing-along with the songs , “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, “Anything Goes”, “You’re The Top”, “De-Lovely”, “Friendship”, “Blow Gabriel Blow”, the very funny “Public Enemy Number One” and Moonface’s “Be Like the Bluebird”.
On top of all this the band was phenomenal – and I would also recommend getting a souvenir program. There is a lot of fascinating info in this one – including a great story of how Cole Porter came to write Anything Goes.
Company: Opera Australia and John Frost
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane
Dates: 25 July to 16 August 2015
For more of Eric Scott’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television