IN the early 1970s as I was leaving the Bristol Hippodrome after watching a third-rate production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, redeemed only by the performance of Marion Montgomery in the role of Reno Sweeney, I thought what a pity that such a fine show should receive such a poor presentation.
Since that date there have been two or three much better productions out on tour, but none to match this one, which must be rated as the best to be seen since the end of World War 2.
It has a top quality cast and chorus, beautiful period costumes, spectacular staging and choreography, all accompanied by an orchestra which captures the sound and style of Porter’s 1930s music ideally, without ever challenging the singers for dominance in any number. And what a list of songs they have at their disposal, big production numbers like the toe-tapping title song and Blow Gabriel Blow, which had the audience begging for an encore, to comedy classics like Friendship, the delightful I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, and It’s De-Lovely, to the gentle romantic Easy to Love and All Through the Night. Like all Cole Porter songs they contained expertly crafted lyrics, and with singers whose diction was clear enough for us to hear every word, those lyrics became a delight.
All very well to have that amount of high quality material at the disposal of director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, and MD Mark Aspinall, but without a cast and company with the talent to take advantage of such material, you still have at best a second rate show. From the all-singing, all-dancing, fine natural player of comedy, Kerry Ellis – a bright, brash, loveable Reno Sweeny – to the last member of the chorus there was nothing second rate about the any performance in this production.
Whatever Kerry put her hand, foot, or voice to, she captured the right style and feeling of the moment and/or song. It was a good job that she had such talents because she had to do battle with three top class experienced players – Denis Lawson, Simon Callow and Bonnie Langford. Nowadays we associate Denis more with drama, Bleak House and New Tricks, but his musical roots go back to the 1982 revival of Mr Cinders, and all that experience was brought to bear on his delightful Public Enemy No 13, Moonface Martin. If we listed the theatrical CVs of Simon Callow and Bonnie Langford, we could run out of room, and not surprisingly they created the tippling eccentric businessman Elisha Whitney and fluttering American matriarch Mrs Evangeline Harcourt, with ease, conjuring up some lovely moments of comedy and readily joining in the big production numbers.
In such company, the romantic part of the story could easily disappear into the background if those involved were lacking in style and ability. With Nicole-Lily Baisden (Hope Harcourt) and Samuel Edwards (Billy Crocker) on hand, that was never an option. Vocally they handled the sentiment in Easy to Love, and light comedy in It’s De-Lovely equally well, and danced their way, with aid of a fine quartet of sailors, through All Through the Night in true Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers style.
The ‘silly ass’ English M’Lord is now very dated, but Haydn Oakley’s underplayed (except for the hugely enjoyable exaggerated Gypsy in Me number) made Lord Evelyn Oakleigh a most acceptable character. Lurking in the background for most of the show was Carly Mercedes Dyer’s sexy Erma. When finally let loose to tease the whole ship’s crew, she belted out Buddie Beware in the style of a leading lady.
If 1930s sophistication and Cole Porter’s wonderful songs and witty lyrics are your bag, then this is a production not to miss.