Anything Goes (Opera Australia and John Frost)
QPAC, Lyric Theatre
July 25 – August 16
The all-singing, all-dancing big Broadway musical “Anything Goes” is the type of show in which, as the title suggests, nothing is predictable, as its audience is taken on a madcap ride along in a vehicle of legendary Cole Porter songs. And the result will surely have you leaving the Lyric Theatre with a smile on your face and song on-the-hum.
The romantic comedy, which was first produced in 1934, is set aboard the transatlantic ocean liner SS American, shown in some wonderfully styled Art Deco staging. On board for the trip are an assortment of characters. There’s nightclub singer Reno (Caroline O’Connor) and her pal Billy (Alex Rathgeber), who has stowed away to be near his love, socialite Hope Harcourt (Claire Lyon) who is actually engaged to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Todd McKenney).
Throw in Public Enemy Number Thirteen, mobster Moonface Martin (Wayne Scott Kermond) and his sidekick moll Erma (Debora Krizak) with a violin case of cash and gangster gun, and the scene is set for a whole lot of chaos, complete with disguises, a bit of blackmail and some highly entertaining improbabilities. Understandably perhaps, the show is slow to start as characters and relationships are introduced, however, it soon builds towards a show-stopping Act One ‘Anything Goes’ closer. And Act Two is absolutely hysterical.
With its mix of lovely romantic numbers and energetic slapstick comedy sections, “Anything Goes” certainly has something for everyone. In many ways it is of its time (#inagoodway) with its incorporation of casual mentions of Mae West, Greta Garbo and Jimmy Durante that may well be lost on some audience members. And while its romantic moments reflect a real Fred and Ginger finesse, its upbeat numbers will also easily take audiences back to the golden days of MGM movie musical duos of great.
Despite its vintage feel, however, this is a very funny show. Musically, the almighty Act Two opener ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’ sees the production’s star, O’Connor, whipping the capacity crowd into fevered frenzy with the sermon song. Her Act One number, ‘Friendship’ with Kermond is another superb vaudevillian showcase of her comic talents. McKenney too is quite hilarious when he is finally able to cut loose about his dark and savage family secret in Act Two’s revelatory ‘The Gypsy in Me’.
The crowded cast is full of talented performers, none more so that the amazing Caroline O’Connor who is absolutely deserving of her 2015 Helpman Award for Best Female Actor in a Musical. Her stage presence is magnetic in its projection of an infectious sense of fun and her versatility as singer, dancer and actor is magnificent. As complement, in reprise of his supporting role as the bumbling Hugh-Grant-ish Englishman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, McKenney also shows a flair for comedy in his character’s inability to accurately grasp American idioms. Scenes are stolen too by Krizak as the girlish vamp Erma, all womanly long legs and deliberately awkward in her attempts to distract characters.
“Anything Goes” is a show renowned for its large ensemble tap numbers and in this expectation, it does not disappoint. There are many musical highlights brought to life by, in particular, the orchestra’s brass section. And the comedy is tempered by some beautiful operatic musical numbers from Rathgeber, most notably, whose tenor voice simply caresses the music. With its long list of classics, including ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘It’s De-Lovely’ and ‘Anything Goes’, the show’s soundtrack is sure to stay with you long after leaving.
This is classic musical theatre, pure escapist in nature and full of high-energy, feel-good fun to make it a top night of entertainment. And it is easy to see how its recent Broadway run resulted in three Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival. “Anything Goes” is the perfect piece for a large ensemble cast, which this production celebrates in a big, bright and joyous way. Although it may be dated, its design elements (in particular its glorious costumes) are so delightful as to make it absolutely charming and evidence, it would seem of the adage that ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’.