All aboard in Beenleigh

Anything Goes (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre 

March 3 – 22

The SS American luxury ocean liner is ready for boarding in Beenleigh as a close to two-dozen strong cast of characters sets sail for “Anything Goes” on a transatlantic trip from New York to London. Amazingly, however, the tin shed stage doesn’t feel overcrowded, thanks to Phoenix Ensemble’s trademark clever set design (in this case by Andy Kennedy), which sees the ship’s decks opening up into state rooms as needed, yet also serve as platform for the show’s spectacular titular Act One close.  

The hilarious and heart-warming Tony Award winning musical’s narrative is a lightweight one, complicated just enough to ensure its play out of madcap mistaken identities, disguises, blackmail attempts and witty one-liners as in between of its familiar songs and lively dance numbers. Firstly, there’s nightclub cabaret singer Reno (Jaime O’Donoghue) and her self-proclaimed ‘dime-a-dozen’ pal Billy Crocker (Zach Price), assistant to gruff elderly millionaire Elisha Whitney (Rod Jones). Broken down stockbroker Billy has stowed away on-board to be near his love, debutant Hope Harcourt (Kristen Barros), who is actually engaged to the wealthy, but bumbling Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jordan Ross), at urging of her mother Evangeline (Nat Box), in seek of the resulting financial advantage.

The musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, was written in 1934, and has been revived many times. Not just of its time, this “Anything Goes” celebrates its era (which makes the inclusion of occasional modern references more jarring thanjoking.) While some dialogue and lyric mentions of the Jimmy Durante and Bo Jangles kind are nuanced in their of-the-time-ness, there is still a lot of laughs to be held, such as when Public Enemy Number…13! gangster Moonface Martin (Tristan Vanyai) attempts to cheer up a depressed Billy by telling him to ‘Be Like The Bluebird’, complete with increasingly irritated ballet dancer accompaniment. Under Miranda Selwood’s direction, the show never takes itself too seriously and a ‘soft’ start to each act that sees the audience being entertained by musical numbers and then interaction in petty-crim card tricks, only adds to the joy of the whole experience.

The tremendously talented O’Donoghue is a delight as the charismatic, free-spirited lapsed evangelist Reno. Flawless in song and dance, she aptly portrays her character as both a confident knockabout and glamorous kitten, and commands the stage in every number. Her strong vocals are pitch-perfect and controlled in their confident belt of Broadway-esque musical numbers and her Act One duet, ‘Friendship’, with Vanyai’s Moonface is a superb vaudevillian showcase of both performers’ magnificent comic talents. Vanyai’s characterisation of the buffoonish gangster disguised as a preacher is another show highlight, particularly in work with Vivien Wood as sultry Jersey gangster’s moll Erma. Their interplay, along with the pickpocketing antics of petty crims Spit (Aaron Anderson) and Dippy (Julie Eisentrager), ensures that thre is always something to look at.

Ross is an absolute hoot as the goofy fish-out-of-water Evelyn, trying to learn, but repeatedly mangling, American idioms in his speech. And Price is appropriately lovesick as protagonist Billy, who smuggles himself aboard the luxury cruise liner to make his intentions clear to the girl who got away from him. His ‘Easy to Love’ and later iconic ‘It’s De-Lovely’ duet with a sweetly-voiced Barros as Hope, also shows his impressive vocal register.  

Everyone gets a musical number as the show’s characters deal with the ramifications of trying to connect, meaning that there are ample opportunities for the band (under conductor Jacob Cabanough) to shine. The small band gives big band sounds throughout, presenting not just the individual character of songs, but adding a brassy vibrancy to of-era numbers such as Act One’s ‘There’s No Cure Like Travel’, in which the crew of the vessel prepare to set sail. And Jared Lehmann, in particular, gives more than a touch of Tango to Act Two’s ‘The Gypsy in Me’, in which The Earl reveals his Romani ancestry.

Of similar energy, the spirited gospel number ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’, performed by Reno one night in the ship’s nightclub, begins Act Two proper with a bang with all of its brassiness and gospel sounds. The sermon song is a standout of choreography, with Bec Swain’s design suiting its energy, sentiment and sensibility (almost up there with the razzle-dazzle, tap dance marathon of ‘Anything Goes’, which is hands-down the best musical number I’ve seen at a Phoenix show). Although sometimes ill-fitting in the ensemble, costume design captures the era of the story’s setting, especially in the glamourous evening attire of ‘Blow, Gabrielle, Blow’, and the art deco design motifs of Reno’s gowns are a standout at establishing the era.

There is something quite special about the sentiment of this all-singing, all-dancing vehicle for Cole Porter classics. Indeed, its mix of sweetly romantic numbers and energetic slapstick comedy sections, ensure that this big, bright and bold “Anything Goes” has something for everyone looking for some high-energy, fabulously feel-good musical escapism…. After all, as one of its most famous numbers surmises, “it’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely”.

Anything Goes all aboard

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’.