Anything Goes (Phoenix Ensemble)
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”.