Anything Goes, review: Still an incandescent revival, though the new leads aren't quite as shipshape
Apparently, the original studio pitch for the movie Top Gun consisted simply of: “Fighter jet; Tom Cruise”. There is probably no equivalent scenario for musicals, but if there were, one can imagine the pitch for Anything Goes as being: “Ocean liner; Cole Porter”.
For that sums up – no more, yet certainly no less – this vintage champagne Depression-era musical about beautiful bright young things and the odd runaway gangster on a transatlantic cruiser accompanied by Porter's irrepressible jaunty score. It sails once again to lift up our sorely beleaguered souls in the recast form of Kathleen Marshall's rapturous revival, first seen by British audiences at the Barbican in 2021.
That production, garlanded with Tonys on its 2011 premiere, was blessed with an absolute firecracker performance from its original Broadway star Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney – the evangelist turned celebrity dancer nursing an unrequited love for the cocky young clerk Billy Crocker, in turn lovesick for the unhappily engaged debutante Hope Harcourt (that's about it in terms of plot). Foster shimmied her way into our hearts on a wave of jaw-dropping skill and effervescent charm.
Kerry Ellis has the daunting task of filling her sinfully talented shoes and it's not her fault she falls a little short; pretty much anyone would. Yet Ellis is still a seductive presence – a sassy, wise-cracking temptress who finds the wistful subtext in opening number I Get A Kick Out of You, who leads cast and audience into musical theatre heaven in the tap dancing spectacular Anything Goes, and who understands that her job as Reno is to essentially steal, with a wink and a nod, every scene she's in.
I wasn't so convinced by Denis Lawson as Moonface Martin, the crim on the lam disguised as a priest, and the role vacated by Robert Lindsay. The character demands easy, seamless vaudeville; Lawson's larky, self-satisfied approach sometimes strains for effect.
But Simon Callow is sheer pleasure as the drink-befuddled Yale man Elisha Whitney, clutching his teddy bear as he staggers about the decks in pursuit of Bonnie Langford's screechy society widow, while Haydn Oakley peachily reprises his role as Hope's fiancé, the dipstick Englishman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, whose idea of loungewear is plus fours and a knitted vest.
It's become a truism to say the book (originally by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, updated for subsequent productions yet essentially still two intertwining romances, plus the odd screwball instance of mistaken identity) is effectively immaterial.
That's not to say it's without impact – amid the goofy absurdity and sexy irreverence (dogs used as moustaches; threesomes in lifeboats), and the entirely unprovoked eruptions of top-notch dancing and song, there are flashes of genuine yearning and tenderness. I particularly enjoyed the moment Evelyn regretfully informs Reno before tangoing with her during the dubiously titled The Gypsy in Me that Oakleighs don't tend to do things like break off engagements.
But let's be honest – pretty much everything here is in the service of the main effect. And under Marshall's assured direction, which combines expert choreography with weightless, intoxicating romance in ways that emulate the frothy precision of Porter's score to absolute perfection, what an incandescent, irresistible effect that is.
Until Sep 3. Tickets: 020 7870 2500; anythinggoesmusical.co.uk