Opera Australia & John Frost
QPAC Lyric Theatre
July 25 – August 16 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
ANYTHING GOES has captivated millions with its delightful story of madcap antics aboard the S.S. American. When the ocean liner sets sail from New York to London, etiquette and convention get tossed out the portholes as two unlikely couples set off to find true love… proving that sometimes destiny needs a little help from a crew of singing sailors, an exotic disguise and some good old-fashioned blackmail.
With three Helpmann Awards announced the previous night, opening night of Anything Goes in Brisbane was always going to be an exciting affair. I wore sparkles, creating a major dress dilemma for the week because LA BOITE’S BIRTHDAY BASH! That’s right. Two of the shiniest occasions in Queensland’s theatrical calendar occur in one week and I’ve already been seen in my (more-twenties-than-thirties, let’s face it) sparkles. I’m not above being seen in the same frock twice but…
It’s times like these I have to ask myself
WHAT WOULD OUR CATE DO?
Well, there’s no Armani here yet, but it’s okay, don’t panic, I have more white in the wardrobe now, thanks to a fortune fortnight spent on Hastings Street during Noosa Long Weekend Festival and the smiling, sophisticated ladies at KOOKAI. Admittedly, all they had to do was to bag a couple of cute frocks, which I’d spotted on the rack and decided to purchase without even trying on (because KOOKAI), but still; they are lovely there. Go visit them if ever you find yourself in similar strife.
This dazzling production of Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is indeed almost too de-lightful, too de-licious and too, too de-lovely for words. It’s not my favourite clever, convoluted, old-fashioned, funny because it’s so unlikely excuse for a plot – misadventure and mistaken identities on the high seas with enough theatrical evangelical shenanigans to create another show entirely – but the music is timeless and the comedy is pitched at a broad audience of loyal Porter fans and musical theatre newbies. Everyone will enjoy this one.
Musical theatre queen, Caroline O’Connor, is superb as Reno Sweeney, as we knew she would be. In this demanding role, O’Connor earned the Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. She barely pauses for breath – unless there’s a laugh to be had (and there are plenty, with her knack for physical comedy most obvious in Friendship with Wayne Scott Kermond) – and with her suitably Ethel Merman styled powerhouse vocals, polished dance and comedic finesse, O’Connor steals the show. But only just because this is the strongest company we’ve seen in Frosty’s trilogy with Opera Australia.
Reno’s girls are standouts – hot, glam goddesses who get to strut and shimmy their stuff in a red-lit and racy Blow, Gabriel, Blow (Annie Aitkin, Bridgette Hancock, Hayley Martin & Samantha Leigh Dodemaide).
And the ensemble are all gorgeous, great, true triple-threats, with an abundance of very young-looking sailors on board… didn’t Fleet Street happen already?! The title number, reprised for the Finale, is the highlight of the show – precision tap at its best to leave you, unlike the company of #fitspo performers, gasping for breath! Helpmann Award winning choreography by Andrew Hallsworth is simply spectacular, brilliantly executed.
Todd McKenney, perfect in the role of English fop, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, reminds me of Eric Idle in The English National Opera’s The Mikado (1997), which was watched and re-watched for years in our house, thanks to the miracle of VHS. We see this sort of silliness in a role attempted so often but it’s very rarely achieved. Todd McKenney nails it. And of course, he can dance! Act Two’s The Gypsy In Me showcases McKenney’s triple-threat skill set and has us in stitches. (N.B. McKenney doesn’t do the Sunday show). Wouldn’t you just love to sign up for a Todd’s Tour with Evelyn?!
Alex Rathgeber’s Billy Crocker won him the Helpmann Award for Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical. A legit leading man, Rathgeber brings warmth, charm and natural comedy to Crocker, making the character seem more present than ever in the ludicrous plot, and giving Hope Harcourt (Claire Lyon) much to consider in her will-I-or-won’t-I-marry-him throes. In Act One, You’re The Top (with O’Connor) and Easy To Love (with Lyon) carry old-world, swoon-worthy charm. Lyon is lovely, elegant and perfectly matched.
Wayne Scott Kermond and Deborah Krizak – Moonface Martin and the sexy, haughty Erma – bring hilarity to new heights; Krizak’s mercury-like moves in the constrictive cabin space and her Madonna attitude in Buddie Beware make her my new fave what-else-have-ya-got-for-us female. (She has in fact, got CABBARET, an ABBA biopic).
MD/Conductor, Peter Casey, leads a slick outfit – there are no disappointing horns here – and Dale Ferguson’s simple set adaptation (lit by Matt Scott) and sublime costumes (to make up for the simple set?) complete the look and feel of what is really a magnificent production, astutely directed by Dean Bryant.
Credited with the New Book Co-Author credit is Timothy Crouse, son of one of the original authors, Russell Crouse, but it seems there hasn’t been much of a re-write, which is a shame because contemporary audiences are looking for more than a name change for the Chinese. Aren’t we? Bryant’s production for Opera Australia and John Frost is glamorous, gorgeous and hilarious, and it won’t make a difference to box office sales to find fault with a slightly outdated book, but it’s worth noting that once this one is done there might be more to consider than star vehicles boasting terrific song and dance numbers that gloss over obvious racist undercurrents, which so many of the older, much-loved shows perpetuate within their stories. Of course, each reflects the popular themes and attitudes of its time. But does that deem them untouchable? South Pacific somehow seemed more relevant and The King and I not so much. The London Palladium Production of The Sound of Music certainly seems a stronger choice (and you can book for that now. Amy Lehpamer is going to be amazing).
Anything Goes is a lavish production with a stellar cast. It would be a crime to miss Caroline O’Connor in this iconic role, in a riotous show that doesn’t claim to be anything it’s not. It’s pure entertainment and it’s honestly the most fun you’ll have at the theatre before you have your mind blown at Brisbane Festival.
Anything Goes must finish August 16 so be quick and book tix and dress nicely, and go and have some fun on board the S.S. American!
Production pics by Jeff Busby