Anything Goes (Opera Australia & John Frost, 2015)

Opera Australia and John Frost team up yet again, and praise be to god it isn’t for another Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical. Though they stay in safe, old-fashioned territory once more, there is no denying that Anything Goes is one of the great classics, and this is coming from someone who will choose contemporary musical theatre over the classics almost every time. When I saw this on Broadway back in 2011 I was blown away by the sheer pizzazz of the extravagant production, and I was intrigued to see whether the Australian effort would match it.

The number we all came to see.
The number we all came to see.

Set on the S.S. American ocean liner, Anything Goes is a light-hearted farce with a gaggle of entertaining characters. Billy Crocker (Alex Rathgeber) is a stowaway in love with American debutante, Hope Harcourt (Claire Lyon), however she is engaged to the poncy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Todd McKenney). Hope’s mother Evangeline (Carmen Duncan) is consumed by the prospect of wealth, and Wall St banker Elisha Whitney (Bartholomew John) pines after her for unknown reasons. Reno Sweeney (Caroline O’Connor) is an evangelist turned nightclub singer who entertains the passengers and crew, and the Captain (Gerry Connolly) is happy to have anyone close to celebrity status on board. Gangster Moonface Martin (Wayne Scott Kermond) tries to pass himself off as a priest, while his accomplice Erma (Debora Krizak) has fun with the sailors.

Caroline O'Connor & Alex Rathgeber
Caroline O’Connor & Alex Rathgeber

Plot wise, Anything Goes is pure fluff, and not to be taken too seriously. The big drawcard is Cole Porter’s score and the enjoyable choreography, handled by the superb Andrew Hallsworth. The two big numbers, ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’ are both joyful demonstrations of energy and talent, and it’s especially pleasing to see all the leads participating in these big ensemble showpieces. Each character gets their chance to shine too of course – Billy and Reno smother each other in compliments in ‘You’re the Top’, Hope and Billy romance each other with ‘It’s De-lovely’, Reno and Moonface show off their comic abilities in ‘Friendship’, Lord Evelyn shows a different side with ‘The Gypsy in Me’, and Erma teaches the sailors a thing or two in ‘Buddie Beware’. Though these are the clear stand-outs in terms of musical numbers, every song is a winner.

Todd McKenney & Caroline O'Connor
Todd McKenney & Caroline O’Connor

It’s hard to beat the triple threat that is Broadway’s Sutton Foster, but if anyone can match her it’s certainly Caroline O’Connor. I was delighted when her casting was announced, as she is surely the best performer this country has to offer, and it feels like a hefty reward when she can tear himself away from engagements around the world to return back home. She is a hot ball of energy here, and her ability to make every move look effortless is outstanding.

Caroline O'Connor
Caroline O’Connor

A few faces from The Production Company’s 2011 production of Anything Goes return in the male roles, and it’s not hard to see why. Alex Rathgeber makes a sweet and charming Billy and he throws himself into the big numbers. His carefully coiffed hair comes loose late in the first act and if that’s not a sign of gusto, I don’t know what is. Todd McKenney is hilarious as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and whoever chose that wig for him should be commended because while it looked ridiculous it suited the character completely. He is at his best in ‘The Gypsy in Me’ where we get a reminder of those stellar dance moves he possesses. Wayne Scott Kermond is the third cast member to reprise his role, and as always he has the physical comedy down pat. OH HOW I WISH I could go back in time to 2001 and watch him and McKenney tap-dance the shit out of Singin’ in the Rain.

Debora Krizak, Wayne Scott Kermond & Gerry Connolly
Debora Krizak, Wayne Scott Kermond & Gerry Connolly

Claire Lyon has the classical chops for Hope Harcourt, and has the necessary poise and sweetness to boot, but no one is beating Broadway’s Laura Osnes (who I didn’t see, but for god’s sake LISTEN to her – she has the voice of an angel). The comparison is probably unfair, but that’s what repeated listening to an OBC recording will do to your expectations. Debora Krizak is also up against unfair comparisons given one of my favourite performers, Christie Whelan-Browne was Erma for The Production Company. However, Krizak is always good value and doesn’t disappoint as Moonface’s partner in crime.

Alex Rathgeber & Claire Lyon
Alex Rathgeber & Claire Lyon

Even the older actors are fun to watch (or maybe that’s just me maturing), with Bartholomew John, Carmen Duncan and Gerry Connolly all hamming it up, with Connolly a particular scream. The ensemble are all fantastic and 100% committed to their roles. Josh Gates is especially adorable as the purser, and Samantha Leigh Dodemaide is astounding as one of Reno’s girls. GIVE THE WOMAN A LEAD ROLE ALREADY! She shines too bright for the chorus.

Claire Lyon, Todd McKenney, Carmen Dunca, Bartholomew John & Alex Rathgeber
Claire Lyon, Todd McKenney, Carmen Dunca, Bartholomew John & Alex Rathgeber

The set design by Dale Ferguson is fairly basic, though it’s a far improvement on The Production Company rendering. The key set piece is the bow of the ship, and the stairs either side are well-utilised. It’s not quite as showy as Broadway, but it’s adequate. Ferguson’s costumes are a particular highlight, and I want to get married in Hope’s wedding dress which was absolutely to die for.

The set stays fairly constant throughout
The set stays fairly constant throughout

Overall, this production of Anything Goes comes fairly close to Broadway’s, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Director Dean Bryant is a superstar and I’m totally on board (*ahem*) with anything he puts his name to in the future.

4.5 stars

Anything Goes is playing at the Princess Theatre until Sunday 19th July, before continuing its national tour in Brisbane and Sydney.

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