Review: 'Anything Goes' @ The Bristol Hippodrome ★★★★★

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By Milan Perera, Second Year English

Cole Porter’s evergreen musical classic has been enthralling audiences since its premiere in 1934. As one of the most performed musicals, ‘Anything Goes’ has ensured Cole Porter’s entry into the pantheon of musical theatre. What’s not to like about this latest production of ‘Anything Goes’: stellar cast, sensational singing, dynamic dance routines and a funny storyline about the time spent on a cruise liner.

It was the soothing tonic that people in America needed during the height of the Great Depression. The time we are living is not entirely different to the 1930s, where a pandemic, soaring inflation, economic downturn and blood soaked conflicts fill the airwaves and broadsheets. ‘Anything Goes’ couldn’t have come to Bristol at a better time to lift the spirits of the full house audience from the mundane realities of everyday life and to be taken on a pleasure cruise for two hours.

The story revolves around romantic escapades, mistaken identities, celebrity chasing and secretive criminal activities. This is a tried and tested formula, widely used by composers such as Rossini and Mozart in ‘Opera Buffa’, but in the hands of the doyen musical theatre composer and lyricist, Cole Porter, this idiom is given a fresh meaning bursting forth with unbridled energy.

The original production in 1934 was based on a novel by P.G Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, but heavily revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse before the premier, then tweaked again in 1987, then again in 2011. The current production is a star-studded showstopper under the direction of Kathleen Marshall who doubles up as the director of choreography. The ensemble launched their UK wide tour at the Bristol Hippodrome on April 11 on the crest of an anticipation that had been building up for weeks.

The plot does not follow a neat sequence of events. A huge contributing factor for its enduring legacy has been the calculated silliness and chaos onboard. Here we find the sultry nightclub singer Reno Sweeny who is in love with a young stockbroker, Billy Crocker, who in turn is in love with a young debutante Hope Harcourt, who is due to be married to a clumsy Englishman (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh) who has a penchant for bad puns and bad timing. Harcourts have fallen on hard times in the world and the domineering matriarch, Mrs Evangeline Harcourt, stresses the absolute necessity of marrying into the British aristocracy as a quick fix for their financial woes. Billy Crocker’s wealthy employer, Elisha Whitney, is onboard, who has happened to have had a romantic liaison with Evangeline Harcourt. Then there is the public enemy number 13, Moonshine Martin and his beguiling accomplice, Erma. So, not everything is in ship shape and Bristol Fashion.

The music director Stephen Ridley gave a downbeat which struck a spark which electrified the packed theatre, setting the tone for the evening. The cast was spearheaded by the magnificent Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeny, while the renown thespian and director Simon Callow played Elisha Whitney. The cast also included the national treasure Bonnie Langford as Evangeline Harcourt and the Olivier Award winner and television royalty Denis Lawson as Moonface Martin.

The cast of 'Anything Goes' | Image Courtesy of ATG Media / Bristol Hippodrome

The two-act musical interspersed with an interval was packed with a medley of foot-tapping numbers accompanied by energetic dance routines. Numbers such as ‘I get a kick out of you’, ‘You’re the top’, ‘Easy to Love’ and ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ went down a treat with the audience who responded with raucous applause after each song.

Nicole-Lily Baisden who played Hope Harcourt enthralled the audience with a searing rendition of ‘Goodbye, little dream, goodbye’ as she contemplated on the inevitable nuptials to Lord Oakleigh, while her sweetheart too is onboard. Lord Oakleigh who is known for his buttoned-up personality tried his utmost best to convince everyone that he is a free spirit who always had a whiff of danger about him. Haydn Oakley who played Lord Evelyn Oakleigh had the audience in stitches when he sang ‘The Gypsy in me’ with a spirited and sensual tango routine.  

Carly Mercedes Dyer who played the femme fatale accomplice of Moonshine Martin was sublime with her flawless vocals and seamless comedy skills, as she would lure the hapless sailors in a bid to accomplish her criminal missions. Samuel Edwards is no stranger to music theatre with an extended repertoire which includes Wicked, On The Town, Ghost and Les Misérables, played Billy Crocker to perfection capturing the chivalrous ethos of an era where men were expected to conduct themselves as gentlemen.

The Hippodrome is back to its bustling best, with queues for tickets lining the street | Epigram / Milan Perera

Kerry Ellis, the undisputed queen of British musical theatre played the titular role of Reno Sweeny with panache, displaying her unparalleled skills and charisma. The soaring vocals, high octane tap-dancing routines, the quick wit and the regal stage presence all came naturally to her. There was no dip in energy as she calmly launched into the next number with an extraordinary flourish. She acknowledged the adoring crowd with a glint in her eye after each number.

The set was sophisticated with close attention to details, especially the layout of the ship. The change of the set was seamless and non-intrusive. The costume designs captured the opulence and elegance of the Art Deco period, while the orchestra played with verve and vitality, heightening the drama unfolding on the stage to a fever pitch.

The prolonged standing ovation frequented with shouts of ‘Bravo!’ was a testimony to this soaring triumph that kept the audience thoroughly entertained throughout.

Featured Image: Courtesy of ATG Media / Bristol Hippodrome


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