Review: Sutton Foster excels in 'De-Lovely' Anything Goes revival
2011 was a very theatrical year for me. I had performed as Chip in Beauty And The Beast in the April and would go on to play Tiny Tim in Scrooge in the October. Between all that my mum choreographed a production of Hairspray as well as starring as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. As the show was very prevalent in my life, I did lots of research on it and stumbled across the revival that had opened on Broadway that very same year. I became OBSESSED. I listened to the cast recording for hours, watched that iconic Tony Awards performance and read everything about it. I fell in love with Sutton Foster as a performer and the production as a whole.
Fast forward a decade and I hear the announcement that this exact production is making its way to the West End with Will & Grace legend Megan Mullally. I was sold. I was already eager to get tickets but then came the announcement of Sutton Foster's casting. I was overjoyed. I'd finally be able to see this production that 8 year old me has fallen in love with all those years ago.
The musical Anything Goes first opened on Broadway 87 years ago (!) and has gone through many changes throughout its history. Ethel Merman originated the role of Reno Sweeney and many great actresses have followed in her footsteps including Patti LuPone, Leslie Uggams, Elaine Paige, Sally Ann Triplett and Rachel York.
As I sat down ready for the show to begin in the huge auditorium of the Barbican, I was nervous but already on the verge of tears due to the excitement. As the rousing overture began, conducted by Stephen Ridley, I sat back and enjoyed what was two and a half hours of musical theatre perfection.
Sutton Foster is a star. There is no other way to describe it. She truly excels in every element of her performance. It's always daunting seeing someone you've looked up to for so long as you hope that they are going to live up to your expectations - and my god, she did. She brings something different to Reno this time around. Wiser, older and more sophisticated. The little changes in her performance show that she has grown as a performer and is truly in her prime.
Although Reno is always billed as the star, the main role is quite obviously Billy Crocker, the young Wall Street broker who stows away on the ship to follow his true love Hope Harcourt (played by Nicole-Lily Baisden). I loved everything about Samuel Edwards' performance as Billy. He has a gorgeous voice that fits perfectly with the musical styling of the show and his dances with Baisden are elegant and enchanting. I always feel that Billy never gets enough credit as a character, but ultimately he is the one who carries the story and Edwards gave a magnificent performance.
The good thing about Anything Goes is that even the supporting characters have their own enjoyable storylines. Robert Lindsay is a joy as Moonface Martin (Public Enemy Number Thirteeeeen) and you can tell that the British audiences adore him so. It is great to see him back on the musical theatre stage. His duet with Foster, 'Friendship', was a true highlight of the evening and the two Tony winners made that number extremely funny and got as many laughs out of it as possible! Felicity Kendal makes her musical theatre debut aged 74 after a long and illustrious career in plays and TV. Her portrayal of the usually forgettable part of Hopes mother Evangeline Harcourt was a hoot. Her comedic timing was second to none and she definitely knows how to deliver a line. To see two British legends perform together was quite something.
Other notable mentions go to Gary Wilmot as Elisha Whitney. Wilmot is a veteran performer who you can always guarantee will give you a great performance. Nicole-Lily Baisden gave a classy performance as the sophisticated debutant Hope Harcourt alongside a hilarious Haydn Oakley as her good-natured fiancee Lord Evelyn Oakley.
For me, the standout performance of the evening has to be Carly Mercedes Dyer as Erma, the amorous friend of Moonface Martin. This is the first time I've seen Carly perform but certainly won't be the last. Erma is already a funny role but she made it even more amusing. Everything about her was fabulous. The genius line delivery, powerful vocals and an all together rib tickling turn. Every actor in this show was a star in their own right, but Carly Mercedes Dyer shone that little bit brighter.
The book has been updated by Timothy Crouse (son of the shows original book writer, Russel Crouse) and John Weidman to give the whole thing a much needed facelift. The greatest change came with the development of the characters of Luke and John. Originally performed as racist stereotypes of two Chinese gamblers, the characters have now been given a well rounded story and developed into fully fledged characters in the musical. A welcome change has been made to the shows final scenes as well, with the cast no longer doing dreadfully racist impressions of the Chinese characters. It baffles me that this wasn't emitted back in 2011, but thank goodness that change has been made now.
Cole Porter's score is by far one of my favourites of any musical. Song after song, you are hit with beautiful melodies and lustful lyrics. His music truly is timeless. Every number in the musical has been tweaked and re-orchestrated by Michael Gibson, Bill Elliott and David Chase. These new arrangements breath fresh air into the score, and the addition of dance breaks in many songs makes the score bouncier than ever.
The whole creative department deserve a standing ovation alone. The sets by Derek McLane, costumes by Jon Morrell and wigs, hair and make-up by Campbell Young Associates blend seamlessly together to create a visually stunning stage. The set is a direct replica of the 2011 designs whereas the costumes have been updated, with a whole new wardrobe for the majority of the principals and ensemble but still harking back to Martin Pakledinaz's designs. The 1930's vibe is felt throughout and it is very much appreciated.
This whole production is masterfully directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Her direction is simple but effective, making the scenes slick and smooth. Not one moment felt like it dragged or that it was an odd choice. Older musicals are often the ones that fall behind on the directing front, but that is not the case here. Marshall's Tony winning choreography for the show is the best I have ever seen - a bold statement, I know. Her choreographic prowess is shown perfectly in two numbers - 'Anything Goes' and 'Blow, Gabriel, Blow'. It's rare that a number takes my breath away or that I feel that they could never be done better. These were an exception to that rule. As Sutton started singing the opening lines of the title song, I got goosebumps. After an intense 5 minute long tap break, the audience rise to their feet with a huge roar. A similar thing happened after the sultry 'Blow, Gabriel, Blow' - the audience wouldn't stop clapping. It was almost like they were testing how long the cast could hold their positions! Both numbers were breathtaking thanks to not only the choreography but also the huge ensemble - each of whom individually shone at different points in the show.
Anything Goes is the hottest ticket in town for a reason. A mixture of Tony winners, breakout stars, tap dancing, glittery gowns and the odd seagull or two make for one fantastic night at the theatre (so good, I've seen it twice already!). Musical theatre doesn't get any better than this.