The term feel-good musical must have been invented for Anything Goes, the current offering from Opera Australia and the Gordon Frost organization at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.
Given that the original book of the musical was co-written by P.G, Wodehouse and the music lyrics belong to Cole Porter, you could say this show has the touch of musical theatre blue blood about it.
This Opera Australia/Gordon Frost production doesn’t disappoint.
Directed with a sure touch by Dean Bryant, with snappy choreography by Andrew Hallsworth, and musical direction from stalwarts Peter Casey and Michael Tyack, Anything Goes has all the right ingredients to shine, and shine it certainly does.
To make this show work, you need the right casting and while on paper she might seem too mature for the role of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, Caroline O’Connor simply eats up the stage and takes the audience with her – another bravura performance from this queen of music theatre. O’Connor has the energy, figure, legs and dance moves that simply sweep the audience away.
I found O’Connor’s characterisation of Reno an interesting one, as she doesn’t try to portray her as the much younger sassy and sexy star, but plays her more as the older tart with a heart of gold – and character to match. Revealing more depth of character in Reno certainly works.
The other outstanding casting was Todd McKenney as the foppish Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, fiance of unwilling debutante Hope, who needs to marry him to solve her family’s financial problems. (Anyone who has only seen McKenney in his “nasty dance judge” persona in Dancing With The Stars is in for quite an awakening). This is a delicate role to balance, as it can easily become a caricature of a ridiculous English peer. But McKenney brings pathos, timing, comedy and great singing and dancing to his portrayal, so it becomes a touching and amusing one. Having seen McKenney in many roles over the years, this just cements what a multi-talented performer he is, and he works seamlessly with O’Connor.
Veteran music theatre star Wayne Scott Kermond (one of a three-generational music theatre family) is exceptional as comic gangster Moonface Martin. He uses his rubbery face and masterly comic timing to great effect and can hoof it with the best of them. As his cheeky gangster moll partner in crime Erma, Debora Krizak gives a fine performance and obviously enjoys the role.
Among the younger principals, Alex Rathgeber shines as romantic lead Billy Crocker. Having seen him in many previous roles, I think this shows him at his best, allowing him to explore different facets of the character and show off his tap skills and ability to slip into a polished falsetto when necessary, as was the pattern in musicals of this period. Opera singer Claire Lyon is a sweet Hope, in love with Billy but promised to Lord Oakleigh. She has great vocal chops when she lets loose and is beautiful to look at – and she is given some exquisite gowns to wear and does so with aplomb.
As for the more experienced cast members, it was a delight to see master comic Gerry Connolly in the role of the Captain, which he played with the comic sleaze of Paul Lynde with a touch of McHale’s Navy’s Phil Silvers – this should resonate with anyone who has celebrated their 50th birthday!
My soapie star hero of the 1970s, Bartholomew John, who won a generation of teenage girls’ hearts in The Young Doctors, and later starred in many musicals, returns to the stage in the comic role of tycoon Elisha J Whitney. He obviously has a good time and so do we! His perfect match is another name from this generation, Carmen Duncan, who has enjoyed a fine TV career in Australian and America. The two are well suited.
It’s always exciting to see who takes a reviewer’s eye in the smaller roles or in the chorus, and Anything Goes provided some names to watch, In the small role of the Purser and in the ensemble, Josh Gates has a beautifully expressive face and good stage presence. As the two Chinese converts, Nicholas Kong and Alijin Abella stand out, especially in a non-English reprise of the title song – that was a nice directorial touch. And there were two chorus members who drew my eye; one was bigger and taller than the average male dancer, and who had such exuberance and style that I couldn’t help but keep watching him. And the other who simply shone every time she had a moment, was the expressively-faced Greta Sherriff. We’re sure to see these performers in bigger roles in the future.
The actors were well supported by the production team. Set and costumes by Dale Ferguson were outstanding, as was the 16-piece orchestra, positioned at the top of the set. Knowing that this is not an inexpensive outing to the theatre, I looked for flaws but I simply couldn’t find any, and that is a rare thing to say about a show.
Bravo to an excellent cast and a fine co-production.