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THERE can be no question of it, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” is one of the great escapist musicals of all time. Originally staged during the height of the American Depression in 1934, this musical has been successfully revived over many decades, now by Opera Australia in coproduction with entrepreneur John Frost.With significant Australian stars centrestage. notably Caroline O’Connor in the role of Reno Sweeney, this proves to be a celebration of this country’s musical theatre talent.
Controversially, it is not, of course, opera. In the printed program notes on Cole Porter by Robert Cushman, we read, “Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ is the greatest American musical of the 1930s. Well, there’s ‘Porgy and Bess’, but that’s really an opera.”
With its nonsensical plot about antics aboard a trans-Atlantic liner it is, however a vehicle for some of the greatest popular songs ever penned – “I Get a Kick out Of You,” “You’re The Top,”, “Easy to Love It.” “It’s D’Lovely” “Blow, Gabriel Blow” and the title number, “Anything Goes.” Not even the greatest musicals by Rodgers and Hart or George Gershwin could equal this.
In this production there is not an opera singer in sight, with all the artists miked up and the 17 piece orchestra more accurately called a band. But musicians and actors alike are popular musical artists at the height of their powers.
The status of the production is ambiguous. Directed by Australia’s Dean Bryant it is stated to have been originally produced by the Lincoln Center Theater in New York, with the “adaption and costume design by Dale Ferguson.” In other words, while the onstage talent is Australian, the conception is not, but there’s no law against that and it when it comes to sheer entertainment, OA and Frost have hit the mark.
O’Connor is quite outstanding in the show’s most interesting role of the club singer fast-tracking to become an English lady.She is well matched by the sophisticated Alex Rathgeber as the romantic lead Billy Crocker, entertainer Wayne Scott Kermond as the seedy Moonface Martin, Todd McKenney as the caricatured Englishman, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and the elegant Claire Lyon as Hope Harcourt, the female romantic lead.
Gerry Connolly does his own thing as the captain of the ship and Bartholomew John gives an affecting performance as the Yale (Cole Porter went to Yale) businessman Elisha Whitney. He is not matched in credibility by Carmen Duncan as Mrs Harcourt.Debora Krizak as the blonde bombshell gangster’s moll Erma comes close to stealing the show with her vivacity and wonderful dancing we can expect to see this fast-rising artist at the centre of many coming productions.
It was unfortunate that a brilliant young performer like Aljin Abella, recently seen in the lead part of Monkey in “Journey to the West,” was not only given a stereotyped stage Chinaman play, but unattributed in that role, merely appearing in the ensemble list.
Choreographer Andrew Hallsworth steers that ensemble and the principals to some extraordinary dancing. I would consider the choreography to be the most outstanding feature of this production, a joy to watch.
Many older patrons may be familiar with the original book by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton revised by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, but this production uses a newer book by Timothy Crouse and John Whiteman, full of fast-moving wisecracks adding a contemporary edge.
In short, this is a superbly finished testimony to the distance Australian musical theatre has come from the technical perspective. It does not move the heart, but whatever did you expect from a musical called “Anything Goes”?