Getting a kick out of Cole Porter

The enduring quality of Anything Goes is music to the ears of the arranger Gareth Valentine
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The Independent Culture

The original version of Anything Goes had a book by Guy Bolton and P G Wodehouse and songs by Cole Porter, and was first seen on Broadway in 1934 and in London in 1935. Screen versions followed in 1936 and 1956. Now Trevor Nunn is re-staging his Olivier Award-winning National Theatre production, a year after its initial run came to an end. Several cast members return, including Sally Ann Triplett as Reno Sweeney, the slightly dodgy nightclub singer and evangelist, and John Barrowman as Billy Crocker, the love interest.

Anything popular for this long must have something more going for it than high- kicking chorus girls, a light-hearted plot, and a mixed bag of characters in travel clothes, sailor outfits and pretty deck dresses (even if the costumes are designed by Bafta award-winning Anthony Powell, who dressed the cast of the recent film Pirates). And Anything Goes does: Porter's music and lyrics for people who don't like musicals, including "I Get a Kick Out of You", "You're the Top", "It's De-lovely", "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and the title song.

"He definitely had the common touch," says Gareth Valentine, the musical supervisor and dance arranger, and an expert on Porter, who approves of his ability to appeal to all and sundry. "Cole Porter understood how to craft a song in such a way that it would be solid and memorable. That was influenced by a good education at Yale; also his gift with words. You can read any Cole Porter lyric like poetry, whereas most modern lyrics are pretty prosaic."

Valentine has been involved with many productions, including Adrian Noble's 1987 Kiss Me Kate. He now has to get to grips with conducting the 17-strong band on the top deck of the show's mocked-up revolving cruise liner. He was the rehearsal pianist in the 1987 production, which starred Elaine Page, while Stephen Mear, choreographer of the latest show, was in the ensemble."We've moved up the ranks," says Valentine.

Valentine was the madcap conductor in the 1997 musical Chicago. "I started to throw myself around while conducting. It roused the band and caught on with audiences. The doors used to fling wide open at the end of the performance and no one would leave, as I'd be conducting the playout music like a wild animal. My inspiration was the Fifties band leader Spike Jones." He adds the same dynamic to Anything Goes, and even has a line to say: "It's only a silly gag. A dog goes missing. Someone asks what the dog was doing in the swimming pool and I say, 'The doggy paddle'."

"I also write all the music for the dance numbers, within the confines of Cole Porter's tunes," he says. " It is quite an art. Sometimes it is tango, or cha-cha, or swing, or ragtime, or gospel. I mould tunes for the needs of the choreography."

But right now he is dashing about between the Ben Elton and Rod Stewart musical Tonight's The Night, scheduled to open this autumn, and Anything Goes at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. "It is a bit mad at the moment," he says.

'Anything Goes', Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London WC2 (0870 890 1109) tomorrow to 17 January

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