If the world is going to hell in a rocket-fuelled handcart, what do you do? In Anything Goes (1934), Cole Porter had the right idea: retreat to a sort of floating island of the blessed, a luxury liner on which the passengers sing and dance and tell jokes, and the supply of champagne seems as deep as the Atlantic. One's moral welfare is looked after, too, by an evangelist, who, flinging aside her cape to reveal a fishtail skirt and two little triangles covered with crimson sequins, announces, "I believe in fighting the devil in the open."
Having seen Trevor Nunn's fabulous production at the Olivier, I found it a bit cramped at Drury Lane, but what the show loses in airiness it gains in intensity. I generally frown on reporting opening-night reactions - relatives and backers will cheer the biggest turkey in the barnyard - but the full-throated roar that met several numbers and the longest standing ovation I've ever known were as sincere as they were just.
Anything Goes isn't perfect - tenderness and romance are nearly negligible in a show dedicated to raucous frivolity - but it is perfectly done. Each performer seems the perfect embodiment of his or her role, an effect wrought not just by casting but by Nunn's pushing his actors to the limits of their talent and then some, and by being as inventive as he is obsessive.
I have no idea why you should be looking at minor members of the crew when the leads are doing their stuff, but, if you are, you'll see them being crew members down to the tips of their tap shoes. Whirling round and round in the frighteningly quick and precise moves demanded by an ensemble number, Simon Day, as an Englishman bowled over by the zest of his former colonials, still looks disbelievingly delighted and mouths "Mah-vellous!"
Day, indeed, comes close to whirling off with the show. The mere appearance of the unworldly Lord Evelyn, whose Easter Island face keeps being disconcerted by all sorts of emotions unknown to the English aristocracy, is a signal for anticipatory laughter, and his hymn to his hidden depths ("The Gypsy in Me") nearly has the aisle-sitters, if I may speak for them, sliding to the floor.
As the hero, John Barrowman combines looks with agility and a voice that gets the most out of the operatic "All Through The Night". Sally Ann Triplett's wise-cracking soul-saver recreates the pugnacious good humour of early-Thirties New York without turning it into caricature, and Martin Marquez (a gangster miffed at being only Public Enemy No 13) likewise reproduces the solemn-faced demeanour of the period's clowns. As a socialite and her mother, Mary Stockley and Susan Tracy not only look classy, but give these potentially stuffy roles plenty of spirit.
One might complain that there are so many of Porter's witty numbers that the show gets a bit choppy - several from his later shows have been added to the original score - but as Mae West said, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."
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