Barbican, London, till Oct 31
I’ve made the mistake of shouting to a friend in a theatre “great sets” and being widely and embarrassingly misheard. There was, however, an overwhelming temptation to risk it once again at the first night of Anything Goes as Derek McLane’s ocean-going liner looks absolutely stunning.
Cole Porter’s classic musical (based on a book co-written by PG Wodehouse) was first performed on Broadway in 1934 as a pick-me-up after the Great Depression. Now, it’s serving the same purpose for a nation that badly needs cheering up after the lockdowns. It not only has good looks, but also boasts some of the most accomplished hoofers and actors in the business: Robert Lindsay, Sutton Foster, Gary Wilmot and the apparently ageless Felicity Kendal.
The big numbers, such as I Get a Kick Out of You, All Through the Night and, of course, Anything Goes, are beautifully performed. The choreography by Kathleen Marshall (who also directs) is a joy to behold, but it’s the attention to detail and the lavish budget that makes this show so special.
Foster’s final seditious little kick at the end of You’re the Top, the seagulls that fly past the ship’s great funnels, and then there’s Clive Hayward’s much-put-upon ship’s captain who – whether by accident or design – looks exactly like Keir Starmer.
It doesn’t do to dwell too much on the kooky plot, but the lines between the big songs are achingly funny and there’s a lot of visual humour, too. Kendal’s look of shock and fascination at the sight of Lindsay with what is actually a small dog down his trousers had me helpless with mirth.
Foster’s West End debut as the ditsy socialite at sea is an unqualified triumph and she put me in mind of a youthful Cybill Shepherd. Her co-star Lindsay is always good value – he’s got something of Stanley Holloway about him these days – but, of course, it’s Porter’s music and lyrics that are the real stars. A big thank you to musical director Stephen Ridley for getting them across so brilliantly. I can’t recommend this sexy, sassy and sensational production too highly.