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High jinx at high sea

Posted on March 3, 2015


Nicola Rayner set sail for Anything Goes at the New Wimbledon Theatre on February 2

anything-goes.-ensemble.--photo-by-johan-perssonThe idea of a musical on board a ship was first conceived by US producer Vinton Freedley, who, Broadway legend has it, decamped to sea to avoid creditors after the disastrous flop of Pardon My English in 1933. Cole Porter was soon on board with the music. However, Guy Bolton and PG Wodehouse’s original book, written with rising star Ethel Merman in mind, focused on a shipwreck: an idea that had to be shelved just weeks before opening night when a real-life maritime disaster rendered such a story rather tasteless.

As Wodehouse and Bolton had moved on to other projects, Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay were enlisted to co-write a new libretto, which they did in a matter of days. In view of all the upheaval, the show’s title seems rather apt. However, despite an inauspicious start to life, Anything Goes, which opened to rave reviews in 1934, has endured in the heart of audiences, with Stage Entertainment and Sheffield Entertainment presenting this tour as an 80th-birthday celebration.

The plot – a classic concoction of mistaken identities, implausible disguises (my favourite was a dog worn as a beard), cartoonish gangsters and handsome sailors – centres around nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, who loves Wall Street broker (and SS American stowaway) Billy Crocker, who loves debutante Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to British aristocrat Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.

Even those of us who came to Anything Goes with fresh eyes would have recognised many of the songs – “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, “You’re The Top” and the title track – as old friends. Taking on such well-loved tunes must bring with it certain challenges, but this is an appealing, sprightly production, directed by Daniel Evans.

With Richard Kent’s lovely art deco designs and gorgeous 1930s frocks (classically elegant for Zoë Rainey as Hope, raffishly tomboy for Debbie Kurup as Reno Sweeney) the cast sparkles in an ensemble performance.

Alistair David’s choreography is a delightful cornucopia – tap, Charleston, even a paso-inspired seduction routine (performed in boxers and braces with a rose between his teeth by Stephen Matthews). There’s the hornpipe, of course, and a zany Busby Berkeley number. Matt Rawle and Zoë Rainey bring a demure chemistry to lovebirds Billy and Hope, but wisecracking dames Kurup and Alex Young, as gangster’s moll Erma, shamelessly steal the show.

For more on the UK tour of Anything Goes, follow this link

Picture: The ensemble in Anything Goes 

Photograph: Johan Persson


Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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