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jaydarcy
10th June 2022

Review: Anything Goes

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy reviews Anything Goes at the Palace Theatre, starring Kerry Ellis, Denis Lawson, Simon Callow CBE and Bonnie Langford
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Review: Anything Goes
Photo: Marc Brenner.

I first saw this production of Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre in London last year. Critically acclaimed and sold-out, it took the London theatre scene by storm. It would have swept the Oliviers if it was not competing against fellow revival Cabaret. It’s not often I go to see shows again so soon, but this is, hands down, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and – my new catchphrase – I’ve seen everything!

One of the oldest musicals still going, the story is not groundbreaking, but it’s far better than most of the other old musicals I’ve seen. Indeed, I often complain about how boring and dated they are. Anything Goes, however, offers a fun story that goes in lots of different directions, with countless twists and turns, but is easy to follow – even though it is not quite as predictable as you might originally think it is. It’s a fantastic script, with lots of humour – at times, it felt like every other line was a joke, though this never felt excessive.

Kerry Ellis and ensemble. Photo: Marc Brenner.

That said, the script is, by no means, the musical’s highlight.

As is obvious just by reading a few of my theatre reviews, I’m a sucker for a sick set! Whilst Anything Goes has a static set (a model of a cruise ship deck), what they do with it is incredible. Doors open to reveal new rooms, huge pieces of set descend from the heavens, and on a couple of occasions, a black curtain engulfed the set, and a small piece of set slid onstage in front of it.

In the second act, this was a jail, but the show began with the safety curtain lifting to reveal a bar placed in front of the black curtain. Every piece of set is beautifully designed. Not only was there no expense spared, but also no attention – indeed, the attention-to-detail in this production cannot be faulted.

Samuel Edwards and Nicole-Lily Baisden. Photo: Marc Brenner.

The opening of the musical is a little bland. It does not begin with a music number, instead, a conversation between the male lead, Billy, and the show’s “star”, Reno, with a barman in the background – before a small music number. The curtain is then lifted, and the bar is swept away, to reveal the cruise liner – complete with sailors stood on all three levels, pushing their chests out and drawing the audience in. Instead of opening with a great, big number, like a lot of elaborate productions, Anything Goes eases us into it – they establish a basic plot point (which most of the other storylines follow on from) before transporting us to paradise!

Photo: Marc Brenner.

The star of the show is West End icon Kerry Ellis. Ellis was part of the original cast of We Will Rock You and the original West End cast of Wicked – where she was the standby for Idina Menzel (who originated the role of Elphaba on both Broadway and the West End), before taking over the role full-time, transferring to Broadway, returning to the West End, and then finally leaving the production, only to return years later! Elphaba has been played by countless actors, but she is one of the foremost actors to play the role.

On screen, she is known for appearing as a mentor on Over the Rainbow and auditioning for the first series of The Voice UK – which is funny, because I recently started casting on the show! Ellis has released a few albums, one of which reached the top 15 of the UK charts.

Kerry Ellis and ensemble. Photo: Marc Brenner.

She is a worthy replacement for Sutton Foster, who was nominated for her first Olivier when she lead the London cast last year – almost a decade after winning her second Tony for playing the role on Broadway. Luckily for Ellis, Foster – though a Broadway darling – is not a huge name in the UK, so she will probably not be receiving too many comparisons – especially because Ellis, herself, is a huge theatre star in this country.

That said, those who saw Foster in the London production (i.e. me) know that she had big shoes to fill. Whilst I knew Ellis was a musical icon – and it was incredible to finally see her onstage – I was worried I’d be comparing her to Foster. To my surprise, I quickly forgot about Foster; Ellis was astounding.

Her performance of the title song was not quite as epic as Foster’s esteemed rendition, but it was phenomenal, nonetheless, and I found myself grinning the whole way through it.

Kerry Ellis and ensemble. Photo: Marc Brenner.

I could not quite remember what the second act was like. I presumed it all went a little meh, after the riotous first act ended on the terrific title song – a massive musical number. But when the safety curtain lifted at the end of the interval, to reveal a sumptuous new set (complete with a stage on a stage), I knew I was wrong. Ellis lead the entire cast (the title song was just Ellis and the ensemble) for a marvellous performance of ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ – which gives the title song a run for its money!

Kerry Ellis and ensemble. Photo: Marc Brenner.

I was reminded of White Christmas – whilst I did not love the musical (as aforementioned, these old stories can be a bit blasé), the first act ends with ‘Blue Skies’ – one of the best musical numbers I’ve ever seen. You think the second act is going to be boring in comparison, but its opening number, ‘I Love a Piano’, is almost as splendid as the one that closed the previous act! The rest of the second act dragged a bit, but whatever, my point stands.

Denis Lawson. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Back to Anything Goes

In London, the supporting stars were played by Robert Lindsay, Felicity Kendal CBE and Gary Wilmot MBE. They have been replaced by even bigger names for the tour: Denis Lawson (Bleak HouseLocal HeroNew TricksThe Kit Curran Radio ShowStar Wars), Simon Callow CBE (A Room with a ViewFour Weddings and a FuneralShakespeare in Love), and Bonnie Langford (Just WillamDoctor WhoEastEnders).

Simon Callow CBE. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Whilst all three were exceptional, it was especially exciting finally seeing West End legend Langford onstage. She joined fellow tap-dancing musical 42nd Street shortly after I caught it. (Whilst we’re talking about 42nd Street, let’s make that comparison: Anything Goes has a better story, but 42nd Street has better tap-dancing – and is certainly a more majestic production).

Bonnie Langford. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Most of the main cast were the same, including the marvellous male lead, Billy (Samuel Edwards – known for Brave New World and Ted Lasso), his laudable love interest, Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden), and Carly Mercedes Ryder in a spectacular supporting role. Ryder was nominated for an Olivier Award and won a WhatsOnStage Award for this role. The Mancunion was lucky enough to interview Ryder – check it out!

Carly Mercedes Dyer and ensemble. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Anything Goes plays at Palace Theatre Manchester from 9th until 18th June, the final regional date of the UK tour before its highly anticipated return to London, where it will play at the Barbican Theatre from 25th June until 3rd September.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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