Words: Simon Button; pictures: Marc Brenner
Need someone to follow in the footsteps of Broadway royalty? Just call Kerry Ellis. She was a fantastic replacement for Idina Menzel as Elphaba in the London production of Wicked and now she’s taken over as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes as the classic musical comedy returns to the Barbican after a UK tour.
Sutton Foster was electrifying when the nautical-themed show docked in the capital last year, as was Rachel York – who’d toured with it in the States and stepped in for Sutton when she headed back to the Great White Way for The Music Man.
Gabrielle Cocca, Alexandra Wright, Kerry Ellis, Billie-Kay, Jessica Buckby (Photo: Marc Brenner)
I worried Ellis might not be up to the task. Belting out ‘Defying Gravity’ is one thing but how would she handle Reno’s very American comic swagger? And would she have to slink off to the sidelines for the rip-roaring ‘Anything Goes’ tap dance that brings act one to a roof-raising climax?
I needn’t have worried. I saw Kerry in Liverpool on the tour and if she was superb then, she’s Sutton-level sensational now. As the 1930s showgirl evangelist voyaging from New York to London in the hopes of snagging a man, she fizzes like freshly poured champagne, tap dances up a storm, and sizzles her way through the showstopping ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’.
Kerry Ellis and Cast (Photo: Marc Brenner)
The music is by Cole Porter and it is as sublime as the plot is deliberately silly. Also making the trip are gangster Moonface Martin (Denis Lawson), lovestruck Wall Street broker Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards), his debutante love interest Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden), her fianceé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley), Hope’s highly strung mother Evangeline (Bonnie Langford) and Billy’s permanently sozzled boss Elisha J. Whitney (Simon Callow).
Cue mistaken identities, bedroom farcical entrances and exits, tricky trysts, and one great song after another: ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘It’s De-Lovely’, ‘You’re the Top’.
The cast, a mix of returnees from last year and game-for-anything newbies, all sparkle. It’s a shame that because of how the show is written Langford doesn’t get her own big number but she’s really funny as an easily shocked matriarch.
Samuel Edwards and Nicole-Lily Baisden (Photo: Marc Brenner)
And it’s cheering to see Carly Mercedes Dyer back as man-mad gangster’s moll Erma. Flirting her way through ‘Buddie, Beware’ as she conquers one sailor after another, she’s the very definition of a show-stealer.
Director Kathleen Marshall keeps things moving nicely and – with its sumptuous sets, tuneful score, and out-of-this-world dancing – the production serves up all the pleasures you only get from a good old-fashioned musical comedy extravaganza.
With Sutton Foster then Rachel York in the lead, Anything Goes was last summer’s must-see. With Kerry Ellis now at the helm, this delightful, delicious, de-lovely show is this summer’s must-see-again.
Anything Goes is at the Barbican Theatre until 3 September. For more information visit barbican.org.uk and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.
The Attitude July/August issue is out now.