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Review: Anything Goes at Liverpool Empire *****

It was a smash hit in London last summer – so much so the Beeb broadcast it on television as part of its Boxing Day schedule.

And now the Barbican’s award-winning production of Anything Goes is on a voyage around the UK – crewed by a mixture of old hands and new recruits - before heading back to home port for another summer run.

And what a spectacular, nay, spec-tap-ular showstopper it is.

A first class celebration of Cole Porter’s screwball comedy at sea filled with crackling dialogue (the original 1934 book came from PG Wodehouse and the great Guy Bolton), gorgeous Golden Age tunes and Kathleen Marshall’s Olivier Award-winning choreography.

It’s all aboard for a transatlantic passage on the good ship SS America which may have lost the lustre of Charlie Chaplin from its passenger list, but instead has a motley collection of crooks, characters, sinners, sailors and showgirls all keeping company on the eastward journey.

Among them are gun-toting mobster, and ‘enemy number 13’ Moonface Martin (Denis Lawson who is a sheer delight in the role), Wall Street broker and ‘Yale man’ Eli Whitney (Simon Callow) and debutante Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden) who is on the way to London with her pushy mother (Bonnie Langford) to marry Haydn Oakley’s deliciously gauche and hapless English lord.

Above: Denis Lawson as Moonface Martin. Top: Anything Goes

Young love, older love, mistaken identity, mischief-making and the cult of celebrity are all rolled into one glorious whole with Porter’s sublime songs which include I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re The Top, Friendship and It’s De-Lovely.

Sutton Foster swept all before her at the Barbican as the sassy Reno Sweeney, and here West End leading lady Kerry Ellis takes up her wise-cracking mantle and reigns supreme.

Ellis is simply ‘the top’ as the reformed evangelist-turned-nightclub singer, delivering the show’s crisp dialogue a la Claudette Colbert/Katherine Hepburn/Rosalind Russell and effortlessly nailing the two massive song-and-dance numbers (Anything Goes and Blow, Gabriel, Blow) which bookend the interval.

Above: Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeney in Blow, Gabriel, Blow

The titular Anything Goes, featuring the entirety of the show’s huge cast, is a visual triumph, and Ellis – leading literally from the front – delivers its extended, strenuous routine and then still has enough in the tank to belt out the final verse with not a hint of breathlessness.

While Lawson, Callow and Langford are also new for 2022, the engine room of the production is the returning supporting cast which includes Baisden, Oakley, the excellent Samuel Edwards as lovelorn young broker Billy Crocker, Carley Mercedes Dyer who is a complete hoot as voracious gangster’s moll Erma, and Clive Hayward’s captain.

And it's all powered by a great 'big' band in the pit under ebullient MD Mark Aspinall.

Derek McLane’s three-deck floating palace set looks simply magnificent on the Empire’s huge stage, and its beautifully lit by Hugh Vanstone.

If it feels the world truly has gone mad today, this Anything Goes is a delightful, delicious and de-lovely antidote.


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