Sutton Foster is giving one of the best musical theatre performances of all time in ’Anything Goes’
Are there any actors you wish you could travel back in time and see onstage? For me, it’s stars like Carol Channing in Hello,Dolly!, Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, or Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady. Imagine what it would be like to experience those legends creating those iconic roles.
There are also performances I’ve seen but would love to be able to revisit, like Patti LuPone in Gypsy, Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple, or Audra McDonald in anything. While theatre’s ephemeral nature is part of what makes it special, I would binge each of those shows again like a Netflix series.
I’d also add another musical to that list: director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s revival of Anything Goes, starring the inimitable Sutton Foster. I saw the production three times on Broadway in 2011, and every time felt like witnessing an actor in the role they were born to play.
So, imagine my surprise and delight when Foster joined the West End company of the same production 10 years later, and I’m here to tell you that her performance as the sultry nightclub evangelist has only gotten deeper, richer, and more de-lovely in the intervening decade. You’ll regret it if you don’t tap dance your way to the Barbican right now to see this piece of musical theatre magic.
What’s more is London audiences are blessed with a discovery of sorts, as Anything Goes marks Foster’s West End debut. Of course, she’s a storied Broadway star with two Tony Awards to her name, but theatregoers on this side of the pond have never witnessed the mesmerizing triple threat live before, and you never forget your first time.
Foster’s Reno is a comedienne extraordinaire, full of bravado, wisdom, and time steps. Where 10 years ago, she delivered a plucky, confident, can-do Reno, now Foster’s portrayal feels a little more lived-in, more world-weary and wise with the same signature sense of optimism and effortlessness. She’s not as chipper now, and that’s okay: Reno and Sutton (and all of us) have been through a lot in the last decade. Times have, indeed, changed.
Now, the stakes are higher, the drama is heightened, and the emotions are more powerful. When Billy (a charming Samuel Edwards) rejects Reno at the bar in the opening scene, Foster sings the Cole Porter standard “I Get a Kick Out of You” from a place of sadness and loneliness, rather than romance. You can hear the yearning in every note.
Or when Reno commands the company in the rousing “Blow Gabriel Blow,” Foster stages a true revival in the Barbican, giving the audience and the performers, it seems, a long-awaited chance to celebrate and let loose after many months of isolation. The effect is truly euphoric.
And, of course, I’d be remiss not to call out the show-stopping, mind-bending title number that retains Marshall’s original synchronized 2011 choreography and truly blows the metaphorical roof off the ship. The ensemble, led by Foster, executes every step with precision and the combined effect stuns. As a friend of mine said: It’s unfair to compare any other performer to Sutton Foster because that is like playing the computer.
The entire production feels just as vibrant from its original Broadway outing. Set designer Derek McClane’s S.S. American fills out the Barbican stage (and the venue’s aisle doors even feel like part of the ship), and Jon Morrell’s updated costumes complete the look.
Other than Foster, the company is all new here, with Robert Lindsay giving a delightful deadpan performance as gangster Moonface Martin; Felicity Kendall earning all her laughs as Evangeline Harcourt; and Gary Wilmot standing out as stockbroker Elijah Whitney. Carly Mercedes Dyer steals every scene she's in as Moonface's number one girl Erma.
As in most productions of the musical, the romantic subplot between Billy and Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden) gets a little lost, even though Edwards and Baisden deliver a gorgeous rendition of the classic duet “De-Lovely.” And while parts of the storyline still feel a little outdated for 2021, particularly when it comes to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh’s storyline, Haydn Oakley leans into the wackiness of the role and earns the happy ending.
While I don’t have a time machine to go back and experience shows whenever I want (maybe the cast of Back to Future: The Musical can help out with that), I (and you) can see this stunning production again right now. So save me a seat at the Barbican. I’ll be back, basking in this glorious musical and seeing Sutton Foster tap dance as much as I can. It’s the de-loveliest show in town.
Photo credit: Anything Goes (Photo by Tristram Kenton)