Are there any actors you wish you could time travel and see on stage? To me it’s stars like Carol Channing in Hello Dolly!, Ethel Merman in Annie takes your gun, or Julie Andrews in My beautiful lady. Imagine what it would be like to experience these legends creating these iconic roles.
There are also performances that I have seen but wish I could revisit, like Patti LuPone in Gypsy, Cynthia Erivo in The color purple, or Audra McDonald in whatever it is. While the ephemeral nature of theater is part of what makes it special, I would binge on each of these shows again as a Netflix series.
I would also add another musical to this list: the cover of director / choreographer Kathleen Marshall All is well, with the inimitable Sutton Foster. I saw the production three times on Broadway in 2011, and each time I wanted to witness an actor in the role he was born to play.
So imagine my surprise and joy when Foster joined the West End Company of the same production 10 years later, and I’m here to tell you that his performance as a sultry nightclub evangelist has only done become deeper, richer and more charming. in the intervening decade. You’ll regret it if you don’t tap into the Barbican right now to see this piece of musical theater magic.
In addition, the London public is fortunate enough to have some sort of discovery, like All is well marks Foster’s West End debut. Sure, he’s a Broadway star with two Tony Awards under his belt, but theatergoers on this side of the pond have never seen the haunting triple threat live before, and you never forget your first time.
Foster’s Reno is an extraordinary actress, full of bravado, wisdom and no time. Where 10 years ago she delivered a brave, confident and capable Reno, now Foster’s portrayal feels a little more lived-in, world-weary and wise with the same sense of optimism and ease. She isn’t so jagged now, and that’s okay: Reno and Sutton (and all of us) have been through a lot in the past 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) dismisses Reno at the bar in the opening scene, Foster sings Cole Porter’s standard “I Get a Kick Out of You” from a place of sadness and loneliness, rather than romance. You can hear the desire in every note.
Or when Reno commands the company in the vibrant “Blow Gabriel Blow”, Foster stages a true revival in the Barbican, giving audiences and performers, it seems, a long-awaited chance to celebrate and let loose afterwards. many months of isolation. The effect is truly euphoric.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not call up the jaw-dropping, jaw-dropping title number that retains Marshall’s original 2011 synchronized choreography and really blows up the metaphorical roof of the ship. The ensemble, led by Foster, executes every step with precision and the combined effect is stunning. As a friend of mine said: It’s unfair to compare any other artist to Sutton Foster because it’s like playing on the computer.
The entire production has been just as dynamic since its original Broadway release. Set designer Derek McClane’s SS American fills the Barbican stage (and the venue’s aisle doors even appear to be part of the ship), and Jon Morrell’s updated costumes complete the look.
Other than Foster, the company is brand new here, with Robert Lindsay giving a delightful straightforward performance as gangster Moonface Martin; Felicity Kendall earns all her laughs as Evangeline Harcourt; and Gary Wilmot standing out as stockbroker Elijah Whitney. Carly Mercedes Dyer steals all the scenes in which she is Erma, Moonface’s number one daughter.
As in most productions of the musical, the romantic subplot between Billy and Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden) gets lost a bit, even though Edwards and Baisden deliver a magnificent rendition of the classic duet “De-Lovely”. And while parts of the storyline still look a bit dated for 2021, especially when it comes to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh’s storyline, Haydn Oakley delves into the craziness of the role and earns the happy ending.
While I don’t have a time machine to go back and watch shows whenever I want (maybe the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical can help with that), I (and you) can review this mind-blowing production right now. So save me a spot at the Barbican. I’ll be back, basking in this glorious musical and seeing Sutton Foster tap dancing as much as possible. It is the most beautiful spectacle in the city.
Anything Goes is playing at the Barbican until October 31. Reserve your tickets for Anything Goes in the West End today.
Photo credit: Anything Goes (Photo by Tristram Kenton)