Sometimes the angels can be on your side. Michelle Andrews had been down to play a minor role as a heavenly nightclub singer in Anything Goes when she got the call to stand in for the leading lady Debbie Kurup.
The vintage musical opened at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre tonight and Andrews was simply De-Lovely.
Which is more than can be said for the rest of the production. I was bitterly disappointed.
It had pedigree on its side – sensational songs by Cole Porter, and original story by PG Wodehouse himself (among others) – but this latest adaptation, by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman, was deeply unfunny, chaotic and uninspiring.
It started badly with a soft opening that saw Simon Rouse’s millionaire businessman Elisha Whitney tottering around a bar swigging martinis like they were going out of fashion. Meanwhile a couple shuffled to the music.
This went on for about 15 minutes and the audience started to get restless. You wanted to know what the characters were mumbling to each other and, more importantly, what was DCI Jack Meadows, formerly of The Bill, doing in a musical.
It finally got under way with Andrews playing nightclub singer Reno singing a watered down arrangement of I Get A Kick Out Of You. What we really needed from director Daniel Evans, was a big production opening to engage the audience.
Instead we had a stage that rapidly filled up with so many characters (some gratuitous) that the story descended into confusion and farce.
The bare bones are that mega-bucks Whitney is sailing to the UK to go to the Henley Regatta.
Also on board, in no particular order, are two wanted gangsters, a foppish English lord and his fiance, Joyce Barnarby from Midsomer Murders, two Chinese men, a wheelchairbound OAP, a lovesick young pup called Billy Crocker and nighclub singer Reno with her Angels backing group. Did I miss anyone out?
There’s some sort of love story with Crocker (Matt Rawle) chasing the lord’s fiance, Reno chasing him, a wise-cracking gangster’s moll called Erma chasing just about anything in trousers, and DI Meadows making a play for Joyce.
Anything Goes is 80 years old and it’s showing every one of those years. It may have been a sparkling and witty story back in the day but it’s now a hoary old chestnut that looked all at sea. It was more Carry On Cruising than a sophisticated romcom.
I can’t imagine anyone under 60 wanting to buy tickets to this.
The first act only came to life at its splendid finale with pretty much the whole company squeezed on stage for a tap-dancing rendition of the title song.
Act Two didn’t really know where it was going other than to tie up all the loose ends.
There were break out numbers by Stephen Matthews whose Lord Evelyn Oakleigh finally showed off his wild side, and Alex Young’s wonderful Erma singing Buddie, Beware.
Joyce Barnaby, aka Jane Wymark, had little to do as impoverished American socialite Evangeline Harcourt other than land herself a wealthy big fish.
I expected a five star voyage and found myself in the hold of a rusty tub. It wasn’t the cast’s fault. They did their best with what they had but the dialogue and story was tired, flat, hackneyed and plain ridiculous.
The show was saved by Michelle Andrew’s outstanding performance. It would be a tragedy if she was not given a leading role in future (I’m thinking, if anyone’s casting, perhaps Sally Bowles in Cabaret?).
Anything Goes runs at The Waterside Theatre until Saturday.