Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
It’s that time of year again folks, time to round up the family, the friends and the dogs, cause this time we’re going on a cruise. Southern Light Opera (SLO) return to their home in the King’s Theatre with a revival of eighties classic Anything Goes!. Hijinks on the high seas; romance, gangsters and more tap-shoes than should be legally acceptable collide in an energetic explosion of community talent and assuring entertainment. No life jackets are necessary, because once again SLO does more than float above water, they’re cruising right into smooth skies.
Anything Goes! is largely an ensemble piece of multiple love triangles, farcical comedy and stringent dance work with club singer Reno Sweeney the star. Unafraid of a challenge, SLO rise expectantly to match the classic narrative, with the odd tweak here and there. Infatuated with Crocker, club singer Reno Sweeney drops numerous hints to state her intentions, only to find herself rebuked for a mysterious other woman. Finding themselves on the same cruise, Crocker stows-away as he tracks down Hope Harcourt, his blonde bobbed love.
So, before we go any further, let’s get that vile word out of the way, shall we? A term which has its place in theatrical circles, but often gets tossed around as an insult, or as an excuse to explain why a production isn’t working, that word being ‘amateur’. Though priding themselves as the oldest, and arguably accomplished amateur cast in the city, there’s very little, if anything, which Southern Light Opera do which conducts them in an amateurish light. From construct to outstanding dedication, talent to mirthful enthusiasm, there is nothing but solid professionalism by all on stage.
As such, it would be remised not to point out that there are a few stand-out performances from Anything Goes! which are sorely crying to be snapped up by producers across the nation. This time around, that honour belongs to the vivaciously De-Lovely Toni MacFarlane, tackling the notoriously persuasive and confident club singer Reno Sweeney. Exuberant, charismatic and with an enviable charge, Macfarlane propels the SS American along the high seas. Solo, or in duet, her vocal range has clarity, and vitally the harmonising belt required for the role, nailing every song, but especially winning crowds with I Get A Kick Out Of You and Friendship. In group numbers, a traditional occurrence for SLO, MacFarlane heads tropes into Louise Williamson’s always superb choreography. Tight, meticulous and authoritative, there’s a precision to this evening’s movements which, on occasion, can excel – particular the infamous tap scenes.
Going beyond the comedic, MacFarlane and fellow SLO rising star Rebekah Lansley capture the essence of Anything Goes! emotion. With a bit more meat to chew on her role, MacFarlane conveys the cracks in Reno Sweeney’s bravado, unafraid of revealing the heart beneath the sequins. As a product of the time, Anything Goes!’ romance is definatly… thirties, yet, MacFarlane and Lansley take what could easily be awkward, dated relationships and channel a sense of genuine care for these women. We feel MacFarlane’s pining, transforming into a sense of self-reliance and acceptance, just as much as Lansley gives off conviction to a role which is notably waifish against the fast-talking charm of love interest Billy Crocker.
Crossing from coy smug into grating arrogance, Matt McDonagh’s Billy Crocker is vocally exceptional, though the character’s intention or attitude hasn’t aged well. No-fault of McDonagh’s, this is one of the cases where the revived production’s age begins to eek through the modern cracks, not everything looks perfect in a nostalgic vignette. Perhaps a touch more comedy in direction, or an easing into the sarcastic stylings of the character, would have placed this role on par with Peter Tomassi’s Moonface Martin and Kerr-Alexander Syme’s Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Two characters who couldn’t be further apart if you tried, the FBI’s 13th most wanted, and an adorable Lord of the manor fight over the audience’s favourite for the comedic crown.
Then again, as these two men bicker, flex their comedic timings and dedication to delectable bouts of giggling, Tanya Williamson’s Erma flaunts her talents, bats her lashes and reminds the boys that this is a woman’s game. Erma is an example of a character who, with clever direction and strong performance, feels fresh, in control and escapes the production’s aged features. Largely down to Williamson’s slick delivery, her rendition of Buddie, Beware, a temperature soaring piece, makes fine work of Scenic Projects set piece.
Song, dance and comedy. The three-pointed hat trick for musical theatre. These are fundamental tools which Southern Light have mastered over their centuries worth of experience and the dedication from those at the helm. Working within a community, helped along by some of the countries fastest rising stars, the company continue to put their distinct brand of charm onto even the most well-known production like Anything Goes!
Anything Goes runs until Saturday March 7th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/anything-goes
For more information on the work and history of Southern Light, please visit: https://southernlight.co/
Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan