first night

Anything Goes

Francis Mullaly is blown away by DULOG's 'Anything Goes'

 

Anything Goes (1934) is arguably Cole Porter's most successful musical - a timeless classic fusing the perfect theatrical cocktail of popular hit songs, bombastic choreography and a suitably cheesy storyline of sophisticated living aboard a transatlantic liner. It is no surprise that countless amateur theatre companies regurgitate mediocre interpretations year upon year, but DULOG certainly delivered tonight with one of the best First Night performances that I've seen in my three years at Durham, full of energy and panache.

From the very first note of the overture, one could sense the breadth of talent in the pit band, ably conducted by their Musical Director, Jack Moreton. Throughout the show, a full complement of instruments really brought out the best in the musical's orchestration and generally, the band produced a stylish 1930s vibe, despite a few minor tuning issues. Particular credit should go to the keys, percussion and especially the solo violin part - it was a shame that the heavier instruments often drowned out some of its beautiful playing. Being picky, there were a few balance issues between the cast and band in Act 1, particularly in solo and small ensemble numbers, but overall, the band produced a wonderfully vibrant tone that was full of colour.

From an acting perspective, the principal cast really stole the show tonight. Firstly, few people could follow in the footsteps of Ethel Merman as Reno Sweeney in the original, but Sorrel Brown put in a sterling effort. Her vocals really captured her endearing friendship with Billy, particularly in You're The Top. However, Reno's command of the stage only properly reached its climax in the title song, Anything Goes. The rhyming lyrics were suitably catchy and captivating, yet diction throughout the cast could really be emphasised more, especially when the songs are at such a lively tempo. Reno also really thrived in commanding the stage during Blow, Gabriel, Blow - seemingly an audience favourite. Russell Lamb, playing Billy Crocker, also reciprocated Reno's companionship well, whilst also conveying his strong love for Hope Harcourt (Elissa Churchill) - their romantic duet in It's De-Lovely was a personal highlight of Act 1. If anything, I would like even more romance onstage.  In particular, Churchill's wonderful solo in Act 2, Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye, really conveyed poignant emotion and elegance in expression - "love is not all peaches and cream".

However, surprisingly for myself, my favourite performance of the night undoubtedly goes to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, expertly played by Charlie Keable. Every facial expression, gesture and quirky mannerism accentuated his bourgeois, stereotypically English persona. His bewilderment at American slang and endearing charm led to my favourite Act 2 song, The Gypsy in Me, where his passionate affection revealed for Reno was second to none - another relationship full of chemistry. There are many other performances that are commendable, including Callum Kenny as Moonface Martin and Sophie McQuillan as the delirious Evangeline Harcourt. The supporting cast provided many comedic quips and hilarious moments, although I would say that in large cast scenes, facial expressions and made-up background conversation was slightly unconvincing - one's energy and commitment needs to be maintained throughout the scene, regardless of positioning on stage.

Songs such as Anything Goes really emphasised the fantastic choreographic content displayed particularly in the dance breaks. The stylish tap routine (expertly devised by Jen Bullock) closed Act 1 impeccably, yet with the full cast on stage, levels of precision in executing every step on the beat together could be improved - it was clear to see how dance ability varied throughout the cast in the dance-dominated songs. In fact, lead choreographer (Ellis-Anne Dunmall) succeeded tremendously in conveying the exoticism in Cole Porter's score that illustrates so many different styles of dance - I could spot at least some noticeable Charleston, folk dance, tango and American Smooth foxtrot (with well-placed lifts).

The final element that I cannot ignore is the sheer detail that the technical team, managed by Jonny Browning, strived for in order to transform the Gala theatre's stage, producing the best set I've seen in Durham by some distance. The ship's design, various levels and multi-functionality in literally 'opening up' to produce additional sets for the jail and passenger room scenes was an achievement in itself. Scene transitions were mostly slick; lighting was subtle yet effective (particularly the coloured bulbs and the starry sky scenes); sound effects were bang on cue, despite a few minor hiccups with mics. In particular, I want to commend the costume department for managing to cover such a large cast, not only maintaining a uniformity in the sailor's costumes, but contrasting this with multiple stylish sets of beautiful, authentic 1930s dresses.

To conclude, some might say that this style of musical is unfulfilling in content and too 'appealing to the masses', but I personally believe that this is the perfect choice of musical to watch on a particularly cold night in January - suitably flamboyant, catchy and uplifting. Yes, the show has minor shortcomings and polish needs to be added to many departments to achieve that constant level of detail and execution throughout, but the entire production team (in particular Director Ros Bell and Assistant Bart Edge) deserve recognition for their sheer commitment to the show and organisation of such a large cast. Despite the higher ticket prices, I would recommend this show, as it deserves bigger audiences. Traditionally, the Gala show is perhaps the showcase spectacle of talent for student theatre in Durham, and as far as musicals go, DULOG have really excelled here. 

14 January 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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