Sunday, 18 October 2015

Anything Goes, Australian Opera, Sydney Opera House

It's a weird choice for the Australian Opera to do this particularly jazzy 1930s musical - this is a very silly light show with very little use for the kind of voices the Australian Opera usually uses (only soprano ingenue Hope Harcort (played by Claire Lyon) requires legit voice). But if they're going to do it, they're going to do it with a lot of pizzaz and style.

Most of this works in Dean Bryant's production. The action, largely taking place on a cruise ship between New York and London, is largely comedic shenanigans as multiple identites, misdirected love triangles, billionaires, criminals and revivalist singers all collide repeatedly, and is basically an excuse to get through a truly stunning set of Cole Porter songs. There is a slightly mismatch between the tone of the script and some of the performances - the songs in particular are sophisticated wit, while the performances do include a few "punch in the crotch" jokes that seem awfully unnencessary - I know the title is "Anything Goes" but you don't need to throw in everything and the kitchen sink.

Leading the cast is Caroline O'Connor, who is in good voice but whose acting occasionally feels over-indicated - while singing, there's an awkward tendency for her to over-illustrate the lyrics, which works okay in the comic material, but has issues in the more sentimental (in particular, her opening "I get a Kick Out of you" sets things off on a bad footing - it's not a song that needs to be mugged for comedy, although it is strangely placed in the script - it's a charming love ditty delivered to a guy who shows no interest whatsoever in her and who spents the rest of the show chasing someone else). She does lift the roof off the joint for the two big production numbers, the title song at the end of act one and the practically blasphemous revival meeting for "Blow Gabriel Blow", which is what's required.

As the romantic lead, Alex Rathberger has a pleasantly winning air, even when indulging in multiple impersonations to win the girl, and also a charming tenor. He has that 1930's "full of pep, energy and wit" attitude that sets the period right. Wayne Scott-Kermond has most of the low comedy of the show as the goofy crook Moonface Martin and lands it right down the middle of the theatre in broad, wildly appealing strokes.

Claire Lyon has the weakest role of the principals but a nice soprano voice - it's not her fault that Hope's "why I can't get the guy" excuses are so very underwritten. Todd McKenny has over-inflated billing but is amusingly foppish in his silly-british-lord role (though the "improvised" shenanigans in his big scene do go on a bit and are very probably not improvised). Debra Krizak's Erma is largely a loud broad at the edges of the plot but she's a knockout in her one big number, "Buddy Beware", as a closing number. In the minor roles I'll put a particular shout out to Nicholas Kong who drew attention in the STC's ill-fated "Spring Awakening" a few years ago and is still just as "why hasn't this guy played a major principal role" 5 years later.

As big-broadway-musicals go, this is worth it for the big production numbers, which are staged big and broad and are blockbustingly good (Andrew Hallsworth's choreography uses props and a skilled dance ensemble with apomb), though it is ultimately a very silly evening (with not all of the comedy landing as firmly as it might). Still, the positives do outweigh the negatives just enough to give this a recommend.

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