Anything Goes

Swanage Musical Theatre Company    The Mowlem Theatre, Swanage KD Johnson  21 March 2024

Let me lay my cards on the table and say that I am a fan of both the music and lyrics of Cole Porter and the comedy writings of PG Wodehouse and so this 1934 musical comedy, with music by Porter and the original libretto by Wodehouse (with Guy Bolton), is a favourite. I have played in it once (as the Purser), so I was keen to see what the Swanage Musical Theatre Company would make of it. I was not disappointed.

The Swanage Company and their associates excel at creating their own set and this production showed that in spades. From the opening scene I was impressed by the art deco frontage on the bar at which Billy Crocker (Lewis Baines) meets first his boss, Elisha Whitney (Simon Wells), and Reno Sweeney (Sara Morgan). The “tabs” open and there, behind, is the SS American in all its glory – a magnificent creation by a team of carpenters and painters as long as your arm. That set transforms, via some ingenious multi-purpose flats and some additional scenery, into passenger staterooms, the ballroom and the brig. There are some problems (but this is opening night) with doors that either don’t open when they should have done or open when they shouldn’t do – but that is all taken in good humour by tonight’s appreciative audience. Another long‑arm‑list of stage crew, including some of the people who created the set, deserve credit for moving it around without fuss and not dropping anything.

After a rather hesitant start from Sara Morgan as Reno, in ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, the ensemble number ‘There’s No Cure Like Travel’ is the one that really kicks off the show and sets the precedent for some excellent ensemble singing and dancing (choreography by Karen Woolley, who also directs): everyone is moving, everyone is singing, everyone knows the words – top notch. Musical direction is by Nick Stewart and the harmony singing in several pieces is to be appreciated – credit to Nick and the cast. Notable for both singing and dancing are Reno’s “Angels” – Ava Muir, Hannah Flemming-Hill, Phareda Radestock and Natasha Norman – but also the Sailors Trio of Steve Dumble, Dave George and Bob Wicks. The latter trio make short work of the harmonies in ‘There’ll Always Be A Lady Fair’ and ‘All Through The Night’ – short work but a lot of practice.

Lewis Baines, as Crocker, is excellent throughout – managing the vocal gymnastics of some of Porter’s lesser known songs with apparent ease. Ben Dormer-Woolley, as Moonface Martin (public enemy number 13), plays a great supporting role and Mike Hill, as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, attempts to steal the show (with a lot of audience support) with his rendition of ‘The Gypsy In Me’. Verity Aldous, as love interest Hope Harcourt, plays a good part and sings a good solo in ‘Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye’ and an excellent duet with Billy (backing from the Sailors Trio) in ‘All Through The Night’.

Unfortunately, most of the cast do not convince as Americans but Heidi Birch, as Erma, really comes across well.

Sara Morgan (Reno) gets into her swing later on and sings a good ‘Anything Goes’ at the end of Act I and a really good ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ in Act II. We can tell she enjoys that one – and the audience enjoy it too. Having Tony Waller on trumpet and flugelhorn, with Gary Austin on trombone, elevates this number in particular but, in general, Nick Stewart’s 9‑piece “SS American Band” is one that most amateur musical theatre societies can only dream of and one that will be ringing in the ears of the audience for days.

There are a few issues with the lighting (this is opening night): Reno looks as though she has a nosebleed while in the centre of the upper deck during ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’; Lord Evelyn is singing in the dark when stage-left during ‘The Gypsy in Me’; and a shadow down the centre of the stage when Reno comes into the scene for Moony’s song.

Despite those few niggles, this is an excellent show and I would urge you to get a ticket if you still can. Congratulations to Karen Woolley, Nick Stewart and the company – including all those people backstage and offstage who make it all work. It runs again on Friday 22 March at 7:30 pm and on Saturday 23 March at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm.