The North Sea wind is blowing in, deadlines seem more imminent and the days are becoming shorter, but regardless of the foul mood and many layers I was sporting at the Stage in the Union on Thursday night, the Just So society’s first show of the semester managed raise my spirits. With Anything Goes, Marcella Denby and her team have a created a few hours of good old-fashioned fun and given some of St Andrews’ finest musical theatre talents an opportunity to show off.
This Cole Porter musical farce set on board a boat in the 1930s will be familiar to many. The show is indisputably of its time, with one moment of racial stereotyping at the end leaving the largely millennial audience a little nonplussed. Nevertheless, the good grace and vitality contributed by the whole cast saved this being too inappropriate. The show featured a huge ensemble cast who mostly worked well together, but it was the leads who really captivated the audience. Caelen Mitchell-Bennett as a limber energetic Englishman alongside George Lea’s hapless gangster provoked the biggest laughs of the night. Connor Norris as the lovestruck Billy and Lydia Milne as the naive Hope were adorably charming, but for me there were two performers who unquestionably stole the show: Veronique Lalley’s diminutive Bonnie and Lydia Seed’s sensual Reno. Both packed impressive sets of pipes; both were cracking dancers; both had exceptional comic timing. Seed especially is a terrifically skilled sensation, tapping like a pro one minute and the next moving me with her well-controlled reverie ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’
The look of Anything Goes was also highly professional. Mitchell-Bennett’s set and Anna Tumblety’s costumes were gorgeous and helped transport us to the world aboard this bizarre boat. Technically the show suffered a little. Microphone levels and background noise were a constant problem, but the limitations of space and budget in student theatre can make us forgive these issues. Musically the sound levels were perfect and Lavie Rabinovitz and Grace Reid’s band was a flawless and integral part of the show.
Less forgivable were a few directorial decisions to do with the blocking, choreography and the role of some of the minor characters. I would have preferred the tap dance number be left to those who knew what they were doing, as the magic was a little destroyed by some of the chorus desperately trying to keep up with the leads. Outside of the dances, background characters often seemed unsure of where to stand. Their underwhelming reactions to comedic or valuable moments meant that the audience lost engagement with the narrative between songs, particularly as the lengthy second act dragged to its conclusion.
Despite these issues, the efforts of the cast and crew shone through to make for a great evening’s musical entertainment.
STARS: * * *