DECK-LICIOUS, DELOVELY, SAILING BACK IN STYLE
A year on, and after a partly recast tour, SS America drops anchor back in the Barbican and in style. Actually feels even better than before. Aboard are Cole Porter’s champagne rhymes, Kathleen Marshall’s grand direction and peerlessly witty comic choreography , moments of 1930s romantic elegance for those with a tender nature and PG Wodehouse’s high-absurd plot for the rest of us. Last year it loomed out of the grey Covid fog like a sunburst, and had us on our feet.Same again.
And is fitting in recessional and anxious times to remember that this glorious nonsense – of gangsters and molls and dim toffs and sassy females putting every curve out there – belongs in the inter war depression years. I feel it is a lesson to us all to sing the Bluebird song and keep on tapping.
Much of the joy of it, in this cast which has toured together, is in the way that everyone gets their big moment, and some get several. When I saw Sutton Foster from Broadway as Reno last year I was dazzled by the energy, sweetvoiced likeability and sheer stamina of the woman , a legend already. But Kerry Ellis from Suffolk (o the pride) , is her match, and we are lucky to haul her back from Broadway. Samuel Edwards is back as Billy, and Haydn Oakley as Lord Evelyn – the latter possibly because no human actor could resist another go at the unforgettable gypsy tango with Reno. Carly Mercedes Dyer takes on Erma (and many many sailors) once again, neatly stealing every show in her few sharp lines, for beyond her glamour is a pinsharp timing on the ripostes which got her her own cheers.
We have a new Moonface in Denis Lawson, less hat-tipping than Lindsay’s but demonstrating in the brig scene that there is nothing, nothing on earth, as funny as a man in full evening dress and spats addressing an invisible bluebird. And Simon Callow is Elisha Whitney! Spot on every laugh, doddering for England when required but nimble as a goat in the tap finale, a treat. And the swing, the chorus, the dance captain Gabrielle Cocca and team…never forget them. They are the sea on which our leaping dolphin stars surf , skilled and perfectionist and a living froth of joy.
I’m always rude about the Barbican theatre but the sightlines are all good and the cheapest seats under thirty quid and if you’ve had a hard day working-from-City-tower it’ll do you good.
barbican.org.uk to 3 sept
rating five mice this time.