After I have posted all my Broadway-thoughts and my thoughts on Sarg Niemals Nie I can (finally) move on to the three musicals I have seen in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in the end of May when the theatre of St. Gallen showed all three of their currently running musicals in a row. I went there by train with my mother and we had a great time (her first time in Switzerland), after three nights in St. Gallen we went to Zurich and stayed another two nights (which is so expensive the two nights there did cost roughly the same as the three nights in St. Gallen – and the hotel wasn’t that good, actually). Anyways…right now we’re here to talk productions.
I used to be not that much into old musicals, I’m all for innovation and new stuff (hence my contributing to the Greenroom-blog over on newmusicaltheatre.com) – so I was the least excited about the first show of the three which was Anything Goes. When we were sitting in the theatre’s lobby (which is lovely and quite special architectural) after our over-night-travel and my mom was flipping through the pages of the programme she was like: “Oh…it’s one of these comedies in which someone is mistaken for someone and it’s supposed to be funny. I’m not really up to this right now!”
A couple of minutes later a woman joined us where we sat (apparently she is reviewing shows for German musical news-page thatsmusical.de) and she was all like: “I don’t know what this is about and frankly I don’t care. I am tired and I only bought it because it was cheap, more by accident. I really only wanted to see actor X this afternoon! And look, I’ve seen show Y in Stuttgart 40 times!” Sorry if I’m offending some people know, but this attitude pisses me off. Like really! Then my mother repeated her statement before I said: “Well – let’s try to see it this way. If you really don’t want to see something because you don’t feel in the mood and in the end you happen to have enjoyed yourself and it finds its way to your heart, that’d make the production amazing, right?”
Later, when the lights went on for intermission, my mom turned to me, beaming and said: “It was exactly like you said before! It totally found its way to my heart!” And for myself I can definetely say that this evening was not only when I fell in love with Cole Porter’s music (am I late to the party?), but also with this kind of old-ish musical where the narrated story is kind of draped around hit-songs, not in the hideous compilation-musical-Mamma-Mia-kind-of-way (or for more German reference: Hinterm Horizont and its brothers and sisters…), but in a slightly better working one. And eventually: Bettina Mönch.
Let’s start in reverse order. I have the feeling that in almost every post with thoughts on a German production of anything which I remotly liked I state that one of the performers has given a great performance, the “best performance on a German stage I’ve seen in a long while when it comes to musicals”. But after Pia Douwes’ performance as Diana in Next to Normal last fall Bettina Mönch gives a very different (of course, because they are playing different characters) but equally amazing performance as Reno Sweeney. She is tall which stresses her being different from the others just because she is so much taller than all the other (female and even most of the male) actors on that stage and has a very captivating appearance on stage. And boy, she is a dancer! And she can sing. And act. Basically she is this tripple threat we always are talking about, but as I feel not getting to see that much on German (speaking) stages. She owns the stage as Reno’s got to own it.
The thing with Anything Goes seems to be: anything goes. The title already gives a hit of what I think was quite ‘ahead of its time back then’, throughout the story the women – especially Reno, but eventually all the other female characters, too – are winners. They own the (their) men and in the end everyone of them gets what she wants. For me worshipping the female narrative that’s quite a nice thing to have. I remember talking about it when I went to my admission interview in Leipzig only a couple of days after we’d returned from our trip – I just didn’t really expect a female narrative to happen in a musical from the 1930ies. Written by men.
The directing by Josef E. Köpplinger is sometimes very, very silly (the opening of the show, is almost embarrassingly silly), but then it somewhat ‘returns’ to the narrative and gives it a fitting vibe – full of doors opening and closing at the right time. Most of the times it comes to terms very charmingly with the good ol’ Staatstheater-situation: having people that can’t (and don’t have to) dance in big scenes, because they are members of the opera choir – I have seen a lot more embarrassing situations on this department.
In my latest post over on newmusicaltheatre.com I adressed the translating-issue we are faced in German speaking countries when producing shows originally written in another language, mostly English. In this production of Anything Goes they decided to have the dialogue in German and the songs sung in English – which is a weird feeling. Directing-wise you don’t only have to justify your characters breaking into a song, but also breaking into a song in a language different from the one they just spoke – and I can’t deny that it cracks up the narrative. And it causes more than one awkward moment – with only very few songs you can really tell when it starts, there are mixutres of talking and singing, changing from phrase to phrase. Where do you draw the line? But then, I was really glad they didn’t force awkward German translations of these very English (down to their DNA if lyrics had one) lyrics on us – although I’m pretty sure not everybody in the audience was able to understand these (beautiful and if nor beautiful at least funny) lyrics, which is sad.
What I have been trying to tell you in more than 1000 words by now: If you have the opportunity to go or just really want to get to know Anything Goes as a musical or have been thinking about it, but never quite made the decision – I encourage you to do so. You (probably) won’t regret it.