Opera Australia Blog

Cheat Sheet: Anything Goes

Who was the composer?

Cole Porter, via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons

Cole Porter, via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons

American composer and lyricist Cole Porter was a national treasure by the time he died at age 72, with a swag of popular songs, hit musicals and a lavish and scandalous social life that kept the tabloids talking.

A precocious and talented child, he played the violin, piano and had even composed an operetta by age 10. He went to Yale and wrote football songs, beginning his career contributing songs to Broadway revues.

Porter’s gift for writing lyrics and music outclassed many of his contemporaries – his style was so individual, his lyrics so witty, his melodies so broody or impossibly bouncy that many of his songs are still standards.

Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers & Hammerstein) believed few people realised how “architecturally excellent” his music was. “There’s a foundation, a structure and an embellishment. Then you add the emotion he’s put in and the result is Cole Porter.”

Porter ruled Broadway in the 1930s, writing Anything Goes among other hits. Porter wrote some of the most popular show tunes of all time, including ‘Night and Day’, ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘You’d be so Easy to Love’, ‘Let’s Do It’, ‘Let’s Misbehave’, and of course, ‘Anything Goes’.

What happens in the story?

Photo by Jeff Busby

Photo by Jeff Busby

Billy Crocker stows away on the SS American in pursuit of the beautiful Hope Harcourt – a passenger on the ship with her fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.

With the help of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy #13, Moonface Martin, he dons a series of disguises in order to go unnoticed aboard the ship.

Madness and mayhem ensue as romances are born and broken on board the SS. American.

Who are the main characters?

Reno, Billy, Hope, Evelyn and Erma

Reno, Billy, Hope, Evelyn and Erma

Billy Crocker – A young Wall St broker
Reno Sweeney – A nightclub singer turned evangelist, a friend of Billy’s
Hope Harcourt – a gorgeous debutante, and the object of Billy’s affection
Lord Evelyn Oakleigh – Hope’s stuffy fiancé
Moonface Martin – a failed gangster, Public Enemy #13
Erma – Martin’s stunning gangster girlfriend

What’s the big hit?

Too many to count! From the tap-tastic title number, ‘Anything Goes’, to the soulful ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, to the great catalogue song ‘You’re the Top’, plus ‘It’s Delovely’, ‘You’d Be So Easy to Love’ and ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’, the musical is jam-packed with songs that became hits in their own right.

They’ve been used in films including What’s Up, Doc? and Indiana Jones, TV shows including The Gilmore Girls, Family Guy and Summer Heights High and even covered by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

A little history


Porter was already famous by the time he wrote Anything Goes, but had enjoyed only limited Broadway success, contributing songs to other musicals before he had a hit in 1928 with Paris.

Producer Vinton Freedley dreamed up a musical set on an ocean liner, and set about securing his dream cast and creative team before the show even existed. He commissioned Porter for the songs and asked P.G Wodehouse and Guy Bolton to write the book, for stars Ethel Merman and comedy duo William Gaxton and Victor Moore.

Just weeks out from opening night, a cruise ship tragedy demanded a complete reworking of the now in-poor-taste script. Freedley asked his director, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse to rework the book, using the same songs and characters.

Anything Goes finally opened in 1934, first in Boston and then on Broadway, playing more than 400 shows – a runaway hit.

Fun facts

  • Cole Porter’s mother pretended her son was younger than his real age, so that he might be thought more precocious (as if writing an operetta at 10 wasn’t enough to make you a child prodigy).
  • Porter and his wife Linda Lee threw spectacular parties in Paris and Venice, including scandalous entertainments and a guest list that would have raised eyebrows in New York. For entertainment, he once hired the entire Monte Carlo Ballet. In Venice, he rented the Palazzo Rezzonico for a party and hired 50 gondoliers to act as footmen, as well as a troupe of tightrope walkers to perform.
  • In 1937, Porter suffered a terrible horse riding accident, which broke both his legs and left him permanently disabled and in pain. He became a virtual recluse, but continued to write fantastic songs.
  • His biggest commercial success came late, in 1948 with the Tony Award-winning Kiss Me, Kate.
  • The first performer to play Billy Crocker was a comedian, renowned for his disguise and dress-up routines. This inspired the many disguises of Billy Crocker in the story.
  • Porter wrote most of the songs for Anything Goes while cruising down the Rhine.
  • The show has been revived and revised several times, with the 1962 update including more of Porter’s famous songs.

Read more

  • A brilliant profile of Cole Porter published in The New Yorker.
  • Cole Porter’s New York Times obituary.
  • The list of cultural references in ‘You’re The Top’ includes some that are mysterious to a modern day audience. Slate Magazine solves the mysteries.

4 Responses to “Cheat Sheet: Anything Goes”

  1. Valerie Kaigg

    Great opportunity to learn about what to expect, storyline and the facts behind the show. Excited about seeing the show at the magnificent Sydney Opera House. Visiting Sydney for six days with my 9 year old grandson and attending Sat 10th October will be an experience not forgotten. Loved Todd McKenney in Singing in the Rain when in Perth many years ago. will be great to see him perform again as well as what looks like a magnificent cast of performers colourful costumes and tap dancing. From Busselton South West of Western Australia can’t wait to see the show. Thanks for the cheat sheet.

  2. Marie Fonseca

    What a great idea! It is good to be able to know what to expect. I will be seeing the show on Wednesday, October 7 and I am really looking forward to it. My father grew up in the era of Cole Porter so as kids we were familiar with his music.
    I am also familiar with the cast having seen them in various other productions.
    Thank you for giving me a chance to post a comment.

  3. Curtis Campbell

    Just the best we would go again if we could tomorrow & to meet Billy after the show walking along going to the car just toped off
    What was a wonderful happy delightful show. Big thank you to Alex


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