Review: Anything Goes by John Barrowman

A comfy corner of a good friend’s couch, the other party guests are long gone but a few of you are lingering with vodka tonics and party snacks, dishing gossip, telling old stories and laughing your arses off. That’s exactly the atmosphere of Anything Goes, John Barrowman’s autobiography.

Dr. Who fans will recognize John from his role as Captain Jack Harkness, and from the spinoff series, Torchwood, which I adore. He is also a star of musical theater in the US and UK (there are too many shows to name here – check out the list on his website). So even though he’s still a young man (just about a year younger than yours truly, so obviously a young man), he’s got a lot of material to work with.

The book is really fabulous fun. The chapters are named after songs from various musicals (“I Hope I Get It”, “Love Changes Everything”, “The First Man You Remember” ) and it is full of photos. (Wanna see what an honest to goodness Scotsman wears under his kilt? Check out the photos after page 128.) If there were a Writer’s Guild prize for best use of footnotes, this book would win, hands down; they’re full of snarky little asides that had me laughing, page after page. Best of all, the book is not chronological. Memoirs that start “I was born in a small town” are usually tedious. No one is interesting in junior high school. Anything Goes avoids that pitfall by talking about John’s early years (and after this book, I feel like he and I should be on a first-name basis) in flashbacks, stories and recollections tied to more current events. It keeps the story moving quickly and dulls the urge to skim and skip.

The book is also full of celebrities. David Tennant, Jack Lemmon, Victoria Principal, Kevin Spacey, Ian McKellen, Uma Thurman…the list goes on and on, but manages not to seem gratuitous. After all, with a resume full of muscials, theater, television and movies, you would expect him to know a few famous names. And honestly – you don’t buy a celebrity memoir to read about coffee and donuts with Dave the gaffer and Molly the make-up artist. I want to hear about working with Carol Burnett, about meeting Bob Mackie (more on that later) and about vacationing on a yacht with Claudia Schiffer.

Before I gush too much, there are a couple of things about the book that left me wondering. First, although I love the non-chronological nature of the story, it does make it a little hard to follow at times. A little more attention to supplying ages, years, etc, would help a reader line up the various events and stories in their proper order. The second thing bothered me a bit more. John Barrowman is openly gay, but with the exception of one minor incident with a television producer, there is no mention of any sort of backlash. No hate mail, no protestors, no losing out on a prime role because of concerns about casting a gay leading man. Now, perhaps he was fortunate enough not to experience any of that. I hope that he was. But that seems unlikely and since it’s not really addressed in the book, I leave with a feeling that some of the bad stuff has been glossed over. The third thing? Well now, that involves a story he told about a dinner party and a certain conclusion I drew. Maybe someday I’ll buy the man a cocktail and ask him about it.
Now, here’s the part to file under weird coincidences: John was born in Scotland and moved to Illinois as a child. His family still lives in the Midwest. As I’ve said before, I travel a lot on business and my company happens to have a lab just outside Milwaukee. I was there when I was reading this book, which led to the bizarre experience of lying in bed in my hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin, reading about how John’s parents have a winter home in Florida but spend their summers in…Brookfield, Wisconsin. Makes you look over your shoulder at breakfast.

I’ve recommended this book to a number of friends, but I won’t be giving away my copy! You’ll have to buy your own copy at

Now, a little trivia for you: Remember I mentioned John meeting Bob Mackie? Well, he also asked the designer to autograph a few things from his personal collection. I bet you’ll never guess what! Answer, as always, is in the comments.

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