‘Anything Goes’: Morristown High strives for Broadway-quality show in just 10 weeks

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By Bailey McGuinn

Putting on a full-scale production is a feat for any high school theater program. But Morristown High School is taking on an even greater challenge.

The school is attempting one of its biggest shows, Anything Goes, in only 10 weeks.

Usually, the program is allowed at least a dozen weeks to produce spring musicals. But the drama department was given early performance dates (March 8-11, 2018) because of PARCC testing, the timing of spring break, and high demand for the school auditorium.

Instead of panicking, the directing team challenged the cast and crew to rise to the occasion with their most intense rehearsals ever.

Rigorous auditions consisted of two tap combinations, one jazz combination, a vocal selection, and an acting side for dozens of hopefuls. The full-cast read-through was on Dec. 14, 2017, and it’s been a grueling schedule ever since.

But everyone is confident the results will be more than seaworthy:

Anything Goes is a timeless classic, telling the tale of a love triangle that’s anything but predictable.

Slideshow photos by Katelyn Nagy and Claire Fennelly

The lead sailors and angels rehearse the nautical number with aid from flotation devices. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
Reno (Victoria Fanning) performing with her Angels. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
The ship’s crew and passengers perform the title number 'Anything Goes.' Photo by Katelyn Nagy
The massive stationary set of the boat, handmade by crew. Photo by Claire Fennelly
Erma (Kate Croonquist) and Moonface (Nile Birch) panic about their plans. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
The ship’s sailors swab the deck. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
Rehearsing a dance routine for 'Anything Goes.' Photo by Katelyn Nagy
Reno (Victoria Fanning) performing with her Angels. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
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IMG_9898-2 (1) - The lead sailors and angels rehearse the nautical number with aid from flotation devices. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
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Evangelist and cruise ship performer Reno Sweeney (played by Victoria Fanning) boards the SS American with her Angels, madly in love with longtime pal Billy Crocker (Hugh Grennan), a stowaway who is chasing Hope Harcourt (Anna Skelton).

But Hope, joined by her overbearing mother Evangeline (Maggie Mustion), is engaged to the quirky Brit Evelyn Oakley (Greg Mehlin).

If that wasn’t enough, the mischievous Public Enemy Number 13, Moonface Martin (Nile Birch) and his accomplice Erma (Kate Croonquist) are on deck to stir up trouble.

Through a multitude of high-energy dance numbers, the ship’s crew, passengers, Angels, and lead characters take the audience on a buoyant journey to find love, with lots of laughter along the way.

“Reno has been an absolute dream!” exclaims senior Victoria Fanning, the show’s lead and president of the program’s student board.

“She is one of the strongest female characters in theater– so many incredible women, including Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, and Stephanie J Block have played this part, which makes this opportunity so exciting. Before we started, I knew I couldn’t attempt to copy what these women have done. Instead I had to use personal experiences to make Reno my own.

“My favorite part about playing Reno is how unapologetic she is. To play such a confident woman from the 1930s, a time when women were often passive, is an incredibly unique experience. It’s a lot of work, but when you’re passionate about something, you’ll do just about anything,” Fanning says.

“Seeing how much goes on behind the scenes, I have so much more respect for the young people involved than I could have imagined,” says Kaitlyn Brady, who is new to the program this year as Company Manager.

“Teenagers building a multilevel, rotating set; designing entire, detailed gowns by hand; and getting over 40 kids to learn how to tap on the same beat, requires much more time, effort, and patience than anything else I’ve seen students do.”

The crew — more than 75 students who participate on build crew, hair and makeup, costumes, sound crew, and lighting and tech — has been hard at work since the start of the process.

Crew has held builds at least two days a week, as well as 9-12 hours every Saturday. One of the build crew’s greatest accomplishments thus far has been its creation of the foundation of the production: The cruise ship.

Complete with movable stairs, a massive balcony, and countless other set pieces, it has transformed the stage into the SS American.

“This has been our most ambitious set ever in the shortest amount of time, but I think it has allowed our program to grow closer and bond more as we are working harder together to reach our goal together,” says Stage Manager Claire Fennelly, a senior who serves as the student board’s vice president.

Cole Porter’s 1934 masterpiece is full of fast, catchy show-tunes with a complicated score, but Music Director / Pit Conductor David Gallagher is up for the task.

“I think the students have really risen to the challenge of putting a show together in such a short time” he says. “The pit musicians especially are working with fewer rehearsals than they ever have and are putting the music together very well.”

“The best part of the process is also the biggest challenge,” says Michael Maguire, the show’s artistic director. “The schedule is the shortest it’s ever been, for one of the largest productions we’ve ever produced. It’s amazing seeing the show come together at such a quick pace!”

A production of this size and caliber would not be possible without the hard work of multi-talented students like junior Ashe Gobin, who serves as the program’s assistant stage manager, the student board’s technical advisor, a member of showgram, and a photographer.

“Working on so many aspects of the production Anything Goes has been difficult but so rewarding to get to collaborate with such amazing directors, cast and crew,” says Gobin. “We get to be a part of something bigger than just a high school musical– we’re part of a family.”

This family continues to grow each year, in numbers, professionalism, and passion.

“The Morristown High School Theatre Program is not just about having a great show for a week, but about a school year full of skill development, accountability, and character-building which happens to end with a Broadway-caliber production we can all be proud of,” says Brady.

And Broadway caliber it will be, promise all involved.

Morristown High School’s Anything Goes takes the stage for four performances only, so make your way before it sets sail on the weekend of March 8-11, 2018. Tickets are available now online.

Be sure to catch the cast performing a preview at Morristown Onstage, Feb. 28, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.

SHOW DATES:

  • THURSDAY, MARCH 8 @ 7:00 PM
  • FRIDAY, MARCH 9 @ 7:00 PM
  • SATURDAY, MARCH 10 @ 7:00 PM
  • SUNDAY, MARCH 11 @ 2:00 PM

Bailey McGuinn is a member of the Morristown High School Class of 2018.

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