It was a day late, but definitely not a dollar short.
Anything Goes opened on Friday night at Morristown High School after a week of winter weather shut down virtually all rehearsals and canceled Thursday’s opener. Another two weeks were lost to school calendar quirks.
Rehearsals are over-rated.
“They threw us a lot of obstacles. But when you’re this dedicated and you love something as much as we love this program, you will do anything,” said senior Victoria Fanning, who swaggers and soars in the starring role of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney.
From the ocean liner sets to the pit orchestra to the choreography to the rapid-fire gags, this opening night was a dazzler.
Especially when you consider that the show’s only full-blown dress rehearsal came on Friday afternoon–and that was a rushed affair.
“Everyone was on their A-game tonight,” said senior Anna Skelton, who plays Hope Harcourt, the prim and proper high society love interest in Cole Porter’s 1934 escapist romp.
“After the week we’ve had, everyone just put everything they had into this production to make it everything that it could be.”
A pair of nor’easters brought school closures that canceled four days of rehearsals over the last week.
Impromptu run-throughs pretty much were out of the question for senior Kate Croonquist, who delivers a wickedly funny, vampy Erma.
Wednesday’s massive snow dump felled a tree in her Morristown neighborhood, knocking out power.
“I’m staying in a hotel. I think I’m going to be there for the next five days,” Croonquist said, still a bit mystified about how the cast pulled off Friday’s performance.
“I think it’s magic, honestly. I was very surprised. I think it was the theater gods that helped us.”
Croonquist said she studied Sutton Foster’s body language in a Broadway revival of Anything Goes to develop her onstage moves.
She dreams of Hollywood, and her comedic gifts might take her there someday. At times, she is reminiscent of a young Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball, or Cicely Strong of Saturday Night Live.
“I love making people laugh. That’s my favorite thing,” she said after the show. “I’ve always kind of been a comedienne, to make my friends laugh, in every single group. I like to laugh.”
She can sing and dance, too, as she demonstrated in her big number, Buddie, Beware–which the cast only learned a couple of weeks ago.
Directed by Michael Maguire, this musical affords plenty of star turns. And this crop of seniors has some star power.
Nile Birch, a gentleman off-stage, has fun as gangster wannabe Moonface Martin, “Public Enemy No. 13.”
Without rehearsals, the run-up to showtime was “a little nerve-wracking, a little scary,” acknowledged Birch, who aspires to an acting career. Friday was a team effort, he said, with lots of muscle memory from earlier rehearsals.
For the complex dance routines, “You just remember what you did two weeks ago. It’s like, you remember you’re here, you’re there, so you just do it, and go based off of other people.”
Hugh Grennan reveals a pleasing voice as the male lead, Billy Crocker, a young stock broker who pines for Hope Harcourt. He also gets some laughs warbling as a little old lady duetting with Skelton on It’s De-lovely.
And Greg Mehlin is delightfully daft as a clueless British aristocrat, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.
HAILING VICTORIA, MOURNING HEDDA
But this show belongs to Fanning. She struts and shimmers like Mae West–this is the Great Depression, after all– with volcanic vocals more like Bernadette Peters or Kristin Chenoweth.
The Reno Sweeney character has taught her a few things.
“I’ve learned to walk into a room like you own it. I’ve learned mostly confidence. She is one of the most confident women in theater, and she doesn’t need a man. She ends up with one, but still she’s so confident by herself that it’s taught me to be so comfortable in my own skin, and to be so confident in my own abilities.
“I feel now I can really go into college and kill it,” said Fanning. The only question is which college. She has auditioned for 18 performing arts schools.
Grueling, yes, but that’s how Fanning prefers it. She has juggled starring roles at MHS with triumphs in state poetry contests and town talent shows, and performances with Chenoweth and other Broadway stars as a member of the Mayo Performing Arts Center’s Performing Arts Company.
“I’m best when I’m busiest,” she said, admitting to cabin fever when school shut down this week.
Fanning, Skelton and Birch are Morristown’s Three Musketeers–they’ve done Broadway together, and won Morristown Onstage as a trio. Anything Goes may be their last production together.
“It’s sentimental and it’s emotional,” Fanning said. “But it’s also the best swan song I could have asked for.”
Anything Goes is emotional for another reason. On top of anxiety over weather and rehearsals, the cast and crew have been grieving the loss of freshman Hedda Sivertsson, who died last week from brain cancer.
“She was this light of courage for us,” said senior Bailey McGuinn, who plays a sultry “Angel” named Purity.
Hedda faithfully attended MHS productions, and the theater department dedicated a show to her last year to raise money for cancer research.
Cast members plan to attend Hedda’s memorial service prior to Saturday’s performance, said McGuinn, who described herself as heartbroken.
“It’s kind of hard to put that aside and go up there and just smile your face off,” she said.
“But we’ve all been trying to do it with her in our hearts, and know that we do these performances because it touches people, and she cared about it. And so it’s what keeps us going.”
Anything Goes continues with a 7 pm show on Saturday, March 10, 2018, and shows at 2 pm and 7 pm on Sunday, March 11, at Morristown High School, 50 Early St. Tickets: $8-$15.