In the show’s program, Director Barbara Mah says, “It’s about a boy and a girl, and star-crossed love… what the story is about is not important (and I doubt I could explain the plot to you anyway).” In any case, those familiar with Barbara Mah’s previous work would likely head into the show expecting that someone might die. Barbara says, “For the musicals I would normally pick, given a choice, I usually look at character and the music and if it speaks to me and if it’s a very moving story… but with a musical like this – my background is actually in dance. This is what I grew up doing: musical theatre with the jazz hands and the tap dance and the huge smiles and the plots that don’t necessarily make as much sense as they could, but they’re an excuse to sing and dance… [In undertaking this show,] it was a nice break to do a musical where nobody dies. I think I manage to kill quite a few people – I’m happy to report no one actually drowns.”
Barbara pulled double duty for Anything Goes, both directing and choreographing for the show. To help lighten the load, she had help from both an assistant choreographer (Stacey Grubb) and a dance captain. Barbara says, “In a musical where you have a dance captain, I taught the choreography and Christine Maydew – the dance captain – helps clean it up. If the cast have questions, they go to her.”
If you’re familiar with Walterdale Playhouse, you know that everyone is a volunteer – even the actors who had to learn to tap dance for the show! However, Barbara was able to make tap accessible for everyone, saying, “In my past life I was a tap dance teacher, so knowing how to put together steps that look difficult but are actually accessible for a beginner was really fun to do. I know [it was fun] for the cast… they’re so in love with the art form.”
Anything Goes is a musical though, so what about the MUSIC? A prolific composer and lyricist, Cole Porter has written nearly 1,000 songs – many of which we hear every day without realizing it. Barbara Mah says she was surprised when she first started working on the show, “I don’t think I realized I knew as many songs as I do. When we first started this show, I thought ‘I’ve got some new songs to learn,’ but I realized I’d heard them before. I’d heard them in commercials, in shows, and used as background for so much stuff. It’s such classic music, you don’t even realize you know it.” Christina O’Dell – who plays Reno Sweeney, nightclub proprietress and singer – says she auditioned mainly because it was a Cole Porter musical. “I have long adored Cole Porter. There were few composer/lyricists out there who are as intelligent and sophisticated as him. He’s very witty. There’s always a double meaning in what he’s putting out there.”
Christina O’Dell has been tap dancing for 18 years, but getting to perform in the role of Reno Sweeney is somewhat of a dream come true for her. “It’s a bucket list role. The last revival on Broadway, in 2011, with a musical theatre goddess Sutton Foster – she’s my idol… To be stepping into a role that she has played is a dream.” Although it’s easy to dismiss Anything Goes as “just a feel-good musical”, the characters also have depth. Christina gives me interesting food for thought about the role of Reno, “She’s a very strong individual. It’s been fun to dig into that. She’s a very astute business woman in an era when women weren’t empowered in that way. I’ve learned a lot from her, and I catch myself in the day using some of her mannerisms… Reno has given me a sense of confidence that I had never displayed in that way – I’m walking with a bit of a strut.”
Anything Goes plays at Walterdale Playhouse July 3 – 13. July 2nd is student night (free admission for students) and July 4th is two-for-one admission. Tickets are $14-20.
– Jenna Marynowski