By Elizabeth Riggs
Climb aboard the S.S. American next weekend as the Ellicottville High School Drama Club presents madcap musical, Anything Goes, debuting Thursday, March 30.
The musical will mark the first under the direction of Jon Wilder, who has more than 30 years of experience directing at Salamanca High School, as well as the Lancaster Opera House with a group called Opera-lytes.
“When I was asked to direct the show, I went to last year’s program to see what students they had available and I noticed that they didn’t have any high school boys. The oldest boy was an eighth grader who subsequently played in The Little Mermaid last fall,” said Wilder. “Due to the fact that we were solight on boys and heavy on girls, I thought that Anything Goes would be a good fit.”
Anything Goes, set upon ocean greyhound S.S. American, is the story of nightclub singer/evangelist Reno Sweeney (Andee Pierce) who is en route from New York City to England. Her pal Billy Crocker (Robert Castillow) has stowed away to be near his love, Hope Harcourt (Heather Nicholson), but the problem is,
Hope is engaged to the wealthy Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Gabe Snyder).
Joining this love triangle on board the luxury liner are Public Enemy #13, Moonface Martin (Evan Quinn)and his ‘Mol and Flaky Chorine’ Bonnie (Kayleigh Coolidge). Reno and Martin join forces to help Billy in his quest to win Hope’s heart, all while entertaining audiences with mistaken identities, quick-change disguises, hilarious situations, romance, and ship-shape sailors.
“It was written by Cole Porter, originally in 1934, the time period where it is set,” said Wilder. “Coming right out of the roaring 20s into the jazz age and a lot of the musical will be recognizable.”
With songs like “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-lovely,” and of course, “Anything Goes,” there are several popular tunes that audiences may recognize. “Quite a few of the signature songs are ones that have been sung and covered by many, many jazz and pop artists,” said Wilder. “It was revived in the 60s and that’s the version we are doing.”
With the plot of the play set in the 1930s, for Wilder another appeal of the show is the subject matter and the education it is inadvertently giving the students.
“One of the things I really like about this musical is that it had so many historical and linguistic teaching points,” said Wilder. “Historically, in the 30s, it’s important for the kids to learn that travel was confined to ocean liners. Half the fun of it was the celebrities that would be on the boat. So, they may have been traveling in second or third class but they still would be able to rub elbows with these famoussocialites.”
In addition to providing teaching moments for the students, Wilder’s production has also required a little bit of good, old-fashioned elbow grease as he and students and families have worked to create the set.
“We’ve been working Saturdays, six and seven-hour days, building the set and now they are painting it,” said Wilder. “Since there is no fly space over the stage, I had to create a unistage so we built a ship right on the stage and that’s stays there the whole time so that serves as the main vehicle for the set.
“I designed some trucks to go on and off the set. One is a brig, like a jail, another one is the staterooms where the actors come in and out.”
In addition to designing the set, Wilder has also enlisted an all-adult, professional orchestra to perform in the musical.
“I am directing it and I will be conducting the orchestra as well,” Wilder said. “The orchestra are basically musician friends of mine who have played with me over the years in different Western New York orchestras. One Ellicottville student is playing mallet and auxiliary percussion.”
In addition to Wilder’s direction, a host of ECS staff are also contributing to its production, including: Jamie Edwards, Accompanist; Pat Waldron, Vocal Director; Crystal Wilder, Producer; and Elizabeth Weber, Choreographer.
“It’s my hope that people of all ages will be able to watch this show and be moved by the music as well as be entertained by the comedy and the heartfelt relationships that develop throughout the show,” Wilder said.
ECS will perform Anything Goes on Thursday, March 30, and Friday, March 31 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, April 1 at 2 p.m. Admission is $7 at the door.