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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 4, 2010
“Classic Broadway” comes to the Guilderland High stage
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Cecilia Snow commands the stage when she’s on it.
She plays Reno Sweeney, an evangelist turned nightclub singer, in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
Leading a revival meeting at the halfway point in the show, Snow belts out, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” as the cast follows her lead and her rapture.
“She always knows what to do and always has a plan,” said Snow of her character. “Reno’s like myself in some ways…very independent.”
Snow’s plans include going to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. next year to earn an undergraduate degree in music education and later a master’s degree.
“I’ve been dancing since I was a little girl,” said the Guilderland High School senior. She has studied ballet, jazz, and tap at various studios. Her mother and grandmother both danced in high-school productions, she said, and went on to careers in music.
Snow, who sings in several choirs at Guilderland, started with theatrics in the ninth grade. “I hate to brag,” she said during a rehearsal break this week, “but I have a large voice, so people notice that on stage.” Anything Goes will play at Guilderland High School from March 11 to 14.
As Snow sang and danced on stage, below her, in the pit, junior Scott Rubin set the rhythm on his drums.
“It’s so much fun being exposed to the musical setting,” said Rubin. “I like the show; it’s very jazzy.” Rubin is in the school’s jazz band.
“I feel responsible,” he said of being the percussionist in the pit orchestra. “I am the rhythm.”
Seated in the audience, Bob Oates watched the dance unfold, clipboard in hand. This is the 12th musical Oates has choreographed for the Guilderland Players and it has been the most challenging, he said. “Singing in the Rain had just a few tap dancing,” Oates said. “We’ve got the whole cast tapping.” That’s three dozen kids. “It has to be clean,” he said.
Oates has relied on Erin Parks, a Guilderland alumna who was a dance captain in the school’s 2004 production. “She does tuberculosis research now,” he said. “She came in and did a lot of the tap choreography.”
Sitting near Oates is English teacher Olivia Mars, making her debut directing the high school’s spring musical. She followed another English teacher, the long-time director, Andy Maycock, who took over from the original director, Fred Heitkamp, now retired.
“I’ve always loved Anything Goes,” said Mars, describing why she selected the play for her inaugural musical. “It’s classic Broadway,” she said. Mars was in the play herself, in the ensemble, as a high-school student in Massachusetts.
Another Guilderland graduate, besides Parks, is returning to see next weekend’s play. Thomas Kouo, who graduated in 1990, had a part in Anything Goes when the Guilderland Players staged the musical in 1989.
“He went on to Broadway,” said Maycock. Kouo played a Japanese-American war veteran in Miss Saigon.
“He’s coming from San Diego, where he lives now, to see the show. He’ll put on a one-man performance on Saturday.”
Kouo’s March 13 To Broadway and Back is at 2 p.m. at the high school. Tickets are $5 at the door.
“He’s doing it for free,” said Maycock, “just to sing on that stage again.” Money raised from Kouo’s performance will be split three ways among the art and music departments and the Guilderland Players.
“We’re hoping for a good turnout of alumni,” said Maycock. “This is a guy who’s been there and come back.” Kouo went on from his acting career to study Chinese medicine, Maycock said. He founded Elemental Harmony Acupuncture where he pairs psychology and his theater background with Chinese medicine.
“Anything Goes is one of only two musicals on Broadway since the 1930s that have survived,” Mars said. The other is George Gershwin’s folk opera, Porgy and Bess.
The play has appeared in three versions in 1934, in 1962, and in 1987. The Guilderland Players are performing the latest version.
Mars went on about Anything Goes, “The ideas are still contemporary. It’s about what you’re willing to do for love and the mishaps that can happen. The social criticism still holds.”
She recaps the farcical plot this way: As the SS American sets sail from New York City to London, Billy Crocker, played by Paul Travers, a young stock broker, is bidding farewell to his boss, Elisha Whitney, played by Alex Benninger. Billy spots his love hope, the one who got away Hope Harcourt, played by Lexi Rabadi, who is engaged to marry Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, played by C.J. Higgins.
Billy is given a fake passport by two underworld characters Moonface Martin, played by Josh Palagyi, and his sidekick, Erma, played by Gabby Formica, and sneaks on board to be with Hope.
“The passport is actually for Public Enemy Number One. Billy assumes a series of disguises to avoid his boss. Mayhem ensues,” said Mars. In the end, there are two marriages.
Dance dominates the show. “Everybody in the cast has had to shape up literally and figuratively for the daunting dance involved,” said Mars. Jordan Lloyd plays the ship’s captain and is also one of the dance captains, heading a crew of sailors played by John Ciccaraelli, Alex Dvorscak, Bobby Ruggles, and Geoffrey Snow, Cecilia’s brother.
The female dancers play the part of the four Angels, back-up singers for Reno Purity (Lauren Burgasser), Chastity (Amanda Sherman), Charity (Francesca Soldevere), and Virtue ( Peyton Snyder, the other dance captain).
“Everyone in the cast is in the spotlight for dance,” said Mars. “They really shine.”
“Passionate about the same thing”
The dialog is lively as well. One-liners zing across the stage as rapidly as tap dancers. In one comic scene, Hope’s overbearing mother, played with flair by Rachel Young, is desperately searching for her little lost dog.
“I can’t find my little Cheekie,” she wails to the ship’s captain.
Without missing a beat, the exasperated captain replies, “It’s right next to your little nose-y.”
Benninger as Elisha Witney is in the midst of what he describes as “some of the craziest shenanigans in the show.” He explains, “I’m an old man and a drunk…I get whipped cream in my face, and I propose to several sailors.”
The actual object of his affection is Mrs. Harcourt, but he’s too drunk to realize his proposals have gone awry.
“I watched a lot of Arthur,” he said of learning to act drunk by viewing clips of the British actor Dudley Moore. “I figured out early I can unhinge my balance.”
A sophomore, Benninger is interested in foreign languages. He can speak Spanish, he said, and has started studying French and Chinese. Another actor in the show, Higgins, shares his interest in Chinese and has worked some of it into the play.
Although most of Benninger’s scenes are comic, his commitment to the show is serious. He had to miss school, and rehearsals, because he had his gall bladder removed, but he didn’t give up his part in the play.
“We all like the same thing here,” Benninger said. “To get a hundred people together who are passionate about the same thing,” he said, “is a lot of fun. I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.”
Formica, who plays Erma, sidekick to Moonface Martin, is equally passionate about her part. “She’s kooky and not as dumb as she looks,” says Formica of Erma. “She uses her sexuality to her advantage.”
On stage, Formica is playful yet riveting. Offstage, she’s serious and still riveting.
A senior, Formica hopes to go to Holy Cross next year with the goal of eventually going to law school. She plans to minor in acting, though.
“It’s an incredible escape,” she said of why she likes acting. “I’ve met the best friends I’ve ever had.”
By being part of the Guilderland Players throughout her high-school years this is her seventh show Formica said, “I’ve grown. I’ve learned about responsibility and teamwork.”
She concluded, “I’ve always been outspoken. It’s nice to be loud and not be out of place.”
Mars, too, has for a long time liked being on stage since she was a kid growing up in Massachusetts. “It’s a release and very exciting,” she said. “I had stage fright and fear of speaking in public. It turned around my life. You get to be someone else when you’re on stage.”
Mars went on to major in English literature and writing at Siena College but kept acting in college plays. Now in her fourth year at Guilderland, she teaches English to freshmen at the high school and has been helping the Guilderland Players since 2007, when she started as a costume manager.
She and English teacher Claudia Stone have advised the high school’s Shakespeare Society for the last few years, putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and, this year, in May, Taming of the Shrew.
“I knew this would be different than co-directing Shakespeare, but I didn’t know how much would be involved,” said Mars. With Shakespeare, she said, “We rely on the words to tell the story. It’s very bare bones theater.”
With the musical, she said, “I’m working with six other adults, the cast is double, and you add choreography.” She went on, “It’s so rewarding. This week, as it’s all coming together; it’s beyond words.”
Next week’s show, Mars said, “could appeal to anyone…The music is classic…It’s been performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Billy Holiday.” Ethel Merman played the original Reno in the 1934 Broadway production.
“Even if they think they don’t know them, people will recognize the songs,” said Mars. Referring to Steven Spielberg’s 1984 film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Mars said, “They perform the key song from this in Chinese.”
She concluded of Anything Goes, “There are so many things to love about it. It’s hilarious. It’s about love and everything that can go wrong with it. The music is catchy and the dancing is sensational.”
Anything Goes will run from March 11 to 14 at Guilderland High School on School Road in Guilderland Center. Performances on Thursday through Saturday start at 7 p.m.; Sunday’s matinée starts at 2 p.m. Tickets for most seats cost $7; seats on the side cost $5.
Tickets are available at the door and may also be reserved ahead by calling Kim Livingston at the high school: 861-8591, ext. 1061.