Twenty-four years ago, Vicki Arnold, Debbie Cochran and Billie Spalsbury performed in the London community theater production of “Anything Goes.” They’re back again, in new roles, for an updated production of the musical, put on by the Madison County Arts Council. Shows are slated for July 20-22 at London High School.
“This is a newer version from the one we did in 1983,” said Arnold, whose part then was as a dancing Angel in singer Reno’s nightclub act. This time around, Arnold has a major role off the stage—as director.
She has taken to the job like a ship to water, implementing updates that boost the entertainment value of the show—including three songs and a dancing sailor quartet that weren’t part of the production in 1983.
Like Arnold, Cochran’s previous turn at “Anything Goes” was as a dancing Angel. She said the musical was “fun” the first time around and is proving to be just as enjoyable the second time. Her new role, as a gangster’s friend named Erma, puts her talent for doing accents to the test.
“I’m cursed, or blessed, with several different accents, and I guess my Brooklyn accent is my best,” she said.
Cochran said her affinity for “Anything Goes” lies in the fact that it is appealing to all ages—from the colorful costumes and tap dancing to the music and the quirky humor of the storyline.
Spalsbury knows all about the music. In 1983 and in 2007, her part in “Anything Goes” has been as the pianist for every rehearsal and in the pit band during performances.
“The arrangements of the songs are a little different and, I think, more difficult this time,” she said. “No songs have been taken out of the show since the last time, but some have been added.”
Spalsbury is especially fond of the songs that have stayed in the show through its various revisions, including: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “Friendship” and the title song, “Anything Goes.”
“I think the older music is more popular than people realize,” said Arnold. “(The audience) will say, ‘I didn’t know that’s where that song came from.’ ”
When choosing to revisit the musical, Lynette Bichsel, president of the Madison County Arts Council, said it was about picking something the community would enjoy that they haven’t seen in awhile. This is the first time the 10-year-old Arts Council has put on the show. The previous rendition was staged by one of the Arts Council’s predecessors, the London School Community Theater with Joyce Hildebrand as director.
“We look for shows that have a pretty large-sized cast, so we can get a lot of people involved,” Bichsel said.
The story of “Anything Goes” takes place on board the S.S. American, which is sailing from New York to England. Billy Crocker (played by Tim Orr), a stowaway assistant to a wealthy businessman, Elisha Whitney (Mike Lynch), tries desperately to woo his long-lost-love, Hope Harcourt (Alexanne Holcombe). The problem is, Hope is engaged to the rich Lord Evelyn (Randy Camm).
To add to the action, Billy runs into his old friend, nightclub singer Reno Sweeny (played by Jennifer Ruhlen), who’s on board the ship to perform with her dancing Angels—Purity (Emily Harris), Chastity (Molly Harris), Charity (Rachel Lovejoy) and Virtue (Christine Miller).
All the while, gangster Moonface Martin (Jeff Gates) and his friend, Erma (Cochran), try to escape the law and end up entangled in mistaken identity cases with Billy and Reno.
All performances of “Anything Goes” will take place at London High School. Show time on July 20-21 is 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 ($8 for seniors). The July 22 show is set for 3 p.m., and all tickets are $6. Tickets can be purchased three different ways: on Sundays and Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the lobby outside the high school auditorium; by calling 614-314-9264; or by visiting the Madison County Arts Council’s Web site at www.mcaconline.org.
—With reporting by Kristy Zurbrick