Escapism, tap dancing on board in 'Anything Goes'

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Travis Neely
GCU Today News Bureau

Count on big, glittery and shiny when it comes to the Cole Porter hit machine-powered, 1930s-era, song-and-tap dance musical “Anything Goes."  The happy, go-lucky, heartbreak-to-romance, stockbroker/gangster/high-society musical will debut on the Ethington Theatre stage at 7:30 Friday night for a two-weekend run.

Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Abbi Cavanaugh) joins heiresses, gangsters and the like on a madcap cruise in "Anything Goes."

This is a feel-good, feast for the eyes dappled with so many classic Cole Porter songs – from the title tune to “It’s De-Lovely,” “I Get A Kick Out of You” and “Friendship” – that your ears won’t quite know what to do.

“This is escapism. This is a feel-good story with lots and lots of feel-good songs, and that’s part of the reason we chose it,” said director Claude Pensis, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production. “We try to balance the season.”

Consider the theatre’s most recent production, “Major Barbara,” a play that delved into some serious questions about ethics, such as if it’s right to take money from an arms dealer and whether money is more important than good deeds in trying to solve the world’s ills.

“Anything Goes,” very much a product of the Great Depression era (Americans needed something bright and glittery to take their minds off things), does not tackle big ethical questions. It’s simply “a great deal of fun,” Pensis said.

Like most musicals, “Anything Goes” is quite a production – endless costumes, resplendent sets, singing and dancing and a huge cast.

“We have a cast pushing somewhere between 30 and 40,” Pensis said. “It’s a big set. We have a small orchestra that will be playing with us.”

Billy Crocker (Brandon Brown, left) loves heiress Hope Harcourt (Grace Henderson, right) in "Anything Goes."

As such, the theatre department has collaborated with the dance department for choreography and the music department for musical numbers – the whole shebang when it comes to COFAP’s artistic resources.

“This is probably the biggest clothes horse of all the plays that we’ve done,” Pensis said with a smile. “I think we have close to 150 to 170 costumes, which is sizable.”

For those who haven’t seen “Anything Goes,” it follows the nutty goings-on on an ocean liner that's making its way from New York to London.

There’s suit-wearing stockbroker Billy Crocker (Brandon Brown), who stows away on the ship after discovering the woman he’s in love with, heiress Hope Harcourt (Grace Henderson), is on board. Problem is, she’s on the ship with her fiancée, the well-to-do Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Gavin Harris), an engagement wholeheartedly supported by her mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Mandy Tompkins). Luckily, Billy has the help of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Abbi Cavanaugh), gangster/Public Enemy No. 13 Moonface Martin (Ryan Ardelt) and Erma (Tarnim Bybee) to try to help him win over Hope.

But winning Hope won’t be easy. Billy’s boss, Elisha Whitney (Isaac O’Farrell), is a passenger on the ship and thinks Billy is back in New York making investments for him. So Billy is careful to disguise himself as a sailor and gangster to keep from being ID'd by his boss. Moonface Martin, meanwhile, is disguised as a priest so no one knows he’s a gangster. All the disguises makes for some madcap comedy sandwiched between the romance.

“One thing we have never done since I’ve been here is a tap dance musical, and this has many tap numbers in it,” Pensis said. “What’s exciting is we’ve got obviously dance students who can tap like crazy, and some theatre and music students who are also hoofers, so it’s a nice sort of combination.” He added, “We have some choreographers who are terrific, who have worked very hard with these students.”

Tap dancing melds with the music of Cole Porter in "Anything Goes."

Pensis said the faculty chose “Anything Goes,” not just to balance the season, but to give students the experience they need.

“We have theatre education students. We have music education students. We have dance education students, many of whom are in this production, and some will be asked to direct or choreograph or music-direct musicals as soon as they get into the high schools. So one of the reasons we do these productions is so those education students, as well as the other students, can have the experience of how do you produce a musical? How do you section off rehearsals? How do you partition the time that you have allotted to be able to do dance, music, theatre, lighting, sound, scene design, costumes.”

Mandy Tompkins plays Evangeline Harcourt, the mother of ingénue Hope Harcourt.

“The mom is on board to get her daughter married and secure her future financially," Tompkins said. "She’s a fun character. She has a great time. She’s just this over-dramatic character who will make a big deal at the drop of the hat.”

One thing Tompkins loves about the show is she gets to carry around a real-life dog.

Moonface Martin (Ryan Ardelt, left) helps Billy Crocker (Brandon Brown, right) win over heiress Hope Harcourt, whose mother, Evangeline (Mandy Tompkins, center), would certainly disapprove.

“It’s always fun and challenging working with a real, live animal,” she said with a laugh.

She also loves the set. Most of the action takes place on the ship’s deck, except for a couple of scenes in some of the characters’ state rooms. Play-goers will see a towering smokestack that’s central to the stage and accessed via two winding staircases on either side of the two-level set.

“We have those really cool big double doors that open,” she said of the ship doors, complete with porthole windows.

Stage manager James Coblentz said the challenge for her in this musical was working around the schedules of such a big cast.

“We’re combining so many elements of COFAP,” she said, “and everyone’s schedules are different.”

For Pensis, the challenge was the quick-turnaround time between plays. Between “Major Barbara” and “Anything Goes,” the team had four weeks to get this bright, shiny musical together, though some students who weren’t performing in “Major Barbara” had six weeks to prepare.

But in the end, he said, everything is coming together and the musical is becoming the resplendent production it’s meant to be, despite the time crunch.

Tompkins said audiences should see the play because, “It’s just funny. I laugh backstage so much. I’ll be off stage and laugh before my cue.”

As for Coblentz, she said, “Just come see it. It’s so visually stunning – the costumes. The dancing is impeccable. We’ve never tap danced before, so it’s amazing to see such a diverse group of students make everything happen.”

"Anything Goes" also will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18; 7:30 p.m. March 23-24; and 2 p.m. March 25.


What: “Anything Goes”

Where: GCU’s Ethington Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. March 23-24 and 2 p.m. March 25.

Tickets: They’re selling fast with some shows already having sold out. Tickets are $12, $10 and $5 (one free ticket per GCU student with I.D.) Also, $6 tickets are still available on

Information: 602-639-8880 or [email protected]


Musical by: Cole Porter, Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

Director/lighting designer: Claude Pensis

Musical director: Mark Fearey

Choreographers: Kevin Godfrey and Suzy Guarino-Hall

Scenic designer: William Symington V

Properties designer: James Coblentz

Costume designer: Nola Yergen

Sound designer: Stacee Martinez

Hair and makeup: Megan Sutton

Dramaturg: Morgan McCall

Technical director/master electrician: Steven Davis

You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or by phone at 602-639-7901. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.


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