The cast and crew of Hays High School’s musical will soon find out if their hard work will pay off, as they debut the Broadway classic “Anything Goes” on Thursday.
The show will include an all-cast tap dance performance to close the first act on a cruise-ship stage that includes a top deck and rotating set pieces. The cast prepared for the big scene with a four-day tap-dance “boot camp” with a New York choreographer.
Written in 1934 with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, the show includes familiar tunes including the titular song, “You’re the Top,” “Friendship” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
The comedy tells the story of Billy Crocker, played by junior Gabe McGuire, who stows away on a cruise ship to win the heart of heiress Hope Harcourt, played by junior Alisara Arial. He’s aided by his friend, nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, and Public Enemy No. 13, “Moonface” Martin, played by junior Kai Kaufman.
The role of Reno Sweeney is played by two actresses, sophomore Shirley Lee and junior Caitlin Leiker. Both showed exceptional talent for the role, said Hays High music and drama teacher Alex Underwood.
They’ll split the role among student matinees for Hays Middle School on Tuesday and Wednesday, plus four performances Thursday through Sunday.
“They each get three performances essentially, so they still get a chance to really dig in and let their work pay off,” Underwood said Monday.
For the tap-dance boot camp, Underwood put his connections to use. He taught music at Ruppenthal Middle School from 2008 to 2012, and since 2015, has coordinated the Ad Astra Music Festival in his hometown of Russell, bringing world-class musicians to perform with local artists each summer.
The choreographer, Adrian Rifat, is partner of one of Underwood’s former Russell students. While visiting with them over the holidays in Russell last year, Underwood recruited Rifat as choreographer.
Rifat came to Hays in October and returned last week for some additional training.
Only a handful of the cast members had any previous experience at tap, Underwood said.
“We had a tap-dance boot camp for four days over a long weekend, and he taught them all basic skills and then worked that into the final number of Act 1, which is the title number ‘Anything Goes,’” Underwood said.
“We are doing the whole thing. We didn’t cut a single measure of music. It’s about 350 measures of music and they’re doing all of it. It flies by, but it’s about a six- or seven-minute-long number,” he said.
“It shows off some of the students who have had experience before, and then gives everyone at least a little taste of basic tap,” he said.
Hanna Dannar, who plays “Moonface” Martin’s sidekick Erma, said while her part doesn’t require a lot of dance moves, she expects the hard work to show.
“I think we did a phenomenal job of pulling it together in the last week. Adrian came back out for the last week leading up to this to help tighten up the numbers and just make timing really click. In the last week, we’ve come really far,” she said.
Sophomore Carson Brooksher said the dance camp was “insane, but not as insane as the late-night rehearsals.” He plays a passenger and also Henry T. Dobson, a pastor mistaken for “Moonface” Martin.
In addition to the dancing, the comedic timing and the historic references were challenges for the staff, Underwood said.
“Making comedy work is a lot harder than you might think,” he said. “So getting the students to be funny and to take risks and to get outside of themselves a little bit has been sort of one of the more significant challenges,” he said.
The story takes place during the 1930s, so during initial read-throughs of the script, Underwood had the students do some research on the times.
“We would take apart every single reference, which there are many in the show — Greta Garbo and Mae West and all these people that are so foreign to us, or just other archaic things from the time. We just googled every single thing, we looked at photos of it, we tried to understand the context and what Cole Porter was meaning at the time and how a 1934 audience would have heard and received those lines,” he said.