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SPA presents shipboard musical comedy, “Anything Goes”

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Grant Anderson (right), as second-rate gangster Moonface Martin, menaces Tanner Schiller (center) as Ella Henry looks on during a Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company dress rehearsal of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" on Monday, July 2, 2018 at Central High School. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 7
Grand Forks Central sophomore Isaac Barta (center left) and the rest of the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company ensemble of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" rehearse a song at Central High School on Monday, July 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 7
Red River High School sophomore Ella Henry and the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company ensemble of "Anything Goes" sing during a dress rehearsal Monday July 2, 2018 at Central High School. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 7
(Left to right) Christie Stayman, Liz Corcoran and Katelyn Corcoran dance during a dress rehearsal for the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company production of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" on Monday, July 2, 2018 at Central High School. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 7
Reno Sweeney, as played by Ella Henry, leads the ensemble of Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company's "Anything Goes" in a musical number during dress rehearsal on Monday, July 2, 2018 at Central High School. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald6 / 7
The cast of Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company's "Anything Goes" rehearse a song and dance number Monday, July 2, 2018 at Central High School. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald7 / 7

The Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company kicks off this season with the Cole Porter musical, "Anything Goes," July 13-16 at Grand Forks Central High School.

The show, filled with singing and lively choreography, features about 80 cast members who will be ninth- and 10th-graders this fall.

"Anything Goes" was a good choice to present as part of SPA's season this year because "there are a lot of roles for kids—major roles, mid-level roles and bit parts," said Rich McFarlane, director of the show and an English teacher at Red River High School.

In addition to on-stage performers, about 30 students are working on technical aspects—such as sets, lights, sound and costumes—of the production.

"It's a funny script," McFarlane said. "We can feature our trained dancers. And there's the great music from Cole Porter."

The audience will enjoy the "great show tunes, whether it's the show-stopping numbers, the solo ballads or the duets," he said.

Aside from the play's theme song, "Anything Goes," the audience will recognize enduring songs including "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Friendship," "You're the Top," "It's De-Lovely" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow."

Shipboard love triangle

Wrapped around Porter's "toe-tapping music" are the show's madcap antics, McFarlane said.

The story takes place on an ocean liner where evangelist-turned-nightclub singer Reno Sweeney is en route from New York to England.

Her buddy, Billy Crocker, has stowed away on board in hopes of winning the heart of Hope Harcourt, an American heiress who's engaged to a stuffy, wealthy British nobleman.

Sweeney has feelings for Crocker—hence, the tune, "I Get a Kick Out of You"—but he sees her as a friend.

Debuted in 1934 on Broadway, the musical has been revived several times in the U.S. and has been filmed twice. Since its debut, "Anything Goes" has undergone rewriting and restructuring, which has resulted in a more streamlined script, McFarlane said.

He and Paul Barta, musical director for the show and Grand Forks Central High School vocal music teacher, both worked on it as SPA students in 1996, McFarlane said.

Those who attend this SPA production will be impressed by "the sheer magnitude of the kids on stage," he said.

The extensive cast "is a testament to how much kids in our region value the performing arts," McFarlane said.

"At a time when (arts funding) is being cut, that's a testament to performing arts in our region."

"SPA has been around for 31 years," he said. "It's got a reputation."

Grand Forks school officials have found, in student surveys, that "the No. 1 reason they want to be in SPA is they are looking for something fun to do in the summer with their friends."

Even though "Anything Goes" dates to the '30s, the humor is timeless, McFarlane said.

Its appeal endures "for the same reasons I can show a clip from a Charlie Chaplin film to kids in my class, and they're screaming in laughter," he said.

"There's some humor that's universal. A lot of music is universal."

Powerful singer

One of the leads in the show, Ella Henry, 14, plays the nightclub siren, Reno Sweeney.

"She can just belt. She's a powerful singer," McFarlane said. "And, on stage, she struts the attitude and swagger" the role demands.

Henry has been singing "for as long as I can remember," she said.

She wanted to play Sweeney because "it seemed like a very interesting and fun role," she said. "It's different from other roles I've had in middle school performances. I'm really glad that it worked out."

Playing the part is enjoyable because "I'm able to express my emotions through what I sing and through the character," she said.

Beyond the acting and singing, Henry appreciates being part of "the community within the show," she said. "Everyone is nice and inviting. There are good vibes. "

Gracia Larsen-Schmidt, as Hope Harcourt, "can sing like a bird too," McFarlane said.

Isaac Barta, as Billy Crocker, "has incredible stage presence as well," he said. "He can sing, act and is extremely directable."

Grant Anderson, as the disreputable Moonface Martin, has done well in mastering the clipped accent of an East Coast gangster.

McFarlane also praised his seven-member directing staff which "is clearly the best directing team, as a whole, we've had in my 14 years as director," he said. Several are former students—some teachers, some college students.

"It's nice to have the luxury to delegate to musical theater-smart people. We each have our specialties, but we all are 'jacks-of-all-grades,' " he said.

"It's fun to watch students I used to teach and now are my colleagues. It's kind of a cliche' to say, but they teach me too."

The second and last SPA production this summer, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," will be presented July 21-24 at Red River High School. The students in that show will be high school juniors and seniors this fall.

What: "Anything Goes," presented by the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company

When: July 13, 14 and 16 at 7 p.m.; July 15 at 4 p.m.

Where: Grand Forks Central High School, 115 N. Fourth St. (enter Door 6, handicap accessible entry is Door 5)

Admission: Adults, $12; senior citizens, $10; child/student, $6

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (701) 746-2411 or go to