‘Anything Goes’: Updated comedy classic comes to BHS stage

A lot has changed since 1934, the year that “Anything Goes” premiered on Broadway. But the morals and satire in the classic madcap comedy remain astonishingly apropos in modern America.

Give or take just a bit, that is.

A slightly reimagined version of the production will take the stage at Bainbridge High later this month, the theater program’s annual spring musical, said faculty adviser Karen Polinsky, sans a few of the more dated bits.

“The original book features a plethora of stereotypes, objectionable or outright offensive,” she said. “In particular, two comic Chinese characters, Luke and John. When BHS performed this play about 10 years ago, these characters where controversial, understandably. So, we did some rewrites, and replaced them with three Russian circus performers, played by BHS gymnasts.”

And, of course, there was another big addition as well, one might even say it was huuuuge.

“We also made the missionary [character] a mild satire of Donald Trump,” Polinksy said. “So we could riff on the Trump-Russia connection.”

Even with the Russian circus folk and a Trump-esque character in the mix, the story itself remains true to the original. It recounts the zany antics aboard an ocean liner, complete with class struggles and mismatched loves.

Billy Crocker (played by BHS freshman Cory Derzon-Suplee), assistant to the Wall Street tycoon Elisha Whitney (Tristan Maas), stows away on a luxury liner bound for London to hook up with heiress Hope Harcourt (Lauren Wallach). Harnessed to a British beau named Evelyn (Xander Weibel), the Newport debutante is too dutiful to disappoint her spoiled mom, who is perpetually bedecked in jewels (Nora Joslin). Add to all that a crew of sassy sailors and upper crust passengers always on the look out for celebrities, and hilarity can’t help but ensue.

“We don’t want to detract from the fun-loving musical,” Polinsky said of the BHS remake.

“We have tried to be aware of the stereotyping throughout. A few remarks about Christians also seemed offensive, so we deleted them. The original book was written by two Brits making fun of Americans. At times they went too far. My student director, Rory Schulte, and I thought about the similarities of the Depression pre-WWII years to our own time as we collaborated to update the script.

“Though it’s a comedy,” she added, “the underlying message seems to be: how does one stay true to oneself, in a selfish and delusionally ambitious society where ‘Anything Goes?’”

That, agreed Schulte, is what makes the play a timely choice, despite the necessary scrubbing of controversies.

“We’ve tried to bring some modern political elements, dealing with modern political themes such as the past election and all that, and we’ve substituted that for the more racist parts of the show,” Schulte said.

“The show ends up kind of being this mix of 1930s and present day, and I think it really makes the show unique and something that’s not really [been] done before. I don’t think anybody’s brought modern political elements into ‘Anything Goes’ before, so this is kind of a new thing.”

As student director/stage manager, Schulte wears many hats and fills many roles within the production beyond just reworking the script.

“It falls on me to make sure that everything runs smoothly,” Schulte explained. “I’m basically the go-between between tech and the actors to make sure everything’s flowing and that everything is working as good as it can.

“I also help out a lot with the actors and [am] helping them to develop their skills,” Schulte added. “I do a little bit of everything.”

Another bit of collaboration is taking place off stage to make this production possible, Polinsky said.

“Two BHS graduates working for Jefferson Builders have volunteered to teach the kids carpentry as we build a stupendous set in a very old theater,” she said.

The show is also special in that it will be Polinsky’s last at the helm. She is leaving BHS at the end of the school year, she said, and relocating to Portland, Oregon.

“I leave in place an amazing theater faculty,” she said, confident in the continuance of great student productions at BHS.

“Anything Goes” will hoist anchor at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20 through Saturday, April 22, and again Friday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30. Get tickets ($8 for students and $10 for adults) at the door.