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On Cole Porter, dance and the swellness of it all

BHS senior Hannah Crichton plays Erma, the gal who hangs around with all the gangsters in “Anything Goes.” The show runs through May 18 in the BHS theatre. -
BHS senior Hannah Crichton plays Erma, the gal who hangs around with all the gangsters in “Anything Goes.” The show runs through May 18 in the BHS theatre.
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“Anything Goes” premieres this weekend at Bainbridge High.

The day before Bainbridge High School’s annual spring musical opened, Katie Donais made an assertion that was funny coming from the mouth of a show choreographer.

“In theater, we’re all awkward,” she said.

To be fair, she wasn’t referring to the dance numbers she put together for “Anything Goes,” and it’s safe to say that although the Cole Porter classic possesses its share of slapstick moves, the cast will remain sure on its feet.

What she was really getting at was the sense of camaraderie and inclusion that her years as a student thespian have graced her with, and that she’s experienced during her preparation for the show’s three-weekend run in the Bainbridge High Theatre.

Donais said that before this year, she’d never actually choreographed a production before. At the same time, “Anything Goes” was her fifth BHS show, and she’d had gotten her feet wet as a younger student appearing in Bainbridge Performing Arts productions.

So when drama instructor and director Seb Nielsen asked Donais to choreograph the show with help from fellow students Sophie Tschida and Maggie Hotchkiss, she felt confident. The fact that most of her dance background was in swing also made for a good fit with the big-hearted, fanciful flavor of the show.

“A lot of Fred and Ginger loveliness,” she said.

First produced on Broadway in 1934 and starring Ethel Merman, the Depression-era depression remedy “Anything Goes” centers around lovelorn Billy Crocker’s yearning to marry pure-hearted Hope Harcourt. Surrounding them are a recurring gaggle of gangsters and society swells, all jammed onto a luxury ocean liner bound from New York to London.

The plot largely serves as a backdrop for zany antics and some of Cole Porter’s finest and most memorable tunes including the titular “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

“It’s just a lot of fun – it’s a big party,” Tschida said.

The same could be said for the prospective atmosphere of spring musical preparation. Would the cast focus and cooperate? Donais and Tschida were both curious and slightly apprehensive at the thought of helming the dance leg of such a large production, in particular directing their peers. Neither, it turned out, had much to worry about.

“A year ago, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that. But Sophie and I are two of the more seasoned actors at BHS. And a lot of the cast aren’t dancers,” Donais said. “I (also) felt confident because I was so sure of my choreography. I knew what I was doing, and I kind of conveyed that.”

Rehearsals began during spring break in March, and the routine was grueling; the cast spent three to five hours Monday through Thursday in rehearsal, largely focused on dance at first.

Some choreographers, these young women said, compose moves on the spot with the entire case. They found they each needed space and time away, especially when something wasn’t working.

“What I would do was just sit in my room for a few hours and listen to five seconds of music over and over,” Dornais said. “I don’t know what you guys do, but I really isolate myself.”

Given that dancing wasn’t the forte of many cast members, she and Tschida focused on simple but effective moves that would look good no matter what. That, in turn brought out the best in the cast and fostered that sense of inclusion Donais referred to.

Hotchkiss, who choreographed the show’s entr’acte, had done choreography before, “little bits and pieces” at BHS and at Poulsbo’s Galletta School of Dance and Performing Arts, where she teaches.

Her interest in hip-hop and a desire for more technicality drove her design of the entr’acte, which takes on more of a Bob Fosse/Chicago/Cabaret feeling, complete with black leotards and gold masks.

For that, Hotchkiss pulled out a handful of the show’s more experienced dancers.

“It’s a little more stepped-up,” she said.

On Thursday afternoon, all three seemed to be undergoing that typical transition from a choreographically induced “over it” feeling to giddy excitement about opening night.

They laughed that the senior girls would all cry when the show wrapped, and they agreed that especially at this point in their high school careers, when anything goes and anything can happen, there was nothing as sweet as an audience.

“Being onstage with a full house is the best feeling in the world,” Tschida said.

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Goes for it

The Bainbridge High School drama department presents Cole Porter American classic, “Anything Goes” May 2 through May 18 (at 7:30 p.m. May 3, 9, 10 and 17 and 2:30 p.m. May 18). Tickets, $10/$5, can be purchased at the door 45 minutes prior to curtain.

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