Alexa Racioppi in "Anything Goes."
Alexa Racioppi as Reno Sweeney, an evangelist turned nightclub singer, in Montclair State University’s John J. Cali School of Music and Dance’s production of “Anything Goes.” ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Anything Goes
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Presented by MSU John J. Cali School of Music/Department of Theatre and Dance
Feb. 23-March 2
Alexander Kasser Theatre, 1 Normal Ave.
Peakperfs.org, 973-655-4000

By STEFANIE SEARS
for Montclair Local

Reno loves Billy, but Billy loves Hope, who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Throw in an ocean liner for a set, gangster stowaways, mistaken identity and energetic tap lines, and you get “Anything Goes,” which opens at Montclair State this weekend.

Cole Porter’s 1934 score for the show includes the title song, “I Get a Kick Out of You” and the show-stopping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”

Directed by Clay James and choreographed by Patrice Dlugos, the co-production between the John J. Cali School of Music and the MSU Department of Theatre and Dance will run through March 2.   

Ethel Merman originated the role of Reno Sweeney on Broadway in 1934, but Sutton Foster’s portrayal of the character in 2011 is what inspired senior dance and musical theater double major Alexa Racioppi, she said in a telephone interview last week.

Though initially interested in pursuing ballet, after Racioppi saw Sutton Foster’s performance on TV at the 2011 Tony Awards, she decided to pursue musical theater as well. The actress will finish her college performance career by playing her inspiration.

“It’s really incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to say goodbye to Montclair,” Racioppi said. “And it’s the same creative team” – Clay as director, Gregory J. Dlugos as music supervisor and conductor, choreography by Patrice Dlugos – “as‘42nd Street,’ which was my first show with Montclair as well. So it’s really all of the stars have aligned. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The performers and production crew all gathered in Life Hall for the last studio full run rehearsal last Friday, before moving the show to Kasser for tech week. Racioppi sang, acted and danced as Reno Sweeney, running across the stage many times to lead the ensemble in musical numbers.

Although “Anything Goes” takes place in the ’30s, it has some plot elements many would find modern: Women are outspoken. There’s a scene that suggests that Hope and Billy made love, out of wedlock, in the taxi cab the night they met.

Reno, a charismatic evangelist nightclub owner who is sarcastic and sassy, is “a little ahead of her time,” Racioppi said.

She researched the show, getting to know the character backwards and forwards by studying YouTube videos, DVDs, screen adaptations of different incarnations of the story and watching Ethel Merman. Though she has yet to see the musical live, “I’ve watched literally every video. I almost have too much information about ‘Anything Goes,’” she said.

“It’s clear in this musical that women hold all the power,” she said. “They just know how to take advantage of it for the time period. Women have become smarter and smarter at how to take advantage of their power in whatever time period they’re in, so I’m using whatever power I know I have in 2018 and knowing that Reno knows she has that power. She’s been around the block, but she’s a lady of the ’30s. She knows that she deserves respect but she’s also kind of hip. She knows what the trend is. That’s how I see her.”

Though a smidge heartbroken because Billy sees her more as a friend than a love interest, she tries to help Billy (sophomore Maverick Hiu) win back heiress Hope Harcourt (senior Megan Hasse) in Racioppi’s favorite scene, the “You’re the Top” sequence, when Reno gives Billy a pep talk.

“It just shows how Reno really cares about Billy,” Racioppi said. “Even though she loves him, she wants him to be happy with Hope, so she tries to really boost up his confidence.”

“The hardest part for me is making sure that I bring a lot of color to Reno, and she’s not just a one-trick pony,” she said. “I just want to make sure that although she drives most of the scenes, she’s not driving them the same way. She has a lot of color that I want to make sure is being brought out.”