“The Biggest Smash since the Titanic.”
In 2011, 60 transition year students decided to swap the school shoes for dancing shoes as we embarked on the newest St. Fintan’s High School musical, Anything Goes. A chance for us all to prove that we had the talent and courage to sing show tunes and campily dance along, to put on a spectacular show for 3 nights. Try to get a group of self-conscious lads to do that without complaint, the teachers had their work cut out for them! At the helm of our musical ship was Mr. Slattery-Director, Ms. Buckley-Choreographer, Mr. Murphy-Vocal Coach, Ms. Carroll-Costume Designer and Ms. Barry-Stage Design and as the following months proved, we needed every single one of them.
A simple introduction to the show by Mr. Slattery of a love story on a boat, however with a different ending than Jack & Rose. Full of comical mistaken identities, criminal activities, love triangles involving a poncy Englishman, gambling, sex appeal, drinking, fighting and lots of dancing. What more could you ask for? With a storyline this compelling, not even Bruce Ismay could leave early, it was time to cast our leads.
During the auditions it was clear who our stars would be, Tadhg O’Sullivan had the British royalty accent down which led many of us to second guess his nationality. Hope Blanford’s voice nabbed her the role of superstar evangelist Reno Sweeney. Colm Dowling was already a dirty cheating gangster, and with Bryanna O’Kelly by his side, Moonface and Erma would be unstoppable. Tony O’Sullivan was born 80 years old, so he was perfect as -the now elderly- Elisha. Of course, we needed the “will they/won’t they” central couple Billy and Hope. Hope portrayed by Becky Gordon was left confused by who her husband would be, on and off stage, Eventually we had our leading male Brendan Martin. With all these stars you would think the show was going to blind the audiences. But we asked them to downplay their performances in fear they would outshine the flashy new star curtain, the addition of this new curtain reverted Mr. Slattery and Ms. Buckley to children giddy with excitement. My many years of watching X-Factor auditions and laughing at how horrible the applicants were, soon came back to bite me. Standing before “The judges” suddenly your body is like “Hey, Why don’t we shake uncontrollably and start to sweat so you suddenly become an awful singer?” Karma’s a Bitc…“Buddie Beware…..”
Roles cast, Sailors enrolled, The girls had joined us for the read-throughs, and now it was time to enter Ms. Buckley’s Dance Bootcamp. It was here we were introduced to our wives, Ms. Buckley did what any good dating site would do…….assign us our wives by height. After the risky suggestion that Lloyd Ellis-Dempsey and I become the gay couple on board was shot down (I thought anything goes?), I was put back to back with my new partner Sarah. With Ms. Buckley’s blessing of “Fab!” we were married and on board a cruise across the Atlantic, And that kids are the story of How I met your mother. Now, remember this was a time Pre Gangnam style and Harlem shake, so the cast’s dancing skills were lacking, to say the least. The day where it was just the guys ended in fits of laughter with everyone tripping over their feet in what seemed to be a hoedown style line dance, this was dodgy in itself because if one fell we would all follow like dominos. So when it was time to double the number of people in this line dancing it was injuries galore, many of our wives glared at us with resentment as once again they “got a kick” out of us. So what did we do to counteract this? Turn the girls upside down and slap their backsides like bongos. Many hit the deck….literally as guys were elbowed and girls were dropped on the floor, this certainly rocked the boat in most relationships. The rehearsal room was looking less and less like an episode of GLEE and more like an episode of Casualty. However, a light appeared at the end of our A&E tunnel when the following week the dancing actually continued without bloodshed or tears. I feel many of the guys were practicing but didn’t want to admit it, in fact, I will say for a while after the show ended I still continued to practice my “moves” in my kitchen as I waited for the kettle to boil. This dancing soon became a noise hazard when tap shoes entered the equation, but the classes below didn’t seem to mind…..I think. The cast was soon mesmerized by Ms. Buckley (later replaced by Hope Blandford), and Nicholas O’Mahony’s nonstop performance of the Anything Goes Tap, Soon to be a show stopper.
Some time passed, and the Anything Goes Soundtrack now occupied my “25 Most Played” playlist and the script lived in my school bag (What? I did have my 2 lines to practice) things were starting to shape up. The S.S America was now docked in our school hall and was getting a paint job by many art students and Ms. Barry. An elaborate platform arrived that gave the impression that this was more of a ship than a dingy. However, all eyes were on the masterpiece that was Freds Bar, fully functional and very impressive. Rumour has it that now the bar resides in the staff room……which explains a lot! The set was a character in itself with multiple personalities, At times it was a cozy little bar hosted by Fred, But by day a bright, beautiful deck where the passengers (Painted flats) lurked along the side of the ship as the rest of us spontaneously burst into song and dance. Let us not forget the romantic star curtain that twinkled during romantic nighttime moments…….and while Billy and Moonface were in jail, less Romantic.
Now bearing in mind that no one had much experience in the theater before so when it came to Mr. Slattery’s stage directions it kind of went in one ear and out the other. During one dress rehearsal, we all left the stage at the wrong time, this lead to the discovery of our director’s sailors mouth. Needless to say, none of us made that mistake again.
So all our months of practicing and planning lead us to 3 sold out shows, incredible and no pressure at all. All the work by everyone involved proved worth it as soon as the curtain opened to the dramatic beat of Mr. Murphy and his band. The crowd loved the comedy stylings of Eoghan Turley as the Basil Fawlty inspired captain and his right-hand man Eoin Giles the slick haired, deaf purser who didn’t need a microphone to make an announcement. Who could forget Reverend Luke Cahill with his two chinese converts Luke and John played happily by Conor Blades and Matthew Collins. The dancing was top notch with daring flips by Fred the Bartender-Gavin Clarke and Aedin Woods that wowed the spectators. During Blow Gabriel Blow the shoulder shrugging made our viewers cringe with laughter and every time Lord Evelyn Oakleigh walked on stage the audience were in stitches as expected. With lines like “I’m a Sinner” and “The doggy paddle” joke, it was a wonder the audience could breathe by the end of the night.
Backstage the energy was electric with many on a high from the drug Ms. Buckley described as “The applause.” However many of the girls were uncomfortable with their wardrobes, but hey it was the 1930’s we can’t really blame Ms. Carroll…..not long after began the hipster trend. Coincidence? I think not. In the guys dressing room the topic of conversation changed from football and the likes to “Hows my Makeup?” The comedy continued side stage as many tried to catch a glimpse of the stateroom scene, the “Friendship” routine and Aaron Bell’s -Cheeky the dog- bark. While backstage it is important to note how crucial those stagehands/ninjas were to the flow of the show, they truly were the sailors working on this ship, keeping it afloat with Gary O’Sullivan as their Captain. Okay, I’ll stop with all the boat puns.
Personally, Anything Goes was the highlight of my 6 years in St. Fintan’s High School. It has given me the confidence I needed, taught me some life lessons -Like if you really love someone it is perfectly ok to stalk her by stowing away on a ship and continuingly singing to her while you are disguised as public enemy No. 1 until she agrees to leave her stuck up fiance and marries you instead…..you wouldn’t have learned about that from studying Macbeth or Plath now would you?! Also, it gave me some of my best friends to this day, a love for the creative arts and an understanding that no matter how bad times get, people will still pay €10 to see a group of teenagers -no longer amateurs- put on a slapstick comedy show. Woo Hoo!
On behalf of the entire cast and crew, I would like to thank the teachers who gave us all the opportunity to be foolish and have fun on stage. We may have to board the S.S America again sometime soon because Broadway here we come!