Take A Bow
November 10, 2020
Now, 86 years after the fact, the musical Anything Goes is showing its age. One thing about it has aged well, however, and that would be the music of Cole Porter. For those unfamiliar with the musical, here’s some background from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Anything Goes is a musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.The story concerns madcap antics aboard an ocean liner bound from New York to London. Billy Crocker is a stowaway in love with heiress Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy Number 13, ‘Moonface’ Martin, aid Billy in his quest to win Hope. The musical introduced such songs as ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘You’re the Top,’ and ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’
Since its 1934 debut at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre) on Broadway, the musical has been revived several times in the United States and Britain and has been filmed twice. The musical has long been a popular choice for school and community productions.”
The best way to describe Anything Goes is as a wild adventure with hidden identities, love triangles, and a whole lot of sexual innuendo. It was, in its day, considered inappropriate. Hence the title.
Despite its racy themes, Porter’s lyrics are masterfully written and crisp and so very sing able.
My readers will be forgiven if they’ve never heard of the show.
I had never heard of it either until December of 1974 when my high school choir director, Mr. Jim Durado, announced that our spring musical would be Anything Goes.
To be clear, I never had a shot for any sort of solo singing role in the production. In fact, Mr. Durado was legendary at our high school for somehow selecting musicals which seemed to ‘fit’ the students who filled the leads. That was, I’m certain, by design.
And so it was for Anything Goes. The lead role was for a female and he had a very talented vocalist who he cast as Reno Sweeney. More about that a bit later.
My role, however, was also a rather important one and I was selected by Mr. Durado specifically for it as surely as he picked any particular cast member.
It all began the previous spring when he asked me if I would be his Teacher’s Assistant (TA) for the following year. It required me to have TA as one of my classes. I said yes.
During the course of that year, I ran every errand, copied copious amounts of sheet music, tracked down students, kept attendance records, and made sure things happened on time. If there was a job to do, he gave it to me to get it done. When it came time to start rehearsals, my post was to sit at the mid-point of the theatre, three rows back from the stage, and follow along in the script. If someone needed prompting, I was the one to do it.
Every day after school – for three months – we rehearsed. I swear it became a muscle memory thing because to this day I can sing most of the songs without missing a word. For a number of years I could even say all the lines of every character.
It was a great experience and I am forever indebted to Mr. Durado for trusting me to do the job.
For Mr. Durado, however, 1975 turned out to be a time fraught with conflict. As a student, I was not privy as to what was going on his life. All I know is that there were moments when I would wonder what I had done to make him so sullen and incommunicative. It took months to learn the truth.
We were only a couple weeks in to rehearsals when the lead he’d chosen to portray Reno Sweeney told him she couldn’t take the role as she was very uncomfortable with the innuendo and believed it violated her faith. Thus the scrambling began to find a replacement. Another senior, Jennifer, was quickly selected and her part was then given to Mr. Durado’s own daughter. There was some amount of complaint from the cast who felt that a different girl deserved the role.
But the show, as they say, must go on. The next couple of months saw the production come together and, on March 19, 1975, Anything Goes opened. The page in my yearbook states:
“The eighty member cast worked three months in preparation for the standing ovations they justly received. Mr. Jim Durado proudly produced and directed his tenth musical production, one which originally opened on Broadway in 1934.”
By April, the intense schedule of rehearsals and a successful musical behind us, it was time to focus on recruitment for the next year. In addition to the main choir, there was a 16 person four part harmony swing choir, called Lancers. It was THE premiere vocal group at the school and dozens would vie for a coveted spot. Tryouts were looming for that and several performances by both groups were on the schedule.
One morning in mid-May, however, Mr. Durado was not at school. I cannot to this day recall exactly how I heard the news. It was probably announced to the whole choir when we arrived for class. But Mr. Durado had been shot by his wife. The bullet hit near his shoulder. He was alive and was in the hospital and that was all we were told.
That afternoon – in spite of the shock – the entire choir went to Franklin Junior High to perform a scheduled show. Somehow we got through it with a substitute teacher. The memory which sticks in my head from that day is that a group of a half dozen girls were walking out of the Junior High after the performance and everyone was talking about it; some of the girls were crying. All of us were upset.
I did go see Mr. Durado in the hospital a day or two later. He was making jokes about how bad a shot his wife was. It was surreal.
Less than a month after I graduated and heard little more about my teacher. The next year there was a new choir director who had huge shoes to fill. From Mr. Durado’s first musical production in 1966 until his last in 1975, he had built a dynasty.
Being in choir was cool. Those who were selected for Lancers were the coolest (I was not in that group!) It was getting to participate in the musical, however, that was everything. My oldest brother was in Funny Girl – which was Mr. Durado’s second production – in 1967. My cousin Susan was selected for the role of Mrs. Paroo in 1973’s The Music Man. That was also my sister’s first of two years in the cast; in 1974 both my sister and I were in The Most Happy Fella. I closed out our family participation with Anything Goes.
Mr. Durado moved back to his home state of Montana after he recovered from his wounds. From an adult perspective I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult the whole situation must have been for the family, especially for his daughters. No shortage of victims in this story but it seems as if it’s often the kids who are most hurt.
Mr. Durado lived out his days in Montana, taking his final bow on March 19, 2013…38 years to the day from the opening night of the last musical he produced and directed, Anything Goes.
A couple of links: