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Madcap Cole Porter musical on stage at Rockville Musical Theatre

Melani Drummer as Reno Sweeney surrounded by sailors in the musical “Anything Goes.” COURTESY PHOTO Melani Drummer as Reno Sweeney surrounded by sailors in the musical “Anything Goes.” COURTESY PHOTO  Prolific, multitalented composer-lyricist Cole Porter wrote many shows, but two in particular have endured. One is “Kiss Me, Kate,” a play-within-a-play about a troupe of actors putting on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The other is Rockville Musical Theatre’s next offering, “Anything Goes.”

The action takes place on a ship, with an odd collection of characters, including: a sexy evangelist-turned-nightclub singer; a debutante and her British lord fiancé; a stowaway in love with the debutante and masquerading as a gangster; and actual gangster Public Enemy Number 13.

Melani Drummer is playing Reno Sweeney, the nightclub singer – the role originated on Broadway by Ethel Merman. She did her first musical, “The Wizard of Oz,” at age 9, and her first professional show, “The Commitments,” at 16. She then went on to study musical theater, performing all around the world, including South Africa.

“Since moving to the United States, I took a 10-year sabbatical from acting to raise my children,” she said. “In the last two years, I returned to the stage to play Jack’s mother in Way Off Broadway’s ‘Into the Woods’ and Dorothy Brock in Sterling Playmakers’ ‘42nd Street.’”

Her appearance at RMT is her first.

For Drummer, Reno is a dream role. “Not only do I get to sing Cole Porter’s fantastic lyrics, but I get to tap (until I literally pass out!),” she said.

With four children at home, she admitted it’s not easy to find the stamina to sing and dance flat out for over two hours.

“I’d say the point of satisfaction will be when I get through the title number and am still able to breathe,” Drummer laughed.

The character of Reno is also a draw.

“I love how the role is mapped out,” Drummer said. “She starts out cool and playful at the top of the show with ‘I Get a Kick’ and gradually works up to the big belt in ‘Blow, Gabriel.’ Playing a charismatic nightclub singer and former evangelist who is clever, funny, persuasive, and extremely confident, is an appealing challenge. The journey Reno takes in the show is more of a marathon. As a performer, I never want a role to feel ‘easy.’ I love the hard work and really getting inside a character’s head.”

Most of the theater training and experience of director Dana Robinson had been as an actor. But she has gradually segued into a new role.

“I dabbled a little with directing in college for student-produced shows, but I’ve more recently found my passion for it,” she said. “I made my community theatre directorial debut last season for RMT’s ‘Dogfight’ at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn. It was a really rewarding experience and the show was well received. That feeling of success inspired and encouraged me.”

Rockville Musical Theatre’s tendency is to produce large-scale song-and-dance musicals, and “Anything Goes” certainly fits the bill.

“Audiences will recognize the Cole Porter score even if they aren’t familiar with the show,” she added. Some of the well-known songs also include “De-Lovely,” “You’re the Top,” and of course the title song.

But, said Robinson, she was particularly drawn to the show’s farcical quality.

“Comedy is a challenge, requiring very precise physicality and timing, she explained. “Working through that, and experimenting with my actors, has been both challenging and very satisfying.”

Rinaldo Martinez is Billy Crocker, the love-struck Wall Street assistant-turned-stowaway, and Jackie Rogers is debutante Hope Harcourt. Paul Loebach plays Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.

Stuart Weich music-directed, and Hayley North choreographed.

“Anything Goes” runs weekends July 6-22 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville. Tickets are available by phone at (240) 314-8690 or online at fscottfitzgerald.showare.com. For more information, visit the theater’s website at https://www.r-m-t.org.

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