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Interview with Kara Lane: Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes

Kara LaneAt the time of the interview, Kara Lane was starring as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes at Leicestershire’s Kilworth House Theatre. Earlier this week she took time out to answer a few questions about herself and the show.

Our last interview with you was in 2011 when you were making your West End debut in Lend Me A Tenor. The show closed at the end of that year, what have been the highlights in your career since then?
Straight after Lend Me a Tenor I went into the tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver! which was a 16-month contract so this is my first job since then.

From 6th August until 1st September 2013, you will be starring as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. What attracted you to be a part of this production?
Well, Reno Sweeney is such a great role! That was the main reason. I have the chance to play the leading lady, which is a challenge I’m very much looking forward to. Everyone raves about how beautiful it is going to the theatre at Kilworth House so I’m very much looking forward to spending my days and working hours surrounded by the gorgeous countryside there. I was very fortunate to be offered Les Miserables at the same time, however it clashed with Anything Goes and for a while there I was completely torn between listening to my head (which was telling me to do a year’s contract in a great show) or listening to my heart (which wanted to play an amazing role for a month). In the end I ended up going with my heart.

For those that don’t know the storyline, what can you tell us about the show?
Anything Goes’ is Cole Porter’s masterpiece, which was written in 1934 and is set in the same year. It’s a farce really, the definitive 1930s musical comedy, and takes place on board a cruise ship traveling from New York to England. The S.S. American carries a very interesting group of passengers, all of whom become entangled in each other’s lives through crazy scenarios and unexpected romances – Famous nightclub singer and Evangelist Reno Sweeney; American debutante Hope Harcourt (Lorna Want) accompanied by her wealthy English fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Richard Kent) and her mother Evangeline (Elizabeth Elvin); Wall Street banker Elisha Witney (Kit Benjamin) and his stowaway assistant Billy Crocker (Matthew Goodgame); gangster Moonface Martin (Nic Greenshields) and gangsters moll Erma (Victoria Hay).

Tell us about Reno Sweeney and how you will portray her.
Reno Sweeney was immortalized by Ethel Merman who I loved in the first ever movie of Anything Goes. I’ve done a lot of research on the character and found out that Reno is based on two real life women from the 1920s and 1930s; evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and famous “speak-easy hostess” Texas Guiene. Both women embraced and used to their advantage all the breakthroughs in multimedia and women’s liberation to become the successes they were. They’re both great examples of the modern 1920/30s woman.

Texas was an outspoken ‘broad’ who, because of her job as one of the first female emcees and owner of the 300 Club in New York, knew everyone, including politicians, celebrities, wealthy businessmen and gangsters. She was arrested numerous times throughout the prohibition period for serving alcohol and providing entertainment of scantily clad dancing girls. She always claimed that the girls had to dance that close to the customers because the club was so small, and that the patrons brought their own liquor with them. At the beginning of each show she would greet her patrons with a brash “Hello Suckers”. I quite like imagining Reno having a similar greeting of “Hello Sinners”!

It’s quite a contradiction that the other side of Reno is so religious and that her nightclub act is a mixture of entertainment and preaching to people to confess their sins. This is the part of Reno that is based on Aimee Semple McPherson. Aimee made a name for herself because of her faith healings. She toured the country with her children and mother preaching the word of god, and excited crowds into a state of hysteria. Her healings were widely documented and there was never any evidence of fraud.

She was one of America’s first female evangelists, which brought her hardship in some ways but made her very popular in others. She was the second woman to be given a radio license, which she used to start her own radio station so she could reach people all over America, and also started her own magazine ‘The Bridal Call’. In 1923 she had raised enough money to build her own church, the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. It had 5,300 seats and was filled to the point of overflowing 3 times a day, 7 days a week with people wanting to witness Aimee’s sermons. Her sermons preached a conservative gospel but used progressive methods. They were incredibly visual and at times would have a company of 450 people performing her sacred operas or dramatic bible re-enactments. She wanted to avoid the usual church service that she felt people were just going to out of duty and wanted to compete with popular entertainment such as vaudeville and the movies, keeping the message serious but told in a light hearted way. She didn’t hesitate to use the “devil’s tools” to tear down the devil’s house. She was an American phenomenon, more than just a household name I found it hard to find the balance between these 2 completely different women – the sinner and the saint, but it all makes sense when you take into account the era and what was happening socially in New York during that time. These women, including Reno, were in their prime in the 1920s, a decade where everything was being turned upside down, especially for women.

Women were mastering a newfound masculinity. They were taking on men’s jobs (a direct result of WW1), cutting their hair and hemlines short and swapped restricting corsets for boyish shaped loose dresses. Being sexual was no longer considered taboo and the younger generation prided themselves on shocking the older generations. Gangsters such as Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, John Dillinger and “Baby Face” Nelson were celebrities because people thought of them as victims of injustices, caused by the Great Depression. It’s no wonder Cole Porter wrote the title song Anything Goes. It’s a direct description of what was happening at that time and also explains Reno’s ironic character.

However, I think the most important thing in the storyline for Reno, and a clear window into her character, is her love life. Reno is strong, sexy and independent and as a result can be intimidating to men but it’s the man who throws away his inhibitions and sweeps her off her feet in the end who she falls for.

All of this information has made it a lot easier for me to find how to portray Reno.

Anything Goes features music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Is this a style of music that you particularly enjoy and do you have a favourite song from the show?
Personally I think Cole Porter is the top of his profession. No other music theatre composer comes close to him, in my opinion, especially for his time. The closest person was probably Noel Coward. Porter’s lyrics are witty, sophisticated, full of double entendre and some of the most iconic theatre songs ever written. Reno has so many amazing songs in this show but I think my favorite to sing is ‘You’re the top’. My favorite number in the show is ‘Gypsy in Me’ which Lord Evelyn Oakley sings, it’s very funny.

What are you looking forward to most about performing in this magnificent 540 seat open-air theatre?
Not being stuck inside a dark, windowless theatre on sunny days. Ha! Not so great when it rains though… Still, the theatre and stage are under cover so our shows aren’t cancelled if it does rain. It’s just so gorgeous there and I’m happiest when I’m in the British countryside. Being from Australia where everything is so brown all the time (where I’m from anyway), it’s like being in a storybook over here! Honestly, it makes me so happy!

Why should everyone get along to see the show?
Because it’s a lovely day out more than anything. It’s just over 40 minutes on the train from central London and you can make a day of it. Picnic on the grounds or go for afternoon tea at the stunning hotel. The show itself is so much fun. It’s silly enough to be funny for kids but with a lot of double meanings to make it entertaining for adults as well. It’s full of great tunes such as I Get a Kick Out of You, It’s De-Lovely, You’re the Top, Friendship and of course, Anything Goes.

Anything Goes concludes its run on Sunday 1st September 2013. What plans do you have for the rest of 2013?
I have no plans really. For the first time in my career I’m not desperate for my next show and am happy being a “normal person” until the right acting job comes along.

You can follow Kara Lane on Twitter @Karalane90

Interview questions by Neil Cheesman who you can follow on Twitter @LondonTheatre1


Tuesday 6th August 2013


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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