Julie Simmons

Anything Goes - Julie Simmons in rehearsal

On stage she's Reno Sweeney, a sassy, brassy nightclub singer from the 1930s, with a wisecrack for every occasion. Off stage, she's Julie Simmons, a quietly spoken accountant from Basingstoke.

"She's completely not me!" laughs Julie, who brings racy Reno to life in BATS' production of the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. "She's brash, confident, knows what she wants and how to get it! It's a real challenge to play her, but really fun as well."

Julie follows musical legends Ethel Merman and Elaine Paige in the role, which sees her embroiled in a shipboard comedy of mistaken identities, ludicrous disguises and madcap antics. She also gets to perform the best-known songs in the show - I Get A Kick Out of You, You're The Top, Friendship, Let's Misbehave, Blow Gabriel Blow and the title song Anything Goes.

Julie Simmons in rehearsal for Anything Goes (centre)
Julie Simmons in rehearsal for Anything Goes (centre)

There's a real difference between Julie's normal speaking voice and the ballsy American twang she adopts on stage. "I've been working on getting a lower, deeper chest voice," she explains. "All the support comes from my diaphragm so it gives my voice more oomph for the big numbers."

Reno is Julie's first leading role for BATS so she's pleased to be playing opposite two experienced male leads - Bryn Hughes as all-American guy Billy Crocker and Anthony Mitchell as stuffy English toff Lord Evelyn.

"Bryn really knows his stuff and that makes it easy to act opposite him. Anthony is hilarious as this completely clueless aristocrat who doesn't realise Reno is making a play for him. They're both great to work with."

Julie's also had a hand in the show-stopping tap dance routines: "I'm dance captain, so when our choreographer Nick isn't there I've been rehearsinq the dancers, making tweaks and rejigging some of the numbers if needed."

So how would Julie sum up Anything Goes? "It's a wonderful comedic show with an amazing cast, fantastic songs and just a great night out at the theatre!"

Anything Goes - the cast in rehearsal

"In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now, God knows, Anything Goes!"

Thirty voices, male and female, belt out the classic Cole Porter tune around an electric piano. Two young dancers pull rehearsal skirts over their Iycra leggings. Black rubber matting is rolled out across the blue carpet and dozens of chairs are expertly arranged into the approximation of a ship's deck.

We're at the Wesley Hall in Chineham. For the past two years this has been the rehearsal home to Basinqstoke Amateur Theatrical Society, where the cast is rehearsing Anything Goes, the much-loved musical set on board a luxury ocean liner in the 1930s. "Right, let's run it from the top of Act Two." Seated at his desk in complete control of proceedings is the show's director, Ray Jeffery. He's meticulous in his preparation and knows exactly what he wants from each member of the cast.

Anything Goes rehearsal photo - October 2011
Anything Goes rehearsal photo - October 2011

Vocal harmonies ring out at the climax of the Act Two opener "Public Enemy Number One" and everyone strikes their set pose. "You're absolutely static for this bit," hotlers Ray sternly - then breaks into a grin" ... until the back flips!" Ray's never ending stream of quips keeps the atmosphere fun and friendly. He's already spent a week in July with the principal cast members, setting their moves and dialogue for every scene in the show. Now it's mid-September, and he's adding in the rest of the cast, who play sailors, preachers, gangsters, reporters and FBI agents.

This can present some challenges! As lead actors Julie Simmons and Bryn Hughes perform their number "You're The Top" they now encounter bodies on stage where there were none before. Ray moves one sailor further upstage. Some dance moves are adapted. It's a real insight into the nuts and bolts of staging a big musical.

It started as a room full of chaos, but now the sole focus is on Bryn and Julie as they sing and dance with real joy and pizzazz. At the end the cast erupts into applause. There's a fantastic energy in this rehearsal room - and it's giving this musical a real feelgood factor.

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