By Jeff Ritter
Sarah Porter is currently bringing down the house in New Line Theatre’s production of “Anything Goes,” playing the magnetic evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney. And why not? It’s her dream role in her favorite show, and one she doesn’t want to end.
The musical opened March 2, and by the next day, the next three weekends of performances were sold out. The musical closes its run Saturday, March 24, at The Marcelle Theater. The rave reviews all single out Porter as the show’s high-spirited anchor.
For this year’s annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, which take place Monday, March 26, she is nominated for costuming NLT’s all-female punk-rock musical “Lizzie.” She has been nominated several times in the past six years, for both costuming New Line shows, such as “Bonnie and Clyde,” and acting – Emma in the one-woman show “Tell Me on a Sunday,” as Mrs. Peacham in “Threepenny Opera” and as Blanche Barrow in “Bonnie and Clyde.”
For New Line, she has shown her gritty rock edge as Maureen in “Rent” and Whatsername in “American Idiot.” This winter, she has taken on one of Broadway’s most iconic roles, with the timeless sophisticated music of Cole Porter. She has demonstrated what a triple threat she is.
Influenced in her youth by her musically talented great aunt, Sarah was aware of the Cole Porter classic by the time she was cast in it for the first time during her high school years.
“It’s funny how much my view on it has changed,” she said. “I always approached it as ‘a great book of songs held together with a passable story,’ and it’s so much more than that!” she said.
When the show was announced as part of New Line’s 27th season, it seemed like an odd match. New Line considers itself “The Bad Boy of Musical Theatre,” so how could a beloved Cole Porter production be New Line material?
“I was so freaking excited because it’s my favorite show that I didn’t care! What’s crazy though is in rehearsal we actually took the time to dissect what’s happening, and that’s where I personally discovered that it’s such a New Line show!,” she said.
“It wasn’t until then that you realize there are some serious consequences for the characters; the one that I put together that still blows my mind is: ‘What would have happened to Hope if she didn’t get married – would Mrs. H ‘send her away?’ Like, Hope could have been lobotomized, and no one ever thinks about the show that deeply because of tap dancing!”
Sarah drew inspiration for her portrayal of Reno Sweeney from some ‘real-life’ ladies who shared some of Sweeney’s background and character traits.
“One of my main influences was Texas Guinan. She was an actress, nightclub owner, and all around bad ass! A little came from the evangelist Amy Semple McPherson as well – because I am so fascinated by her story. Also, in addition to those two, all of the greatest broads in the world,” she said.
Reno Sweeney has been a coveted part for many actresses over the decades. What makes her so special?
“I think it’s that she surrounds herself with constant fun. Also, the glamour and a chorus of dancing sailors don’t hurt either!”
Sarah not only works with New Line Theatre but has costumed shows for the Kirkwood Theatre Guild, where she appeared as Wednesday Addams in an award-winning production of “The Addams Family,” and The Midnight Company. This year, she begins working with R-S Theatrics on their season that includes “Light in the Piazza,” “Every Brilliant Thing” and “Perfect Arrangement.”
Sarah took the time out of her crazy-busy schedule to answer our survey questions.
Our Q & A with Sarah
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
This is the most cliché thing ever, but I don’t think you choose it. It’s something that you have to do. When I was younger and trying to figure out what to do and where to go to school, I had taken a break from performing, and my mom gave me one of those fantastic “mom talks” that broke down to basically “look, you’re not performing, but all of your spare time is spent helping out in whatever capacity, with whatever company will take you. You’re moving sets, you’re making costumes, and you’re doing makeup. You know what you need to be doing – so go do it!”
How would your friends describe you?
As entirely too loud.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
When there’s spare time is the first caveat – I love baths. I could sit in a bath for an entire day until I was an actual raisin. I like to move into the bathroom (it’s the most underused room in the house) with my laptop, books, booze, snacks and whatever else and just soak, the more Epsom salt/bubbles/bath bombs/body scrub the better!
What is your current obsession?
Hmm. Maybe see #3 as well as champagne in tiny cans!
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
That I am a huge wimp — I am terrified of everything! I love scary, gross, weird, murder-y things – but I will scream and pee myself if I get even the slightest bit startled!
Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
The day I learned how to put on magnetic false eyelashes.
Who do you admire most?
People who get to do what they love every day.
What is at the top of on your bucket list?
Owning all of the dogs ever.
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Be outside. There are so many pretty places around here, that just being able to get out and enjoy everything has to be the top of my list.
Costumes, costumes, and more costumes! I’ve got several shows lined up. Also having time to book more dates with the band I’m in!
More About Sarah
Birthplace: Overland Park, Kansas
Current location: Dogtown!
Family: I have some and they’re lovely!
Education: I went to Hazelwood West High School and Lindenwood University
Day job: Numerof and Associates, as an operations coordinator
First job: Helfer’s Pastries in Florissant
First role: The Lady with the Alligator Purse in a Kindergarten musical situation. The purse was literally a cardboard alligator cutout with a handle…I’m pretty sure it paved the way for who I am.
Favorite role/play: Emma in “Tell Me on a Sunday” – it was such a challenge and once I got to her, I was obsessed. I loved Helen in “The Night of the Living Dead” – but it would take 10 years off my life to do that show more, super nerve-wracking, and I absolutely love Reno in “Anything Goes.” I don’t want it to end!
Dream role/play: Honest to goodness – Reno is my dream role so I guess I’m all done!
A song that makes you happy: “Grillz” by Nelly, all day, any day.