Michele Vicino just wants middle schoolers to have fun. Staging the one-hour Young Performer’s Edition of “Anything Goes,” the 1934 Cole Porter musical comedy offers the First Act director the opportunity to achieve that goal.
First Act, part of Levine Music’s Act Two musical theater educational program, is designed to teach fifth- through eighth-graders the basics of theater—including training in acting, voice and movement. Its home base is in the Education Wing of the Music Center at Strathmore.
“I try to expose students to a variety of styles and genres,” said Vicino, an Olney native and Sherwood High School alumna. “‘Anything Goes’ is one of the quintessential Golden Age of Broadway musicals. Full of comedic shtick, this show is simply fun to do!”
These 26 students in this production are getting something extra. “I have tried to bring more dance elements into the work, making sure students of First Act receive a well-balanced, enriched musical theater experience,” Vicino said, “and you can’t do ‘Anything Goes’ without learning to tap dance.” She enlisted guest choreographer Patricia Targete, a professional musical theatre performer and teaching artist, who “did a fabulous job of bringing this new dance style to our program”.
Working with 10- to 13-year-olds—half new to Levine, and only a “handful” of those with some previous experience in other places–has distinct challenges. “Middle school is a special and critical time in a student’s life; so much is changing. Students at this age are very much at the pinnacle of self-discovery, trying to find a place to fit in,” Vicino said.
Theater training has multiple benefits for students of all ages, foremost among them, “a sense of community and belonging,” which Vicino identified as “crucial” for middle schoolers. In addition, she said, “Theater allows young people to develop effective communication skills, supporting their understanding of the world around them, while facilitating the growth of interpersonal relationship skills.
“Theater also teaches many valuable life-skills such as team work, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and flexibility; these skills are necessary for success in all aspects of life.”
As a child, Vicino was not enrolled in any “theater program of this caliber,” although she took part in summer camps and school drama clubs. Still, she acknowledged, “I’ve always known I would be a teacher, and I was always passionate about the arts.” Starting piano lessons at age 5 “set a solid foundation for my continuing study of music and the performing arts,” which took the form of singing in school choirs and performing in school musicals.
After a child development internship in her senior year at Sherwood, Vicino earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education and music at Messiah College, leaving “excited to be a fourth-grade teacher.” But during her first year with Montgomery County Public Schools, she recalled, “I found myself missing the arts.” Consequently, Vicino took on more, becoming a director with her school’s drama club and music directing a Rockville Musical Theatre production. Those experiences convinced her she “had to find a way to combine my passion for education with the arts. Long story short, I learned about the master’s program in theater education at The Catholic University of America and it was a perfect fit.”
Since earning her master’s degree in 2012, Vicino spent three years as the theater director and choir teacher at D.C.’s Archbishop Carroll High School, followed by establish herself as a freelance teaching artist, director, music director, choreographer and actor. Currently, she is the fine arts coordinator and FADE (Fine Arts Diploma Endorsement) program advisor at Bishop McNamara High School in Prince George’s County. And as if that is not enough, Vicino is an affiliated teaching artist with Shakespeare Theatre Company, Round House Theatre, Imagination Stage, Ford’s Theatre and Young Playwrights’ Theatre; was part of the original cast of a professional school tour with InterAct Story Theatre last year and is a member of The Washington Chorus.
For now, Vicino, also a brand-new mom, looks forward to the fun of providing audiences with “entertainment, humor and delight” with the “mix of sentimental ballads and high energy all-cast music and dance numbers” in this “light-hearted story of love, complete with mistaken identities and lots of comedy.”
Levine’s First Act will present the Young Performer’s Edition of “Anything Goes” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2 and 3, and at 2 p.m. Feb. 3 and 4 in Studio 405 of the Education Wing of the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets are $19 online, $20 at the door; students (18+) and seniors (65+) $17 online, $20 at the door. All seating is general admission. Will Call tickets must be picked up at least 15 minutes prior to show time. Call 301-897-5100 or visit www.levinemusic.org. Learn more about this performance on CultureSpotMC here.