It was a beautiful day on the S. S. American. The sun was shining, the seagulls were flying, and Virtue, everyone's favorite Angel, was sauntering into the performers' lounge with her morning paper after a night "out with the boys." The blonde stepped into the room with an air of accomplishment, fluffing her messy curls and waving a small "good morning" to her fellow Angels. Chastity, who liked to keep track of Virtue's "endeavors," made a check on a small calendar and went back to reading without a word.
"Hey, Purity, you seen Reno anywhere?" Virtue asked the most caring of the Angels, and laid down on the couch with a yawn. "It's been a rough night for her and now I have to make it worse."
"You really want to give her more bad news after her two best friends – one of which she's in love with – got arrested?" Purity asked, taking a drag from her cigarette.
Virtue shrugged. "She'll want to see this."
"I'll want to see what?" called Reno from her dressing room. The brassy singer swept into the lounge, glamorous in a white dress and yellow shrug.
Virtue stood, suddenly nervous. "Well, I, uh..."
"Spit it out honey, I ain't got all day," Reno said, snapping her manicured fingers impatiently. "I gotta figure out a way to break Billy and Moonie out of the slammer."
Virtue started again. "Well, one of the guys I met last night...he was a critic, see, and...um..."
"Don't hurt yourself, sweetie," Reno teased. She plopped down on the couch – this might take a while – and traced the pattern on the carpet with her heel.
"He wrote a bad review of our show last night!" Virtue confessed. She pulled a legal pad out of the newspaper she was holding. "See? I swiped it off his desk when I left this morning."
Reno's disbelief manifested itself into a facial expression the girls had never seen on her before. She incredulously grabbed the notepad from Virtue and read aloud. "Ms. Sweeney's rendition of 'Blow, Gabriel, Blow' was too low key and not at all what I expected. It seems the evangelist has lost her fire and brimstone."
The girls cringed as Reno barely kept herself from tearing the pad in two. Charity, who had been quiet through the whole thing, elbowed Purity. "Say something!" she hissed.
"Why don't you answer it?" Purity calmly suggested.
Reno gazed at her, still fuming. "What?"
"Write him back; tell him how wrong he is. You don't have to send it. Just let it all out. It always makes me feel better."
Reno thought for a moment, relaxed her posture slightly, and slammed the notepad on the coffee table. "Anyone got a pen?"
I heard you wrote a lousy review of me and the Angels' show last night, and I just wanted to let you know that I resent it. My shows are always aces, and last night was no exception. Just who do you think you are, buster? You're a critic for a cruise ship, not the Chicago Sun Times. You got some tin ear, not to like my music. Did you even notice that the audience ate the whole thing up? That they got up to dance and sing? That I got Lord Evelyn Oakley to confess his "romp in the rice?"
I won't even bother to remind you of my pitch-perfect vocals and precise, incredibly advanced dance steps, because a pill like you obviously wouldn't recognize talent if it was in your face asking you to repent. But I will tell you why my performance was (in your opinion) "too low key," because you have no idea what I've been through over the past few days.
Let me get this straight right here and now: I do not fish for compliments, and I do not ask for sympathy. But I do get what I deserve. And what I deserve is someone who understands where I'm coming from – even if that someone is a jelly bean like you.
I'm in love with Billy Crocker. Yeo, the S. S. American's resident master of disguise and my best friend, who's currently occupying the ship's brig with my other best friend, Moonface Martin.
(Don't look at me like that. At least I have friends.)
I've been best friends with Billy for years, and somewhere in the middle of those years I realized that I was head-over-heels for the guy. I practically proposed to him the night before we set sail. Made a real fool of myself. It flew right over his head, just like everything else I try. You know, it's almost funny – I've got guys proposing to me after every show (true story) but never the one I want. See, Billy's in love with somebody else on this ship. Hope Harcourt, the debutante. He's so much in love with her that he stows away on the ship and pretends to be a sailor is a suit that would fit my kid brother just to get her to break her engagement to Lord Evelyn Whoever. And I'm so in love with Billy that when he asks me to help him get his Bonnie Lass, I play the twit and say yes.
So I'm sucked into all this sneaking and disguising. I have to listen to all his sugary talk about how wonderful this dame is. And just when I think I can't take it anymore, I meet the girl. And of course she's sweet as apple pie. And of course she looks like a porcelain doll. And of course she's so innocent it makes me sick. You just want to wrap her in a blanket and hide her from the world, she's so sweet. She's like Mary Pickford. And now I can't smack her around and tell her to keep away from my man like I planned. I can't even call her names because I'm afraid she'll burst into tears. And if she does, then I will too because I know she and Billy are perfect for each other. They're a couple right out of the movies, and every time I have to set up a meeting place for them or listen to Billy go on and on about how pretty or nice Hope is, my heart breaks just a little bit more.
And on the night of my show I see them together, and I see the way he looks at her and speaks tenderly to her like he's never done with me. And I see how she leans into him before shying away, and geez she's just so sweet that for a moment I actually want him to kiss her just because I don't want to her to cry. I want them to be together because I want Billy to be happy, but don't I deserve that for myself too?
But I can't have it because I'm "Reno Sweeney, the most notorious nightclub singer in New York," and she's Hope Harcourt, Snow-White-in-disguise. Even her name sounds innocent! I get the seedy men in smoky bars and she gets Prince Charming on the S. S. American. I'm what guys go through before they find a gal like her for their own. And I've been through enough guys to know that there's only one real Prince out there, and he's going to marry someone else. I've been waiting all my life to be a good girl, but I guess this ain't my time.
Can you even imagine yourself in this situation, Mr. Critic? When you actually want the one you love to marry someone else because she's so much better than you'll ever be? When you have to help get them together, but everyday it's like taking a sledgehammer to your heart? When the only advice you get is "be like the bluebird" from some old Australian bush song?
So when I see them in the audience of my nightclub show sending longing looks across the floor, the fire inside me gets just a little bit dimmer. My light switches of and then back on, but it doesn't matter because I'm using a lower watt bulb these days anyway. The show must go on, so I fake it the best I can and those who aren't critics or performers can't tell the difference. But you and I both know that I wasn't what I usually am up there. I'm working my way back to that, but hey, Rome wasn't build in a day. And God knows I'm gonna need more than a day.
So maybe I'm made of brass instead of steel. But maybe you shouldn't judge me unless you know the whole story. I'm a lot more than my name and reputation suggest.
So I'd appreciate it if you didn't publish that review of me just yet. Because If I can't have love, I'd like to have my career.
Thanks a bunch,
Reno dropped her pen and buried her head in her hands to conceal a tear that had somehow managed to escape from the corner of her eye. What was wrong with her? Why was she on the brink of completely losing her composure? Why hadn't she just told off the critic like she wanted?
Chastity looked up innocently from her book. "You feel any better, Reno?"
Reno sighed and struggled to keep her voice even, though she felt her breath catch in her throat. She lifted her head enough to glare at Chastity and said the most emotionally restrained sentence she could think of at the time. "It didn't accomplish what I intended it to."
Reading the letter over, Reno was more confused than angry with the critic or herself. Who had written this? Certainly not the invincible Reno Sweeney. This thing belonged to some lovesick, seventeen-year-old schoolgirl who felt like being melodramatic. In the span of a few pages, Reno had gone from a brassy singer who'd seen it all, done it all, and lived to brag about it; to a teenager in love with her best friend. Disgusting. She was the very character she lampooned in half her acts.
Reno's head suddenly hurt very much. But she knew just how to cure it. This schoolgirl crush needed to be rid of once and for all. She crumpled the letter and breezed out of the cabin without another word.
Lord Evelyn Oakley, the betrothed to one Miss Hope Harcourt, was relaxing on deck in some very colorful lounging pajamas and a silk sleeping mask, which he lifted tentatively when he heard the telltale quick steps and hitching breaths of a crying woman. He squinted against the bright sunlight to peer at the shaking figure of the nightclub singer, the usually-poised and confident Reno Sweeney. She hurled a crumpled paper over the railing and didn't wait for it to hit the water when it hung mockingly in the air at eye level, swirled by a gust of wind.
She took off in the direction from which she came; the force with which she moved left Evelyn winded. He didn't even have time to tell her that said gust of wind had blown her paper back on deck. He grabbed it and knew he should just toss it overboard as the lady had intended, but instead he found himself smoothing out the folds, gently running his fingertips over tear stains and inkblots and sections where her pen had torn through the paper. He made sure Ms. Sweeney was out of sight, and began to read.
Thanks for reading the very first Anything Goes musical fan fiction! I wrote this in response to a few negative reviews of Sutton Foster's Reno, which criticized her for being "too low key." Having just seen the show, I figured maybe she was playing it a little differently on purpose. I absolutely love her Reno, and I find the Reno/Evelyn pairing adorable. So hopefully this deepens the understanding between the two as well, so their relationship doesn't seem so abrupt.
Merry belated Christmas!