It is early evening on a mid-summer night. Johnny Depp's newest film is playing at the movie theater. What do you do? Support local live theater, if Chip Garrison and the New Millennium Production Company have anything to say about it.

For the past several weeks, members of the drama clubs at all three Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District have united under the New Millennium banner for their production of the classic musical "Anything Goes," which Garrison, Absegami High School drama teacher, said is a far better use of a summer evening than anything on the silver screen.

"(Summer movies are) two-and-a half hours of explosions and nonsense," said Garrison, who co-directed the production with Cedar Creek's Batt Ballistreri and Oakcrest's Kim Tunney. "(When) you come out to a live show, you're supporting high school kids, and high school kids are working together doing good things."

The New Millennium Production Company was formed in 1999 as a way to unite the district's schools under one banner, and is the only district program that includes students from all three schools.

The students have undergone strenuous, six-hour rehearsals twice per week for the past few weeks in preparation for the show, which runs Aug. 9-11 at Oakcrest.

"Anything Goes" focuses on a foursome of mismatched would-be lovers on board an ocean liner bound for London. Billy Crocker has stowed away in pursuit of engaged socialite Hope Harcourt, with whom he shared a single, fateful rendezvous shortly before the ship's departure. Reno Sweeney is a lovelorn evangelist turned nightclub singer, and Lord Evelyn Oakley is an English royal to whom Harcourt is betrothed.

The musical was written by Cole Porter, one of the pre-eminent names in early-20th century musical theatre.

Brandon Castillo, an Absegami senior and member of its Emanon Players drama club, knew little of "Anything Goes" when he heard it was to be this summer's production. He looked up videos of a few of its biggest numbers on YouTube, and found himself excited to be part of the show.

So far, rehearsal has matched his expectations - especially the tap dancing, which plays a prominent role.

"It's been a blast," said Castillo, who plays the ship's purser. "The tap dancing, once you get it, it's fun. I mean, you just love tap dancing."

Because of its rigorous schedule and its taking place during the summer, the group tends to attract only the most dedicated members of the respective schools' drama departments.

Not only does this mean the talent level of the cast is often higher than that of the individual troupes from which it draws, it also gives the members an opportunity to meet new friends who are as nuts about the stage as they are, Garrison said.

"It forms a bond that they put together that's like, 'Oh, there's other kids that are like me and do this and love this and want to be a part of this,'" Garrison said. "I think that kind of reinforces the message that they're doing something great."

The three district schools often meet in competition on the field and on the court, but it's only for a few weeks in the summer that they come together in collaboration.

In doing so, the students have made a production that is more than merely the sum of its parts, and one that's not to be missed.

"The kids are working together on one thing, and it's a chance to see live theater," Garrison said. "I think that's what makes it worthwile."

Contact Braden Campbell:

609-272-7415

If you go

What: 'Anything Goes,' presented by the New Millennium Production Company

When: 7 p.m. Aug. 9-11

Where: Oakcrest High School Auditorium, 1824 Dr. Dennis Foreman Drive, Mays Landing

How much: $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors

More info: Call 609-909-2603