Players put new life into `High School'

Energetic performances overcome uninspired plot, score in 1982 musical

March 28, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ralph Keyes' Is There Life After High School? - a musical investigation of high school's universal impact - barely qualifies as a plot, and Craig Carnelia's score is less than memorable.

Yet these shortcomings are transformed into entertaining theater by Colonial Players' high-energy cast.

In a series of vignettes, nine characters, some now into middle age, contemplate their approaching high school reunion by recalling their high school experiences.

Their isolated remembrances are tied together by varying degrees of embarrassment, with four women who once were cheerleaders, late bloomers and a homecoming queen, and five men - former jocks, a friendless fat boy, bullies, jokers and bookworms remembering their high school days.

The 1982 musical is based on Keyes' book, published in 1976, which records hundreds of high school reminiscences at reunions marking five to 50 years.

The play strikes a universal note, as Keyes views the American high school experience as a microcosm of life.

Formative period

The characters remain affected by that formative period of their youth. For example, being taunted two decades ago by the coach for his lack of fitness and bullied by jocks remains a painful memory for the once-overweight boy.

Not being asked to the school dance still hurts the middle-aged woman years later. And the high school homecoming queen never tops that crowning achievement.

The high school years also are remembered with regret over lost opportunities. The bookworm who did well in math class wishes he'd given test answers to the pretty girl who asked for help. He and most of the guys still regret not "making out" in high school 20 years ago.

Colonial's cast is instantly transformed from middle-aged men and women into frenetic high school students who are back in gym class swinging from the rafters or re-creating every dance from the Charleston to the Twist and the Frug.

Wendy Baird delivers a stunning "Homecoming Queen," sensitively sung with a mix of pride and regret. "Nothing Really Happened" is well sung by Sally Gilles, who is joined by Wendy Baird, Andrea Ostrowski and Shirley Panek.

Strong skills

All four women display strong acting, singing and dancing skills that define their every reunion scene.

All nine cast members join the orchestra to start the second act with a rousing "Thousands of Trumpets," everyone playing an instrument and out-marching the sharpest high school band.

Peter Crews is perhaps the strongest male singer, delivering a heartfelt "Things I Learned in High School" and leading the marching band. Jonathan Glickman displays a warm pleasant voice in "Second Thoughts" and "I'm Glad You Didn't Know Me."

The men are perhaps at their best in ensemble numbers, in which they reveal a keen sense of comic timing.

In a particularly moving scene near the end of the show, Tom Newbrough relives his painful experiences as the overweight boy humiliated by the coach and fellow students.

Believable character

Glen Jeffries is outstanding as a sensitivity-challenged jock whose dumb innocence and good nature allow him to continue relishing the misery his taunting once caused the fat boy. Jeffries creates such a natural and believable character that we can almost forgive him his stupid cruelty.

Through acting talent and skilled comic timing, the cast creates a highly entertaining evening despite the play's lack of plot and tuneful score.

Is There Life After High School? will receive the two final performances of its monthlong run by Colonial Players tomorrow and Saturday evening.

Call Colonial Players box office at 410-268-7373 to order tickets.

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