When Flynn Holman was 12 years old, she went to see “The Drowsy Chaperone” on Broadway. It was the same year it debuted there, and eventually went on to win the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score.
“I think I actually had to leave the theater because I was laughing so hard,” she says. “It is still my favorite play out of everything I have seen.”
Now Flynn, 18, finds herself playing leading lady Janet Van De Graaf in Theatre Aspen’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” put on the by nonprofit’s teen conservatory.
“I am really excited, and I can’t wait for opening night, because I know that’s when everything comes together,” says the Aspen High School senior.
She’s joined onstage by 15 other middle and high school students for the production that’s billed as a “musical within a comedy.”
It all starts with a theater-obsessed man who finds himself lonely and depressed on a 1920s winter day. To cure his blues, he puts on a record from, what else but, “Drowsy Chaperone.” His flat immediately transforms into a stage, and the story within a story unfolds.
Janet Van De Graaf is set to marry oil tycoon Robert Martin, and the young starlet must give up her promising Broadway career for love. When the scene opens, she is surrounded by a ludicrous cast of characters, including a Latin lover, a pair of gangsters, Martin’s best man, an underling, an aging hostess, loopy flapper, her drunk chaperone and a Broadway producer whose goal is to convince Janet to forego marriage and stay in show business.
“It’s basically a bunch of crazy people,” says Holman. “These are all stock characters who play the parts well.”
A series of showtunes, dance numbers and obviously, comedy, ensues, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and the book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.
“We’re in the middle of winter, and it’s just after the holidays so we’re fully into the rat race,” says Graham Northrup, Theatre Aspen’s director of education. “It’s a pick-me-up and a light-hearted piece that really gets people nostalgic about theater, and that’s what it’s meant to do. I think one of the best reasons to go see it is because it’s a fun time.”
It’s the teen conservatory’s ninth winter production, and Northrup says he picked “Chaperone” because a number of students — like Holman — had requested doing this show over the years. Many of the students have been conservatory participants since they became teenagers.
“What conservatory offers is a performance opportunity to students who are serious about performing. They may not be going to Broadway, but it’s a rigorous program where we treat them like professionals,” says Northrup. “We surround them with professionals, including the stage, lighting and design managers.”
Holman, who has been performing onstage in some capacity since she was five, is a good example of the track that students can take. Through Aspen Community Theatre, Jayne Gottlieb Productions and Theatre Aspen, she’s been part of dozens of shows and even had the chance to perform in her first professional play, “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs” put on by Theatre Aspen in 2010.
“It’s a wonderful program,” she says “and it’s given me so many opportunities.”
Now, as a graduating senior, she’s applied to colleges in hopes of studying acting, while also polishing her singing and dancing.
Training the students to become better, more professional performers is the goal of teen conservatory, says Northrup. From acting, singing and dancing, he says that by the time they leave Theatre Aspen hopes they are “quantitatively better.”
“I have high expectations, and they rise to the occasion,” he says. “But their performance comes along.”
In prepping for “Chaperone” part of the challenge was finding at least three times a week to rehearse during a busy holiday season, while many of the students were not only applying to college, but also participating in the Aspen Community Theatre’s production of “Crazy for You.”
“Drowsy Chaperone” can have a dizzying number onstage and it’s the largest teen cast that the conservatory has brought to the stage. Besides Holman, the cast includes Ben Belinski, Julia Foran, Kidd Duhe Solomon, TJ Kaiser, Marissa McKinney, Luke Wampler, Luke Ryan, Lyon Hamill, Kiki Glah, Nakiri Gallagher and newcomers Anna Ashmore, Sage O’Reilly, Emery Major and Jack Dresser, starring as the Man in the Chair.
But, just like the magic of theater, months of preparation, rehearsal and some stage magic have made it all come together.
“There’s no feeling like performing on opening night,” says Holman. “Sometimes people laugh at things you don’t think they are going to and it’s so funny to see how that happens. … I see it done every day and there are still parts that I laugh at every time.”
The Drowsy Chaperone
Presented by Theatre Aspen
Jan. 10-12 at 7 p.m.
Jan. 13 at 2 p.m.
Aspen District Theatre