By Charlotte Phillipp
SCHAUMBURG, IL – On a regular November night at any given suburban Denny’s, the restaurant’s dining room would be filled with the noise of thirty sixteen-year-olds attempting to sing all seventeen parts of Les Miserables’ “One Day More” and failing horribly as servers entering the seventh hour of their shifts try to ignore the screeching. This fall, that will not be the case.
Due to limited indoor seating at dining establishments, as well as theatre productions being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, high school performers across the country are struggling to be the center of attention. Without Fall plays happening in person, these young actors can’t force diner-goers to sit and watch in extreme discomfort as they perform full numbers from their fall show.
According to Sarah McCauley, 17, her chance to pretend to do a quick change while performing “Omigod You Guys,” the opening number of Legally Blonde, as patrons of her local 24-hour Denny’s attempt to eat their Everyday Value Slams and Santa Fe Slizzlin’ Skillets in peace was taken from her.
“I’m a senior and this would have been the year I finally got the lead I’ve deserved since I was a freshman. I would have finally been Elle!” McCauley said.
According to Hannah Harris, the star of last year’s production Thoroughly Modern Millie, McCauley was not in the running for Elle. “Sarah is nuts if she thought she was gonna play Elle. Elle is all belting, and she straight-up has no diaphragm strength. She would have been Enid at best.”
Donna Clark, 61, has been a server at the suburban Chicago Denny’s for 32 years and remembers every Fall play that came through their diner. “Oh, excuse me, performances. Not plays. Don’t say the word ‘play’ to them unless you want a fifteen minute earful about how the art form of theatre is always disrespected. Trust me, I know what disrespectful looks like. These kids cannot order all at the same time for the life of them.”
According to her, the casts of high school shows like Guys and Dolls, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Beauty and the Beast have all taken up six or more tables at their establishment and terrorized their customers with ensemble dance numbers.
“Those high school kids frankly cannot stop singing. I don’t know if it’s something psychological in their brains or what, but they do love to pretend they know how to harmonize.”
Clark is not really sure what the students’ goals are by performing full theatre numbers in their chain restaurant. “Everyone else in here is either working late or drunk, I don’t know what they think is gonna happen. No Broadway agents are coming in here.”
Without an end in sight for school plays to return to normal, no one is sure of what’s to come or how high school casts are going to be able to get their fix of attention. However, Clark is sure of one thing.
“Of all those shows, Mary Poppins is the worst. Stop trying to make kids do accents.”