With baggy pants, big shoes, and of course, the iconic moustache — the legend Charlie Chaplin took the stage in 1914 and began his illustrious film career. Chaplin’s story is filled with contradiction — his 70-year career was marked by worldwide adulation and controversy — making for quite the story to tell in just over two hours. Severn’s Water Street Players are the first high school to stage Chaplin: The Musical, with music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis and a book by Curtis and Thomas Meehan. We were incredibly proud of our fearless performers on stage, but even more so of the creative journey they took to get there.
Bringing Chaplin to Water Street
Directed by Upper School Drama teacher, Mr. Ron Giddings ‘99, Chaplin: The Musical challenged the cast and crew until the final closing curtain. The challenges began day one when Giddings reached out to the composer expressing interest in the show and was denied the rights. Undeterred with the initial refusal, Mr. Giddings persisted and assured the composer that our students were ready to take on the play. Severn School became the first high school slated to stage the musical.
Many shows have challenges in one form or another. Last year’s spring production of the operetta Pirates of Penzance boasted an enormous cast and elaborate musical score. However, Chaplin was complex in every possible theatrical aspect. From the high energy choreography and musical score, to multiple costume and scene changes, to visual flourishes in lighting and magnificent set design — each piece fit together to tell Chaplin’s epic story.
“The cast wanted to do something that challenged them, most of which had participated in all four musicals during their time here. Honoring the capabilities of these students in particular motivated me to keep pushing and working toward the best production.” — Ron Giddings '99
With 14 experienced seniors in the cast and crew, the players were up to the task. On-stage talent included Yasmeen Meek '18 a powerhouse vocalist, Jimmy Diamondidis '18 and his larger-than-life stage presence, and Sam Agro '18, with his uncanny empathic connection to every audience. Click here for a list of the entire cast and crew.
As with any good production, that which looks effortless is certainly not, but it was exhilarating for those lucky enough to bear witness. The audience sat in awe of the cast’s stamina and skill as we listened and watched the story unfold through each seamless scene.
What’s a musical without music?
Typically, Broadway shows performed at the high school level come with a score that is tailored for young performers. This was not the case with Chaplin. Music Director Mr. Rob Redei faced the challenge of adapting the original score written for Broadway professionals. “With a high tessitura and very difficult harmonies, we had to pare it down ... but the level of complexity was a challenge right up to the end. The music was very erratic - changing feel and tempo without warning.”
The success of this production was born from much more than just seven weeks of rehearsals. Mr. Giddings explained in his director’s notes:
“This show marks a complete four-year cycle for me and the freshmen who came in with me in 2014. Over the four years, we have worked on The Illusion, Big Fish, Lord of the Flies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Mousetrap, A Tale of Two Cities, The Pirates of Penzance, Black Comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, and now, Chaplin. The desire to provide the most diverse experience with theatre to the students has been demonstrated in the show selections and styles, and they have matured as actors and crew in unimaginable ways.” — Ron Giddings '99
Guided by our dedicated and passionate faculty, students learn to tell their unique story through failures and triumphs in the classroom, on the fields, and on the stage.
“Shows like this are vital for kids and communities. Storytelling is a uniquely human ability. It is the foundation on which empathy is built, and when kids get an opportunity to tell a rich story like Chaplin, it increases their capacity for empathy.” — Rob Redei