The list of names associated with Westport’s local theater company is impressive:
- Rock star songwriter Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”)
- Playwright/screenwriter (“Braking Upwards,” “Dogfight”) Peter Duchan
- Broadway veterans Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer
- Composer/performer/teacher/choir director Chris Coogan
- Former Broadway performer Amiee Turner
- Professional set designer Jordan Janota
- Wesleyan University theater professor Robin Mazzola
- Former off-Broadway and film actor Ben Frimmer
- New York Theatre Company’s “New, Emerging, Outstanding Composer” Clay Zambo
- Professional actress Haley Bond,
What is even more impressive is that the local theater company is Coleytown Company.
All those talented, experienced men and women have worked on — or are currently involved with — the middle school’s theater program.
As Coleytown Company celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s time to shine the spotlight on this impressive institution in our midst.
As with any theatrical project, Coleytown Company has had its ups and downs.
In the 1990s, then-principal Jim Welsch asked 5th grade teacher Frimmer to reimagine the middle school theater program. Up to that point, it was a club with a parent helping out once a year.
Staging shows ranging from “Fiddler on the Roof” to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Frimmer created an environment in which young actors, singers, dancers, artists and tech kids can learn and grow.
Recently, Coleytown Company has weathered a tough few years. Mold shut the school in 2017. CMS students headed to Bedford Middle School, losing their auditorium. Shows continued, but with a lessened sense of community.
Then came COVID. Like theaters everywhere, the middle schools’ stages went dark.
Last October, Coleytown Company returned with “All Together Now!,” a 15-song musical revue.
Now it’s all the way back. “The SpongeBob Musical” — the Company’s first full-scale musical in 3 years — debuts Friday, April 8 (7 p.m.). Shows continued Saturday, April 9 (7 p.m.) and Sunday, April 9 (1 p.m.).
The community’s help has been impressive. Middle school art teacher Linda Kangro, for example, leads a tech crew whose students actually design and build sets themselves.
Janota — the professional scenic designer working on an upcoming Netflix feature film — and her 18 students have used recycled materials donated by the community to create a coral proscenium, and platforms to build a “volcano.”
Coogan has spent over a decade directing the Coleytown Company pit orchestra. He loves this age group, because “they’re just discovering their voices, capabilities, bodies and acting abilities.”
This is Turner’s 4th show with Frimmer. Her focus is on getting students comfortable with their bodies after lockdown, and “helping them get used to being brave, loud and big with their physical movement.”
Zambo serves as vocal coach, when he is not writing or directing shows and ballets. Because “SpongeBob” was written for adults, he has done “some judicious editing.” But, he says, he works with middle schoolers the same as with professionals: “Keep it light and fun, take the work seriously, and try to bring out the best in everyone.”
Wesleyan professor Mazzola — a costume-maker for 25 years, who met Frimmer 4 years ago — describes the upcoming show’s costumes as embodying “friendship, individuality and joy.”
That joy has been a hallmark of the experiences of former Coleytown Company actors, many of whom went on to success with Staples Players in high school, then beyond.
Duchan was in Frimmer’s first production: “Peter Pan.” He calls Frimmer’s accomplishments “extraordinary.”
Over the years, Paul, Gentile and Heimer have all returned from the Broadway stage to help Frimmer and their alma mater. In 2018, Company staged Paul’s “James and the Giant Peach.”
Bond calls CMS “a breeding ground for budding creatives. As a professional in the entertainment industry, I constantly cross paths with my middle schoolmates. They’ve grown up to be writers, actors, directors, filmmakers, technical engineers and designers.”
Current student performers echo the praise.
Haley Forman — Sandy in “SpongeBob” — says, “the theme of the play is working together. The students and staff are bringing that to life.”
Eli Abrams, who plays Perch Perkins, agrees: “I really like that you get to meet all these new people that are doing the same thing as you. If you need help with something, you can always just call them.”
Haley and Eli may or may not follow fellow CMS actors Justin Paul, Peter Duchan, Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer to Broadway.
But they’re sure in good Company.
(For tickets to “The SpongeBob Musical” and more information, click here. Hat tip: Jordan Razza)