Gala marks beginning of new era at CHS

From poignant to hilarious, the Claremont High School alumni gala ran the gamut. In celebration of the opening of the Don F. Fruechte Theater for the Performing Arts, the new high school theater played host to performances showcasing the talent of current and former students.

From Shaelynn Parker’s (CHS, ’74) soulful rendition of  “If You Walked into My Life” to Amy Clark’s (CHS ’09) heartfelt performance of “Home” from Beauty and the Beast, residents saw the best of the best from CHS theater on Saturday night at the new Fruechte Theater.

Chuck and Muriel Farritor of Claremont, who enjoyed a front row seat at the performance, have a deep connection to CHS theater.

“We were just delighted with the whole thing,” Mr. Farritor said. “We especially enjoyed Don [Fruechte] and the way he closed the show. He’s so low key. But he’s lived his whole life just that way.”

As part of the Take A Seat campaing, the Farritors purchased 3 seats in the renovated theater in memory of their son Tim, who died at age 35.

“Timmy felt the same as all the people who spoke at the show,” Mr. Farritor said.  “It was his home away from home.”

The highlight of the show for Mr. Farritor?

“That Joel was a funny guy,” he said. “But we know him, so I expected him to be funny.”

Joel Wilson (CHS ’96), choir director at the high school, gave his comedic best as emcee for the second act.

“It isn’t often that someone who isn’t rich or dead gets a building named after them,” Mr. Wilson teased Mr. Fruechte, eyes fixed from the front row.

Directed by Krista Carson Elhai (CHS ’78), current CHS theater department director, the gala included performances by alumni and current students, who were asked to perform in the one night only showstopper. Ms. Elhai is only the second theater director at the high school, following Mr. Fruechte, who opened the original CHS theater in 1971. The success of CHS theater has continued under Ms. Elhai’s tutelage, with students bringing home awards in both regional and state thespian competitions.

Former students reminisced, sharing stories of bygone days, often highlighting Mr. Fruechte’s unconventional approach to teaching and his knack for inspiring a love of theater among his students. Tom Park (CHS ’74) recalled an exchange with Mr. Fruechte during production of “Call Me Madame” in 1971.

“The performances at Garrison were risky in content for conservative Claremont,” Mr. Park related. “I remember Don saying, ‘I don’t know where you are, but you aren’t there yet.’ The CHS theater was a home to explore compassion and feelings and work through all the obstacles of being a teenager.”

Bob Fass (CHS ’87) recalled less challenging roles during his years at CHS, including playing a dog and Winnie-the-Pooh, but remarked that his years in high school theater have had a lasting impact. He fondly recalled Mr. Fruechte’s sarcasm: “Does anyone have a brain cell to loan to Fass? I need just one! Anyone?”

Despite Mr. Fruechte’s playful demeanor with students, Sally Smith (CHS ’68) acknowledged the theater director’s softer side.

“Mr. Fruechte inspired us to be our best selves in our lives,” she said. “I have carried this with me well into my adult life.”

Other notable performances included Frank Minano’s [CHS ‘80] duet with his daughter Amanda  [CHS ‘11] and another duet from Amanda and Craig Colclough [both CHS ‘00], who met as theater students at the high school and are now married with 3 children.

Perhaps Michael Alden [CHS ‘74] put it best when he said, “May this theater continue to serve as a beacon for thespians everywhere, just as Don has throughout his career.”

Ms. Elhai and the students of the CHS Theatre Department will return to the Fruechte Center on April 19 and 20 for a performance of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  

—Kathryn Dunn


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