East goes west with fall production of ‘Shakespeare in Hollywood’

As the East auditorium undergoes renovations, members of the Cherry Hill East Theatre Department have found themselves rehearsing in cafeterias, choir rooms, the West auditorium and just about anywhere else they can find. But cast and crew agree that if anything, the nomadic rehearsals have brought them closer together and even encouraged them to work a bit harder to prove they can still put on a show-stopping production. 

“Our motto for Cherry Hill East Drama this year is any time, any place, anywhere because we really do believe good theater can be done any time, any place, anywhere,” said director Pete Gambino. 

East’s fall production of “Shakespeare in Hollywood” will take place on Dec. 12, 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. at Cherry Hill High School West. Set in 1934, the comedic play follows Shakespeare’s famous fairies, Oberon and Puck, who suddenly appear on the Hollywood set of Max Reinhardt’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Enamored by the movie business, the pair are soon cast as – none other than – themselves, and the story unfolds from there. 

“Shakespeare in Hollywood” marks a bit of a departure for the East theatre department. Gambino, who is serving as co-director with Sandi Makofsky, said the play lets the students take a crack at a contemporary comedy. He said it’s a common misconception that comedy is somehow easier than drama, but the genre presents its own set of challenges as students learn to navigate comedic timing and the relationships between characters. And at the end of the day, it’s just hard to make people laugh, Gambino said. 

“We like the challenge associated with comedy – especially screwball comedy – to maintain that energy and excitement throughout the whole show,” he said. 

The show is partially double cast with around 70 students acting and approximately 20 working behind the scenes on stage crew. Gambino said he’s been particularly impressed by the grit this year’s group has displayed. He said they don’t complain, come to rehearsals prepared and have taken ownership of the production by bringing their own ideas to set. 

Junior Pete Cuddihy, who plays Oberon in the red cast, said East hasn’t performed a contemporary piece anytime recently, so it’s been something a bit fun and different for all involved. 

“I think it’s a great story; it has pretty comedic moments and then it has pretty dramatic moments,” Cuddihy said. “I think that’s something. If a play has both of them and it does it well, I think it makes a great play.”

Senior Jackson Feudtner, who plays Oberon in the white cast, said despite having Shakespeare in the title, the piece only has a smattering of Shakespearean dialogue, and the play moves quickly and is infused with a lot of wit. He said “Shakespeare in Holiday” is one of the most fun shows he’s performed with East to date. 

“I would say it is two hours of complete entertainment from start to finish,” Feudtner said. “It starts out very high energy and ends on a very somber but happy note.”

Senior Alicia Cosenza, who plays Olivia Darnell in both casts, said between having fairies, magic, dancing and Hollywood movie stars, the play has a lot to offer in one show. She said while the rehearsals have been tedious at times as they learn the blocking for each cast, there’s been a palpable enthusiasm among the cast that she thinks will translate come showtime. 

“I think the thing that makes this show so special is we’re having fun with it, so the audience is going to have fun with it too,” Cosenza said. 

Tickets for “Shakespeare in Hollywood” are $12 and can be purchased in advance at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/3599