JOPLIN, Mo. —
Mollie Sanders fell in love with "The Drowsy Chaperone" when she was in middle school.
A colleague of her brother gave her the soundtrack to the play, which debuted in 2006. The musical's wit and heart quickly snared Sanders' attention.
"I was crying with laughter the whole time," Sanders said about listening to the soundtrack. "It's a highly underrated show. Those who know about it are absolutely crazy about it."
As she pursued her interest in high school, she got a surprise during her senior year -- the rights to the musical became available for high schools, and her school's theater department decided to produce it. Sanders tried out and landed the role of Janet Van Der Graff, the lead female role.
Sanders gets to act in her favorite musical again -- this time as Kitty, and as a junior theater student at Missouri Southern State University.
The rehearsal of the new production recalls staging from the previous time she did the show. She said she finds herself remembering how her high school did things, from dance steps to pacing.
But not every memory of acting in her favorite show is golden. As much as she loves everything about "The Drowsy Chaperone," the musical bears a solemn distinction: It was the last production to be shown on the stage at Joplin High School, where Sanders was a graduate of the class of 2011.
"Not only was it my last show as a senior, it was the last show to be performed on that stage," Sanders said.
Sanders isn't the only Joplin High School graduate to be involved with the university's production. Tori Mitchell is a member of the ensemble, and Christy Hernandez is a member of the stage management team.
Sanders said that she and her family were lucky to escape major damage and that she fared better than the other two.
"Our house is four blocks from the high school, but we received minimal damage," Sanders said. "We lost maybe a shutter and a shingle. We didn't lose any (family or close friends)."
The phrase "the show must go on" was born from theatrical arts, however. Director Ann Lile said that theater students are particularly resilient, going on in the face of strong memories.
"They put on a great musical," Lile said. "Once a show is over, it's gone, and it remains in memory. And they have great memories. The tornado has had an effect by making those memories sweeter. But now they are making new memories, working the same show in another capacity."