In this debut comic novel, a young couple, both high school theater directors, tries to handle drama from parents, students, and others.
Auditions just began for Oliver!, this year’s spring play at Samuel P. Chester Academy, a wealthy private high school. Kelly and Jackson Graham, six months into their jobs as co-directors, are looking forward to doing a musical after previously putting on Arsenic and Old Lace. Kelly will direct and handle the business end, while Jackson serves as musical director and pianist. Their challenges include helicopter parents, overscheduled kids, a daffy choreographer, a rumored weeping ghost, and Tony, the adult tech director who seems determined to take over managing the show. Kelly feels uneasy about Tony and his overly close relationships with students, but the headmaster disagrees, as do parents, who circulate a petition to have Tony replace the Grahams. Can Kelly find her inner director in time for the show—and her job—to go on? Murdock-Prep’s debut novel offers an enjoyably affectionate showcase of high school drama and its familiar elements, such as theater traditions and acting games, like practicing subtext through different ways of saying “Don’t go.” Characters are varied, their conflicts believable if somewhat broad, usually with a good deal of compassion for young actors. Kelly, however, has some annoying tendencies. She’s emotional, high-strung, and thin-skinned—appropriate enough for a (former) actress, but she seems ill-equipped for directing, which requires confident belief in oneself. Her usual reaction to conflict is avoidance. Even late in the novel, she leaves dealing with an “alpha male” student to her husband, because the boy drains her energy. In the narrative, this is all played for rueful laughs, but the helpless-female routine is rather uninspiring. The book’s tone is also somewhat hammy and overdone, as when Kelly’s ex-professor tells her twice, “It’s not you, it’s them,” which somehow rates the exclamatory comment: “The Prof still knows how to drive a point home!”
Lots of fun elements—ghost story, showtime, romantic married love—but the heroine is slow to grow a spine.