In spring 2006, Joanna Young snagged a seat at an invitation-only Broadway dress rehearsal of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” She instantly fell in love with the show.
Young, an Omaha native and 1992 Westside High School graduate, had become a working New York City actress at 19 when she was cast in the national tour of “Les Misérables” in late 1993. “The Drowsy Chaperone,” she said, was something else entirely.
“I had never seen anything like it,” Young said recently from her home in Maplewood, N.J. “This was a totally original idea. The cast was not huge stars, but they gave such incredible performances. I wanted to be in it so badly.”
Six months later, she was. A friend in the chorus hurt her foot, and Young got the part on the same day she auditioned in late 2006.
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” billed as a musical within a comedy, opens Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse. In it, the ultimate Broadway musical fan tells the audience all about his favorite 1920s musical. As he plays the cast album, his New York apartment magically morphs into the set of the musical, which is performed while he describes it.
Young became pregnant with twin sons just after “The Drowsy Chaperone” closed Dec. 30, 2007, and she hasn’t been back on Broadway since. But her older son, Alex, 9, used to hang out backstage when he was a toddler. She made sure her son walked on the stage of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which won five Tony awards.
“I’m still incredibly close friends with so many members of that company,” Young said.
That includes Sutton Foster, who scored her third Tony nomination playing Broadway starlet Janet. Foster has won two Tonys (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Anything Goes”) and was the original Fiona in “Shrek the Musical.”
Young said she and Foster were the youngest members of the “Drowsy” company (she was Foster’s understudy when not in the chorus), and many cast members were great mentors to her on how to be in show business and have children.
“These people were super nice, and some of the most professional I ever worked with,” she said. “They were always at the top of their game, giving 150 percent every single show. There were no diva attitudes or temper tantrums, just incredible performances.”
When the show ended, several cast members often lunched together to catch up with one another. They still send Christmas cards and stay current on Facebook, Young said.
Joanna’s parents, John and Sara Young, are both retired elementary schoolteachers. Her mom taught music, and there was always music in the house as she grew up. Joanna began appearing in musicals around age 8 or 9 at the Upstairs Dinner Theatre, the Center Stage and the Rudyard Norton, all of which have since closed. She had a nine-month run in “Annie” at the Upstairs, first playing orphan Pepper and later the title role.
After high school, she studied musical theater at New York University before being hired away by the “Les Misérables” road tour. Her Broadway debut was in a revival of “Grease,” starring Rosie O’Donnell and Brooke Shields.
Her husband, Jeffrey Shubart, is senior programs manager of the Lucille Lortel Foundation. They met as actors.
Her three sons keep her busy now, though she does a lot of commercials and regularly auditions for work. Eight shows a week on Broadway is a tough schedule if you have young kids. She also teaches classes. She remembers the classes she once took in Omaha — voice from David Moore and dance at Pat Carlson’s studio.
“I did lots of shows at a young age, and you learn from all sorts of people,” Young said. “Those are the foundations. You have to have good technique to have any longevity in this career.”
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Correction: Jeffrey Shubart's position with the Lucille Lortel Foundation was listed incorrectly in a previous version of this story. The foundation's name also was listed incorrectly.