It isn’t often that a high school drama club unveils a world premiere, but that seems to be the case for the Barnstable High School Drama Club, which is presenting the first-ever theatrical presentation of a movie classic, 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner.

“Well, the world premiere in English, anyway,” Drama Club advisor Ed O’Toole stipulates. More on that later, though.

O’Toole, who is in his 15th year with the club, had long been interested in finding a seasonal show that had not been done frequently, and recalled the classic Jimmy Stewart-Margaret Sullavan film about Alfred and Klara, co-workers at a Budapest leather-goods shop who fall in love through an anonymous pen pal correspondence, but who quarrel constantly at work.

“I knew the film was one link in a long chain,” O’Toole said. “It had been based on a Hungarian play called Parfumerie, and then was remade in 1949 as a Judy Garland musical, In the Good Old Summertime. Then it  was turned into a Broadway musical in 1963 called She Loves Me. Its most recent incarnation was as the famous ‘rom-com,’ You’ve Got Mail, in 1998, which is the one most people recognize,” O’Toole admits.

“I thought, that despite the lack of a ‘brand name,’ the movie would make a perfect holiday show. So, two summers ago, I began the search for performance rights, figuring that, given all the adaptations, someone certainly would have created a theatrical version.”

O’Toole started his search for the performance rights with the traditional licensing services in July of 2012, but came up empty. A little snooping on the Internet revealed that a French translation of the script, La Boutique au Coin de la Rue, had been licensed and had played in Paris in 2002 to great acclaim.

Hoping that the rights-holder would allow him to produce an English-language version of the script, or would be able to point him in the right direction, O’Toole wrote to France – “relying on my memories of high school French and Google Translator” – to no avail. A French literary agent did give O’Toole the name and email of the détenteur des droits (rights-holder), but he never heard back from him.

“After that I tried Turner Classic Movies, Turner Broadcasting, the Loews Corporation, and even Columbia University’s Library of Rare Books, which holds the rights to publish the papers of the screenwriter, Samson Raphaelson. I wondered if performing the screenplay might be considered a form of publishing it.”

A Columbia librarian did write back to O’Toole on August 27 of this year. She told him that the librarian who might be able to help would be out for a week, and that he could expect a “delay in her response.”  O’Toole shrugged his shoulders: “Haven’t heard anything. Long week, I guess.”

O’Toole decided to go ahead with plans to perform the screenplay. “I’d given it the old college try, and I figured if someone wants to shut us down and haul me away in handcuffs, fine. It will only generate publicity for the show,” he laughed.

“I think everyone will love The Shop Around the Corner,” said BHS Drama Club co-president Charlie Nash, who plays the shop’s owner, Mr. Matuschek. “It‘s funny and sweet all at the same time.”

“And it’s a classic romance,” chimed in Nash’s co-president, Chloe Brumfield, double-cast with Virginia Olson as Klara. “Everybody knows that Klara and Alfred are meant for each other except Klara and Alfred.”

“We’re hoping that there are many fans of the old movie who are of a certain age,” grinned Alicia Pierozzi, who plays Flora, “which is why we are cutting our ticket price in half for anyone 62 and over.”

Throw in a sleazy villain, a charming set, and a little Christmas music, and you have the perfect holiday show for fans of old movies, fans of heartwarming stories, and fans of old-fashioned entertainment.

 See you around the corner next month!

The Shop Around the Corner will open in the Knight Theatre at Barnstable High School, 744 West Main Street, Hyannis, on Wednesday, December 4 at 3:00 PM. All tickets for that matinee will cost just $5. Tickets for all other shows are $10.

Performances will continue on December 5, 6, and 7 at 7 PM, with an additional matinee on December 7 at 1 PM. Tickets for audience members 62 and over will be $5 for all shows. Reservations are strongly encouraged and may be made by calling the Barnstable High School Drama Club at (508) 771-6246.