Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thoughts on Musical Theater


Friday night, January 17, we had an unforgettable event at the high school where I direct musicals: fourteen remarkable men and women joined us to help raise money for our spring musical. Men and women who had performed over the years in musical theater productions at this school, and who loved what they did so much they want to help us keep the program going.

We did our first “alumni reunion show” two years ago and invited people to reprise songs they had performed in musicals we’d performed at the school. The building I work in was for many, many years East Stroudsburg High School. Over the years, as the district grew, the high school as well as all schools in the district became overcrowded.

As a result, the East Stroudsburg School District split into North and South. The ESHS building became ESHS South in 2001, and was renovated a few years later. A second high school was built north of the borough of East Stroudsburg in neighboring Pike County. So to perform on our Fundraiser, we invited students who had graduated from our building, which included ESHS and ESHS South alums.

This year we called our event “Wishing on a Song” and invited our guest performers to select songs from any musical we had NEVER performed in our building. The program they performed was full of wonderful music. More, it was filled with wonderful theater.

Many of the performers for our program had some professional experience; at least two continue to actively work in the business, and most continue to perform wherever they can. Some are still college students, pursuing degrees in music or musical theater; at least one is living, working and auditioning in New York, which is not far from us. ALL of them have a passion for musical theater, and we saw that last night. We experienced performances of songs: wonderful songs from DAMN YANKEES to WICKED. We enjoyed the music of Jason Robert Brown. We saw two intense performances of pieces from RAGTIME. We heard some songs we’d never heard before, performed with skill and polish.

The current students who watched these performances I am sure were inspired by what they saw, and they ended the evening by putting on quite a performance of their own of “Lot of Livin’ to Do” from BYE BYE BIRDIE, that wonderful classic musical comedy piece we are performing in two months.

The alumni who returned this year had also performed two years ago. They seem to have developed a delightful sense of camaraderie. They had been invited to say a few words before they performed and some took advantage of this by reminiscing, some by bantering with each other briefly. I loved that. They are ESHS and ESHS South musical people, and that’s a very special thing to be and something to aspire to become!

Being part of a high school musical production is like nothing else in high school. I think HOW I GREW UP makes that very clear. It’s an unforgettable, unique experience in music and theater that people truly never forget. And it sometimes becomes a passion, and even a career.