Sunday, September 20, 2015

Memories of Musicals Past

More Fog, Please!

     Yesterday I attended a very impressive ceremony at ESHS South, the school for which I directed shows beginning in 1991 and continuing through 2015. The school was originally East Stroudsburg High School, but when the East Stroudsburg Area School District was divided into two geographic sections in 2000, the “old high school” became South and the new, spiffy campus became North (I like to refer to it as “the Civil War” but perhaps I should stop doing that).
     The ceremony honored several hundred alumni who had excelled in musical achievement from the nineteen forties to the present. Not all of them were on hand to see the new “Music Wall of Fame” which displays the photo and a nameplate for each of these recipients in wooden frames that line the hall in the music wing of the building. But a surprising number were.
      This was a massive undertaking. A committee of alumni and friends honors people who contribute to the high schools in athletics, academic achievement, and music, and these people did an amazing job. The ceremony itself was well done and moved quickly, even though many names were read and many people were handed plaques. This committee operates independently, and no school funds are used in their endeavors. Private donations pay for everything.
     For me, it was an especially enjoyable event, because I was able to talk with some students who had participated in musical theater productions during the many years I worked in first ESHS, and then ESHS South. Some of the people who were there have become Facebook friends … a definite plus for being on the site … but I had not seen them in person for decades.
     Girls who had been pretty high school students have become beautiful and accomplished women. Their accomplishments are many, not the least of which is being mothers. Boys who had been struggling in high school because they were primarily music geeks are confident and successful men. More recent graduates are just beginning their college careers. It was such a treat to see all of them, and have a chance to reminisce with some.
      One man in particular, Kurt Moucha, had graduated from ESHS in 1994 and my history with him I think speaks to what being part of a creative art can do for someone. He was honored because of his participation in honors choruses, in particular Pennsylvania All State Chorus the year he was a senior. He had a naturally beautiful tenor voice and a wonderful dramatic flair which became more evident as he went through high school. He played the little brother, Randolph, in the first show I directed at the school, Bye Bye Birdie; and was an outstanding Enoch Snow in the 1994 production of a show very dear to my heart, Carousel.
     In 1993 we presented Oklahoma! and I think Kurt very much wanted the role of Will Parker. It was a logical casting choice. Will’s music is high. It’s a comic role and Kurt has a great natural sense of comedic timing. Will has to dance, and Kurt moves well and learns quickly. (He eventually performed professionally.) But there’s another great comic role in the show, Ali Hakim, the “flim-flam” man who bursts into town and creates havoc. It’s not really a singing role, but the role definitely works best if the actor can use an accent.
     Kurt had an amazing accent, and he was incredibly funny in the role. So we cast him as Ali Hakim, much to his surprise.
     When I announced this past April that I had directed my final production, a number of my “kids” from over the years posted comments on my Facebook timeline. Kurt’s read:

Thinking outside the box and casting a singer in a non-singing role. I thought for sure I was going to be Will Parker in "Oklahoma!" back in '93. But being cast as Ali Hakim was one of my most thrilling onstage experiences. And it propelled me on a path to pursue a life in music theater. Of course, you ended up having me sing a reprise of a song. Great memories!

     Great memories, indeed. He mentioned this again yesterday when we had a chance to talk. It’s nice to have affirmation that you got it right.

Carousel, 1994
East Stroudsburg High School
The Snow Family
Kurt Moucha, seated center