High school musical memories

October 20, 2008
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Between the upcoming release of Disney's "High School Musical 3" in theaters--as both an arts journalist and the father of teenage girls, I know a lot about HSM--and my kid's own real life high school musical (Pike High School's production of "Children of Eden"), I haven't been able to resist flashing back lately to my own experiences in school shows.*

As shoestring as it was, the stage at New Jersey's Wildwood High School was where a big part of where my passion for the arts was born. And I'm guessing many readers of this blog had similar experiences.

So share. And not just those of you who continued your theater careers. Tell us a little of the triumphs and disasters of your high school shows. Who did you play? Or were you backstage? What did you take with you?

Also, I'm very interested in the high school roles played by your bosses. Don't be shy. Ask your CEO or company president if he or she had a part in a high school show. If we get enough response, maybe a photo shoot will be in order.

Your thoughts?

*For the record, I was stage crew for "Sweet Charity," Jonathan, the ugly brother, in "Aresenic and Old Lace," the Captain in "Mr. Roberts," Pepe and the voice of both Maria's father and mother in "West Side Story," and both Kenickie and Sonny in "Grease" (long story).
  • My high school stage experiences were limited to the orchestra pit playing trombone for George M, Mame, and Annie Get Your Gun at Colerain H.S. in Cincinnati.
    Tom Robertson, Development Director, Phoenix Theatre
  • I enjoyed attending all of my high school productions to support my acting pals (the cheerleader in me). However, my husband was a theatre kid at Warren and played (and sang) many lead roles in high school, including West Side Story. My best moment as a mom was coming home one day to find my first-grader glued to the TV. She was watching (and loving) an old tape of Dad singing Maria on stage. Even though she's seen the 1961 film, she thinks Daddy's version is the original.
  • I was on the tech crew (lights, as I recall) senior year for our production of Annie Get Your Gun. Our Frank Butler was Jordan Clark, who went on to a TV and film career. He won a daytime Emmy a couple of years ago for his role as Billy on Guilding Light.
  • I was in the school musicals every year, in the pit. We did Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, My Fair Lady, and the Will Rogers Follies (I was in the choir for that, since the orchestra was a jazz band of sorts). My junior year our auditorium was gutted (Pike High School) so nothing that year. I always enjoyed playing those---the rehearsals nightly for about two months to me back then seemed as cool as things got. I was in love with musicals back then.

    Funnily enough now though---this might be sacrilege to say on this blog---I'm not fond of musicals. Maybe my tastes became ultra snobby at the IU School of Music or something, I have no idea. But back in high school, musicals were a blast.
  • You are a hoot, Lou.

    But okay, I'll play.

    (And I would have played yesterday but the IBJ website would not let me leave a comment all day - just so you know)

    * Madame Ernestine in Little Mary Sunshine. (My show t-shirt said Breeze! on the back, as in Breeze deeply! in a pseudo-German accent.)

    * Fanny's maid in Funny Girl. (I was flabbergasted to see the movie later and see an African-American woman playing my part!)

    * One of Annie's nightmare voices in that show about Helen Keller.

    * The moonshine drinking mother in Dark of the Moon.

    * Director of a version of Alice in Wonderland. (I still apply the lesson I learned during that experience: if you don't know how to do something and you don't have time to learn, like choreography, get good people to do it for you!)

    * Actor the first year and director the second year for A Night of One Acts, but right now I can't remember the name of either play!

    * Also set painter and fundraiser and general theatre geek/Thespian Troupe officer.

    My senior year, though, I had a fight with the head of the theatre department and fled to the gym, which was at the other end of the school from the auditorium, to run off my hurt and frustration with the track team. I must have been ridiculous, running laps with those athletes, but they were very kind to me for the time I was with them.

    I'll have to get back to you about my boss's theatrical experiences.

    Hope Baugh
  • PS - As I'm going down Memory Lane here, even more interesting to me are the stories I remember about my schoolmates and what I learned from them.

    For example, there was one young woman, Suzanne...oh, man, what was her last name? She was a senior when I was a sophomore and she had a sister in my class named Cynthia...Cynthia Kunish! And Suzanne Kunish! And they had a cute brother, too - Tim Kunish, maybe? - but he played football, as I recall.

    Anyway, Suzanne was the reigning Theatre Goddess when I entered high school. She was in the top choir and everyone knew that she would always get whatever leading role she wanted. I can't speak for everyone, but I wasn't jealous of her because she was just so d*mn talented it wasn't worth being jealous. I was just blown away by her gift.

    So I was surprised when I overheard her talking about how she had planned her latest audition. First I was surprised to hear that she had worked very carefully and deliberately to prepare it. But mostly I was surprised that she hadn't been sure she would get the role.

    I had been at that audition. Suzanne came out in a rather dowdy long skirt and blouse, wearing oversized glasses that kept falling down her nose. Her long, gorgeous hair was pulled back in a nondescript braid.

    She sang Tits and Ass from A Chorus Line but she had changed the lyrics to something like Zest and Class. So, instead of some sexy little chicky singing about her physical assets, she was an cluelessly confident homely girl singing about her charisma getting her roles.

    I'm not describing it very well, but it was hilarious, a little show and a big treat in and of itself.

    What surprised me was that I heard her say later that she really wanted the comedic role that she was going after, and she didn't know if the director thought of her that way. He's seen me do beautiful and he knows I can sing, but does he know I can do comedy? I had to show him that I could, she said, or something like that.

    Lesson learned: the reason the best people are the best is that they don't take anything for granted and they are always trying to improve.

    Hope Baugh
  • 8th Grade -- Marty in Grease. I wanted to be Rizzo so badly, but that part went to the more developed girl who dated 15 year old boys. Fitting.

    I'd just like to add this production occurred in a Catholic school -- go figure!
  • I had loads of fun being in several plays at Arlington H.S. (class of '70). Some memorable moments include:
    Androcles and the Lion - standing on stage in a short skirted toga with Stanley Welton as he said in his naturally lilting voice, I'm a man!. That got the biggest laugh of the whole play.

    By the Skin of Our Teeth - one of my parts involved being driven around in a rickshaw on the Atlantic City boardwalk with a lovely lady on my lap. We were supposed to be lusty party revelers. Rehearsals were a blast as we had to practice making out over and over. Her skirt was so short during the actual performances that I was required to keep my hand on her thigh as a partial cover and costume malfunction prevention. Of course knowing my parents were in the audience on opening night was a bit of a damper.

    Blithe Spirit - I figured out how to use my knees to make the table move about while keeping my upper body still during the seance scenes. A PR photo from the yearbook can be viewed at http://www.quantumideas.net/family/2002/dan_50th_bdayparty/quiz/BlitheSpirit_1970.jpg - I'm the one on the right.

    Animal Farm - a readers theatre competition. Pete Rusthoven was part of the cast that won first place. We rehearsed by doing sensitivity training techniques.

    Laura - not a school play but a semi-pro production that toured the state. Rehearsals were at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. I played the part of Danny whose part was not even included in the movie version of this famous murder mystery. I used an office to do homework and study lines when I wasn't needed onstage. There was a huge old-fashioned safe in there. Of course I just had to see if I could crack it like they do in the movies by listening for the tumblers to fall. That's when the security guard walked in. I'm just playing around! My main scene was to be found in Laura's apartment going through her jazz albums when Laura comes home. I'm surprised because Laura was supposed to have been murdered. After some conversing I profess my love to her and begin to try to put the moves on this beautiful, blond, older woman. We're supposed to be interrupted by the door bell. But of course the stage manager lost his place or something and we were left on stage ad libbing her fending off my advances. Finally, the detective/actor realized something was wrong and simply knocked on the door to both or our relief.

    Makes me think about checking out Mud Creek Barn.

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