Forgive me, all my loyal non-readers out there, as I write a nostalgia-filled post speaking about not Broadway, but the latest show I saw in suburban New York. This weekend was my high school’s musical. They put on The Producers, a bold show in any forum, but especially for a high school production. Major kudos to our director/choreographer/chemistry teacher extraordinaire for sticking to his guns and putting on, to what I can tell, a fully-formed production truthful to the original Broadway show, complete with swastikas, Nazi salutes, and everything else that would be offensive outside a piece of “art.”
My high school has a long and storied history of putting on great productions. In my four years, we were nominated every year for Best Musical by the Helen Hayes Awards (now known as the Metropolitan High School Theater Awards), winning the top prize twice, including one for my first show, On Your Toes. I am proud to say that I went to a public school with very talented individuals, but I also went to a school that recognizes the importance of the arts. When Glee first came out, I never realized how badly arts-education funding was decreasing throughout the country. My high school is a special place. I absolutely loved my high school career. Unlike every character every created by Hollywood, I had no desire to graduate and move on. I wanted to stay forever. My school didn’t have bullying (another trope I thought Hollywood made up), cliques were fluid, and no one really cared for the so-called “popular kids.” Most of the guys who did the shows were also multi-sport athletes, and no one ever got flack for doing a musical or singing in choir. It wasn’t exactly an idyllic high school, but compared to what you see in pop culture, it was the closest thing to a high school paradise.
Like all high schoolers, I had no idea where my life would take me. But I started in the pit, watching rehearsals unfold from the edge of the stage, until they were worked into masterpieces by the time opening night rolled around. I never realized that those moments would be where my life started, eventually working in arts administration, slowly working my way to a job for a Broadway production company (fingers crossed).
This was my first visit back to my high school where I know what I’m trying to work for and have a plan in place to get there. And I knew that there was controversy surrounding the show choice, but I didn’t know much else about the show. Instead, I found myself in awe of the talent on stage, and never felt more well-represented than watching a Asian-American boy play Leo Bloom, bemoaning his life as an accountant while secretly dreaming of becoming a Broadway producer.
The cast was talented, the students went for it, and they were met with raucous howls of laughter throughout the night. But for me, what was the truly impressive feat was watching the actors playing Roger De Bris and Carmen Ghia, two stereotypically flamboyant, campy gay roles, with such aplomb and comic timing. Their classmates behind me howled with laughter and hooted at all the funny lines. The fact that these teenagers could so confidently play these gay roles with to a T with such skill among their classmates was truly special. I am proud to be an alum of a school where high school students can play some of the gayest roles created with such confidence, knowing that they won’t be ridiculed while walking down the hall the following week.
Working at a non-profit arts council, I have fought to keep arts-education fully funded and give students the opportunities to participate in arts programs, opportunities that could be taken for granted in my own high school. It warms my heart that my high school is continuing its strong legacy of great productions. Arts education and arts programs are so important for young people, and I am so proud to be part of a legacy that continues to be so strong. The world begins to open up for you in high school, and though college expands your horizons a hundred-fold, I know I’m where I am today because of what transpired in my high school auditorium.