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Musical Tonight!
Written December 26, 2023


My high school had fewer than 400 students, if I recall correctly.  Yet, like almost all high schools, we produced a spring musical.  One year it was about a fictional village in the highlands of Scotland.  What was it called?  Brigabroom?

But that magical village vanished.  Now we're in a new century.

A small high school in the next county shot an 82-minute “Making Of” video about its production of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette.  And that documentary aired over the 2023 Christmas holidays on public television!  In Pittsburgh, anyway.

Here's the story.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Robert Shoemaker was in charge of music at Richwood High School in my Ohio hometown.  In addition to directing the marching band, he also conducted a Girls' Chorus that presented concerts in the high school gymnasium-auditorium.

When some of the audience sat on the basketball floor at small tables arranged in the style of a night club, the event was called a Choral Cabaret.  The photo below of his third annual Cabaret, with Sharon Poast at the piano and a serape hiding the backboard, appeared in the 1961 yearbook.

My mother and I attended that event, though we sat in the permanent seating section.  I was only an eighth-grader.

That happened to be the first of the Cabarets to include a mini-musical, with the addition of characters and costumes and dialogue and a stage backdrop including Day-Glo paint that glowed under black lights for a night scene.  The show was Irving Berlin's 1946 Annie Get Your Gun.

The next year, Sheryl Keigley and I were freshmen.  Some girls donned ties and mustaches for the revival of the 1956 Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady, but Sherry got to star as Eliza Doolittle.  Notice that the “orchestra pit” consisted of only an upright piano with a pianist and a page-turner.  In later years a few other instruments were added to form a small combo. 

When Richwood High School got around to forming a Mixed Chorus, we boys got to join the fun.  A few of us, at least.  I remember singing old tunes like “Glow-Worm” and “Play a Simple Melody” for a concert.

Mr. Shoemaker left for a bigger school in 1962, but the Mixed Chorus kept up the tradition with Broadway shows like Pal Joey and Brigadoon.  However, I was never on stage for those, appearing instead in the Junior Class Play and the Senior Class Play.

Terry Rockhold and I did collaborate on the “book” for a  proposed original production — the title came from one of the songs, borrowed from The King and I — but our idea never got past the suggestion stage. 

Six decades have gone by, and high schools nowadays have more modern facilities.  Consider Pennsylvania's Freeport High School, just eight miles down the road from me.  It has twice Richwood's enrollment but is still considered a small school.

However, the students make professional-quality videos, including one that was shot behind the scenes of their 2023 musical.  Their documentary aired on the Pittsburgh PBS TV station, and you can watch it here.  Scroll down to the purple-highlighted “The Making of the Musical Documentary,” click it, and click .

As a TV person, I do appreciate one particular scene.

A cast list, with a cover sheet to keep it secret, was posted on a hallway wall.  The TV crew cleverly placed a GoPro camera just above it.

When the appointed time of 2:25 PM arrived and the list was revealed, the camera recorded the reactions of the cast members.

Getting a peek at Freeport's production of No, No, Nanette made me slightly uncomfortable.  With a former Rockette in charge, it included a whole lot of choreography. That was never a feature of the musicals at Richwood High School.  Besides, I myself can't dance.

Also, we didn't have little radio microphones, so our stars didn't have to wear them on their foreheads. 

However, I think our acting was usually pretty good.



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