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Theater & Arts

Secret to a successful high school musical? Picking the perfect show

Shirley McMarlin
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Valley High School Drama Club
The Valley High School Drama Club staged Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in 2018.
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Shirley McMarlin | Tribune-Review
More than 100 cast members were involved in Hempfield Area High School’s 2018 spring musical, “The Wizard of Oz.”

It’s not all singing and dancing.

A lot of work goes into staging a high school musical.

From picking the show and securing the rights, to casting, rehearsing, building sets and creating costumes, to paying for the whole thing – it’s enough to earn the folks who do it a standing ovation.

The first order of business is to pick the right show, says Tony Marino, founder and artistic director of Stage Right in Greensburg and director of the Hempfield Area High School musical. Picking the right musical for the size of the cast and its particular talents is crucial, as is suiting the show to production and financial capabilities.

“If you have 100 guys who can’t dance, you probably don’t want to do ‘West Side Story,’” he says.

Some schools let the director make the choice, others rely on some type of committee, Marino says.

At Valley High School in New Kensington, producer Brian Krugle says, each year’s cast members are asked to suggest future musicals. Production staff then settles on “shows that we know we have the students returning for, and what we can technically achieve on stage, while staying true to the creative standard that we have set over the years.”

It’s good to have a few titles in mind, Marino and Krugle say, as the next step is to obtain licensing rights. Various factors can affect whether a school will get its first, or even second, choice. For example, if a national touring company is doing a show in the area, a school might not be able to obtain rights for that particular title, Marino says.

“Sometimes you have to weed through hundreds of shows,” he says.

The largest clearinghouse for rights is New York City-based Music Theatre International.

A school dealing with MTI fills out an application, with information such as anticipated performance dates, venue seating capacity and intended ticket prices. A school can apply for up to three titles at once.

MTI then will give the school a production contract, delineating what the school can and cannot do with a particular title, including contractual restrictions regarding billing and production. The contract also outlines royalty payments and rental fees.

Most school districts will provide a certain amount of funding annually for theatrical productions, which often include a fall play along with the spring musical.

Money allotted for Valley High School by the New Kensington-Arnold School District, Krugle says, “only covers a fraction of the typical production costs each year, which usually fall between $25,000 and $35,000 to produce the two shows.”

Ticket sales help, and most schools have a theater boosters club to help make up the difference with sub sales, raffles, concessions and merchandise sales during the run of the musical, along with ad and sponsorship sales.

“The more money you bring in, the healthier your program stays,” Marino says. “Musical theater is a tremendous opportunity for the kids, especially those kids who want to get serious about it and take it to the next level after high school.”

Below are high school musicals planned throughout our region, compiled from our research. In the coming weeks, look for stories and photos from a variety of the shows in the Tribune-Review and videos at triblive.com. If the list doesn’t include your school, contact us at [email protected] and we’ll add it. Break a leg!

Apollo-Ridge: “Music Man,” Feb. 28, March 1-2

Armstrong Jr/Sr High School: “High School Musical,” March 15-16

Avonworth: “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” April 5-6, 12-13

Baldwin: “Mame,” April 10-13

Bishop Canevin: “Pippin,” April 25-27

Brentwood: “Mary Poppins,” April 11-13

Burrell: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” March 28-30

Chartiers Valley: “Sister Act,” March 6-9

Deer Lakes: “Mamma Mia!,” April 12-14

Derry Area: “The Little Mermaid,” March 8-10

Elizabeth Forward: “Mamma Mia,” April 11-14

Fox Chapel: “Les Miserables,” March 14-16

Franklin Regional: “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Feb. 28, March 1-3

Freeport: “Legally Blonde The Musical,” March 14-17

Gateway: “Once on this Island,” April 26-28, May 3-4

Greater Latrobe: “Man of LaMancha,” March 1-3

Greensburg Central Catholic: “Children of Eden,” April 26-27

Greensburg Salem: “Mamma Mia,” March 1-3

Greensburg Salem Middle School: “Newsies,” March 21-24

Hampton: “Chicago, High School Edition,” April 5-6, 12-13

Hempfield Area: “Legally Blonde,” April 3-6

Highlands: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Based on the Victor Hugo Novel and the Disney Film,” March 29-31

Jeannette: “Annie,” April 5, 6, 7

Keystone Oaks: “Beauty and the Beast,” March 28-30

Kiski: “The Sound of Music,” March 27-30

Knoch: “Oklahoma,” March 1-3

Leechburg: “Anything Goes!,” March 15-17

Ligonier Valley: “Into the Woods,” April 4-6

Monessen: “Grease,” March 28-31

Moon: “Mamma Mia,” March 14-17

Mt. Pleasant Area: “Annie,” April 4-6

Northgate: “Jungle Book,”April 6, 12-13

North Allegheny: “Good News,” March 15-17

North Hills: “Tuck Everlasting,” March 21-23, 28-30

Norwin: “Mary Poppins,” March 21-24

Norwin Middle School: “Shrek the Musical Jr.,” Feb. 21-23

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart: “Once Upon a Mattress,” March 1-3, 8-9

Penn Hills: “Addams Fanily,” Aoril 26-27, May 3-5

Penn Trafford: “The Addams Family,” April 5-7, 12-14

Penn Trafford Middle School: “Peter Pan Jr.,” May 9-11

Pine-Richland: “Guys and Dolls,” March 8-9, 15-16

Pittsburgh Allderdice: “Leader of the Pack,” April 4-7, 2019

Pittsburgh Brashear: “Little Shop Of Horrors,” March 28-30

Pittsburgh CAPA: “Sister Act,” March 28-30, April 4-6

Pittsburgh Central Catholic: “Chicago (High School Edition),” April 11-13

Plum: “The Wizard of Oz,” April 11, 12, 13

Quaker Valley: “Shrek the Musical,” March 7-9

Redeemer Lutheran: “Mary Poppins,” April 5-6

Riverview: “Shrek the Musical,” March 28-31

Sewickley Academy: “Beauty and the Beast,” Feb. 28-March 3

Springdale: “Mamma Mia,” March 29-31

St. Joseph: “In the Heights,” April 4-7

Stage Right Arts in Education Home-School/Cyberschool: “Annie,” May 3-4

Steel Valley: “The Sound of Music,” Feb. 21-24

Thomas Jefferson: “Mamma Mia,” March 14-16

Valley: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” April 11-14

West Shamokin: “Cinderella,” March 1-3

Westinghouse Arts Academy: “Footloose,” April 12-14

Winchester Thurston: “Avenue Q,” April 25-28

Woodland Hills: “Mamma Mia!,” April 26-27, May 2-4

Yough: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” March 29-31

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.