The magic of high school musicals

The following column originally appeared in several APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during November, 2022.

The magic of high school musicals


The joy evident on students’ faces at the end of Caledonia Area High School’s recent musical was something every family would wish for their child and children. My experience as a parent, performer and fan of high school musicals, along with research, show that these musicals have immense value. I hope every student has the opportunity to participate in at least one of them.

More than 45 people in grades 6-12 and adults were involved in Caledonia’s recent production of the fun-filled “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The show is full of beautiful melodies and clever, catchy lyrics (lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber).

Poster courtesy of Caledonia Area Public Schools

At the end of the last performance on Nov. 13, the cast sang something several of them wrote to the tune of one of the show’s best songs, “Go, Go, Go Joseph.”

Full cast – photo by Joe Nathan


The entire cast proclaimed: “Go, go directors, we followed your lead. Hang on, directors, you helped us succeed. La, la, directors, you kept us in line. So that today we all could shine.”

Shine and succeed they did, despite many challenges. Director Stacy Parkhurst Meyer described some of them: The intended musical director was in a serious car accident and was unable to participate as much as anticipated; the show’s main character, Miranda Schroeder, who skillfully played Joseph, lost her singing voice midway through the second performance; and the computer playing the show’s music froze during one of the performances.

Yet, according to Meyer, students “stayed calm and kept going.” They had been well trained, not only by the adults, but also by the older students. Schroeder told me that one of the things she loved about the show was being able to help mentor younger students, as others had mentored her. Grace McAllister, a junior who was one of the musical’s narrators, told me one highlight was “figuring out how to work together through difficulties.”

The other narrator, Russell Thies, described another challenge – balancing different responsibilities. Earlier on the day of the last performance, he’d worked a three-hour shift as a stocker in a local business.

The highlights for participants varied. Ella Burrichter, 12, told me her favorite part was “greeting the audience after our performance.” Jeff Babinski, husband of the musical’s assistant director, Tricia Babinski, built a camel that appeared in the first act. He told me, “It’s wonderful to see the kids grow and develop as they have fun.”

John Babinski and the camel he built


A 2021 doctoral dissertation by Michael John Penna concluded: “Students reported and teachers confirmed that participation in rehearsals, performance, and musical theatre classes had a positive influence on self-esteem, social skills, career plans, and college goals.” (Find it online.)

More than 20,000 young people were asked over the last two years to describe powerful, positive learning experiences. They cited “the power that is unlocked by working together across generations.” The report recommended experiences where adults and young people worked together to do something useful. The one-page summary and report are here.

Craig Ihrke, superintendent of the Caledonia Area Public Schools, told me: “I am very proud of our students and staff involved with the production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ We are focusing on connectedness within our School District. … The musical provides another avenue for students to be connected and showcase their talents. All involved did a fantastic job and should be proud of themselves!”

On the district’s website, Ihrke wrote, “We are partners in ‘making a difference’ in the lives of our students.” Educators throughout Minnesota share this goal. A musical is one immensely valuable way to do this.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: or on Twitter, @JoeNathan9249. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.