The drama program at Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania is not your average HS theatre project. For one thing, it's a national standout: Broadway producers travel to this unemployment plagued industrial town to see productions staged by its veteran drama director Lou Volpe. For another, its actors are not bound-for-glory rich kids; in the middle of rehearsal, you might expect to see one of the lead actors rush off stage and change into his or her Chick Fil-A uniform. Michael Sokolove's Drama High captures the brilliance, grit, and determination of an exemplary teacher and his awe-inspiring students. (P.S. This book has been described justly as "Friday Night Lights meets Glee." Unfortunately, it is also timely: Director Volpe retired in June.)
Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Mag ic of Theaterby Michael Sokolove
Why would the multimillionaire producer of Cats, The Phantom of the Opera,/i>/i>/b>/i>
Soon to be a television series titled "Rise," starring Josh Radnor, Auli'i Cravalho, and Rosie Perez —the incredible and true story of an extraordinary drama teacher who has changed the lives of thousands of students and inspired a town.
Why would the multimillionaire producer of Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon take his limo from Manhattan to the struggling former steel town of Levittown, Pennsylvania, to see a high school production of Les Misérables?
To see the show performed by the astoundingly successful theater company at Harry S Truman High School, run by its legendary director, Lou Volpe. Broadway turns to Truman High when trying out controversial shows such as Rent and Spring Awakening before they move on to high school theater programs across the nation. Volpe’s students from this blue-collar town go on to become Emmy-winning producers, entertainment executives, newscasters, and community-theater founders.
Michael Sokolove, a Levittown native and former student of Volpe’s, chronicles the drama director’s last school years and follows a group of student actors as they work through riveting dramas both on and off the stage. This is a story of an economically depressed but proud town finding hope in a gifted teacher and the magic of theater.
The auditorium of Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, PA, might seem an unlikely venue for a production that caught the eye of a Broadway producer like Sir Cameron Mackintosh, but that's exactly what happened when the school's theater teacher, Lou Volpe, directed its production of Les Misérables. The theater program at Truman has been so successful that when Music Theatre International, which licenses Broadway productions, looks for a school to pilot a high school version of a play, it often turns to the stage where the first high school versions of Rent and Spring Awakening were also performed. Sokolove (contributing writer, New York Times Magazine; The Ticket Out; Hustle; Warrior Girls) grew up in Levittown and is a former student of Volpe's, and that experience informs his narrative. He chronicles the on- and off-stage lives of Volpe (who just retired after 44 years at Truman) and his students and writes movingly of the challenges they faced. VERDICT You don't have to be a "Gleek" to enjoy this compelling account of the power of theater. [See Prepub Alert, 4/1/13.]—Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- 18 Years
What People are Saying About This
“Poignant...Captivating...[Sokolove] shines a heartening light on how one of those passionate heroes devoted himself...to educating, rather than training, young people.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A good reporter can make almost any story interesting. A great reporter makes it blossom. With the kind of diligent, thorough and imaginative reporting not seen enough these days, Sokolove not only brings a teacher, his students and their community to life, he also opens the story to larger matters.”—The Washington Post
“Sokolove's reporting tells an incredible tale about a brilliant, demanding and subversive teacher who practices the best kind of magicthe kind that's real and that changes lives. Drama High is both provocative and heart-warming...an excellent book for teachers or anyone interested in education and the power of theater. A gutsy high school English teacher might even recommend it to his or her students. ”—USA Today
“Required reading: for young people who can learn more about the challenge and rewards of theatre, for parents who may well need the same background, for anyone who doubts the value of theatre as an educational and character-building activity not only for those who would become professionals, for those who want to spark reveries of their own experiences in high school drama....Imagine if all of Glee sustained the level of quality and heart that characterized the story lines between Kurt and his dad, and you'll get a closer approximation of what Drama High achieves.”—The Huffington Post
“Sokolove sucks us in quickly....Drama High is a love letter to a brilliant educator and the crowd-pleasing tale of a quest for glory, but it's also an argument for arts education and a discussion of class.”—Newsday
“An extraordinary book…a viscerally real reminder of the pain and excitement of being a teenager, an honest and compassionate discussion of class in America, a wondrous, lightning-in-a-bottle book.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep
“Part Glee, part Hoop Dreams, Drama High is a bravura performance, the true story of that teacher we all remember or wish we did, the one who pushes us to be better than we thought possible. You'll clap and cry at the end. Sokolove deserves a standing ovation.”—Elizabeth Weil, author of No Cheating, No Dying
“What makes a great teacher—the kind who truly transforms lives? The answer lies between these covers, in Michael Sokolove's intimate portrait. This book ripples with emotion, with humor, with heart. Like a great performance, Drama High won't just move you. It will inspire you.”—Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning
Praise for Michael Sokolove
“Sokolove is a natural literary stylist with the gifts of a social historian.”—The New York Times
“A terrific read, made to work by Sokolove’s insightful reporting and deft writing . . . a sad, powerful, thoughtful, totally engrossing work.”—Chicago Tribune
“A narrative defined by its compassionate, clear-eyed tone.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A first-class work of sound reporting.”—Roger Angell, The New Yorker
Meet the Author
Michael Sokolove is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the author of three previous books: The Ticket Out, Hustle, and Warrior Girls. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
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Moving and beautifully written. This is what education should be, and this is truly what teaching is all about.