ALL EYES ON DRAMA HIGH: Richard Jay-Alexander Talks About Michael Sokolove's Fantastic New Book
DRAMA HIGH is a million dollar title if ever there was one. It sounds like an emotionally-charged film or a soap opera-ish TV series, but it's a fascinating new book which delivers all of the above and more.
If you turn back the clock (and you are old enough to remember) Tom Hanks, at the 66th Academy Awards back in 1994, won his first Oscar for his role in Philadelphia as Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer who sues his former law firm for discrimination because he has AIDS.
During his acceptance speech, Hanks thanked his High School drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth. In DRAMA HIGH the subject is Lou Volpe from Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, PA and author Sokolove, who is usually writing about sports, turns his loving eye on this extraordinary teacher.
I never even heard of this book until back in October, when I received an invitation celebrating the launch. It was being thrown by Joe Langworth, Jim Jones, and Mary-Mitchell Campbell. It was at Sosa Borella Restaurant on 8th Avenue between 50th and 51st and I had never been there either.
Rob Diamond and I headed down and it was a surprise on many levels. The restaurant is a fantastic space and the reception took place on the uppermost floor. Joe, Jim and Mary-Mitchell made heartfelt speeches and shared some heart-warming words, expressing the 'perfect tie-in' with ASTEP, of which Mary-Mitchell is Founder and Executive Director.
The gathering was intimate, but potent, and attending were people as varied as Laura Osnes from CINDERELLA, Frank DiLella from NY1, Krysta Rodriguez from FIRST DATE, Mark S. Hoebee, Producing Artistic Director of Papermill Playhouse, Author Michael Sokolove and his family, Jim Caruso, and a nice collection of attendees.
The mood was light and the message sincere, with stories hitting home and education and inspiration being the theme.
When author Michael Sokolove took the floor, you could feel the genuineness he possesses. It was very evident this had nothing to do with "show business."
It was a very impressive and heartfelt evening and then everyone had to scurry back to their Saturday evening shows (the event took place between shows, on a Saturday).
I asked Elizabeth Hohenadel from Penguin Group/Riverhead Books if she would send me a copy and I devoured it in two sittings.
I can help your Christmas List right now, by telling you, without reservation, that this is a perfect Holiday gift for anyone who loves theatre and everyone who has gone through high school (which would be EVERYONE)!!!
All it takes is one special teacher, one special connection, and you can have the license to fly and unleash any and all potential you possess. I had that in my life with a music teacher named Jim Soluri, who is no longer with us, but I have flashed on him often in my career.
She immediately offered a quote about the book:
"All it takes is one great teacher. For me, growing up, it was Miss Florence Gilliam Birdwell. Reading Michael Sokolove's DRAMA HIGH and learning about Lou Volpe, at Harry S. Truman High School, made me re-live remembering how much I wanted to be a part of the performing arts community. This is a wonderful book, drama and all. After all, the stakes are high, right? I was riveted beginning to end and highly recommend this unique book. It's so real. As Stephen Sondheim says, "Art isn't easy ..."
In our business, the potential list of inspirational guides can go on and on and I'm sure you can all sense where I am headed with this, but I cannot imagine a better "stocking stuffer" and this is one of the most uplifting stories you will ever read about a brilliant teacher, a struggling town, and the magic of theatre. A 44-year career committed to the importance of Arts Education in schools everywhere.
Oh, yeah, and there is plenty of drama on-stage and off, with backdrops like putting on RENT, SPRING AWAKENING and LES MISERABLES. Cameron Mackintosh even travels to Levittown to see LES MIZ, which immediately made me remember when Stephen Sondheim went to Stagedoor Manor in the movie CAMP, so brilliantly directed by Todd Graff.
Come read about a school where theatre is more popular than sports. I can guarantee you will enjoy the ride and Michael Sokolove's writing is utterly engaging, loving, admiring, and skillful. This is a GREAT story.
Great writing, great subject, great backdrop, great book!
Scroll down for some special photos from the book (and a few extras). To purchase the book, click here (a bargain!).
The cast of Good Boys and True. From Left: Courtney Meyer, Bobby Ryan, Mariela Castillo, ach Philippi, Britney Harron, and Wayne Miletto. Photo credit Carol L. Gross
Cast members of Spring Awakening. From Left: Colin Lester, Justin McGrogan, Jonathan Earp-Pitkins, Tyler Kelch and Adelbert Lalo. Photo credit Carol L. Gross
Truman's 2001 Production of Les Miserables. The scene is 'At The Barricades' in Act II.?
Photo courtesy Lou Volpe
Volpe stands on Truman's stage and looks out into the audience after the closing-night performance of Godspell, his final Truman musical on March 9, 2013. Photo credit Carol L Gross
L.J. Carulli as Angel in Truman's 2007 production of Rent. Photo courtesy Lou Volpe
Tyler Kelch and Gerorjenna Gatto from Spring Awakening, credit Carol L. Gross