Sing! 2013 Stuyvesant High School Style

by Dr. David Mandler

The lights finally go down. Sing! 2013 at Stuyvesant High School, the fortieth since the first one, begins. Those who have never been to a Sing! performance can scarcely imagine the spectacular showcasing of dancing, singing, and acting talent that Sing! represents. Indeed, that a high school student-conceived and executed project could contain moments of pure theatrical pleasure in New York City public schools that participate in Sing! is worthy of acknowledgment and applause.

Stuyvesant High School, long considered to be the crown jewel of the New York City public school system, has been in the news in the past few years for various unfortunate reasons. Since last summer, when I speak to people about working at Stuyvesant High School, the first thing they usually respond with is something like this: “oh, the cheaters’ school?”

Each time I hear this, I wince. Cheaters’ school? Is that what Stuyvesant High School’s reputation is now reduced to? Aren’t people aware of the many successes of the debate and speech team? The robotics team? The various athletics teams? The incredibly large number of semi-finalists at the prestigious Intel Science Competition and the only finalist New York City sent to Washington, all hailing from Stuyvesant High School? Surely, nobody would argue that a school of cheaters can do so well in so many fields? Then, I wonder whether or not I’m being too defensive. After all, Stuyvesant High School is a place of high achievers with a great deal of pressure to do well academically. This pressure, perhaps, is one of the factors that students would claim as the primary reason for taking shortcuts–that is, cheating. Cheating is nothing to be proud of. In fact, it must be fought vigorously! Yet, the premier math and science high school of New York City has something to be proud of in addition to the list of achievement mentioned above: its performing arts program.

If you don’t believe it, go ahead and buy tickets to Sing! 2013 and see it for yourself.

You will see a progression from the quirky cartoonish innocence of the SophFrosh performance to the semi-sexually charged under-the-sea adventure of the Juniors, ending in the infernal regions of high school life as best represented by Hades as seen by the Seniors. It is fascinating to see the change in perspectives that students seem to undergo within a few short years. What is even more gratifying is the knowledge that so many kids with different talents related to the performing arts attend a high school the reputation of which is built on math and science.

The SophFrosh, the youngest of the contenders, have mastered some of the dancing and performing skills necessary to make an outstanding performance (with ample room for further development, of course). As celebrity detectives from various eras meet to solve a mystery, the audience is trying to figure out the mystery of microphones that do not work and why it takes so long to transition from one scene to the next. But all of the discomfort and unease is forgotten when the carefully choreographed tap dancers and singers appear on stage and mesmerize the audience. In one word, one may say that the SophFrosh presentation is very cute.

The Juniors feature a tiger mother of a sea queen with a self-absorbed and sarcastic mermaid princess (with a very good singing voice) in search of freedom. Obviously, this theme is one to which many teenagers, especially at Stuyvesant, can relate with ease. The show includes suggestive dances by exotically dressed girls as well as a martial arts inspired dance of Siamese Fighting fish composed almost exclusively of Asian boys. Even the most callous theater goer has no choice but to admire the energetic and well-coordinated dances the high schoolers put on (even as a shoe inexplicable comes loose and is thrown aside, leaving one of the dancing boys with only one shoe on for half the dance with a visibly amused face). Nothing seems more natural than the inter-racial romance between the African-American pirate captain and the Caucasian mermaid princess–even as the final outcome of such a union is not known. (Where would they live, one wonders?)

The Seniors conclude the evening with the unveiling of an elaborate and rather impressive set. Despite the school nurse’s valiant efforts, the panacea for all illness, namely, the ice pack, is not sufficient to save the ruler of the underworld. The search for his successor, then, is under way, with a new sin, the eighth deadly sin (who is not, by the way, seen as plagiarism), entering the ring. I could not help but notice that by senior year, the quirky innocence and experimentally sexual gestures of the previous years are replaced by a much darker and cynical sensibility.

Which performance is the best? I am not the one to decide that here.  One thing is clear: the dancers, the singers, and actors–not to mention the superbly full-sounding band (in the case of the Seniors)–have all practiced a lot  to pull remarkably good shows together in just four weeks.

Since two more performances remain (this Friday, 3/1, and Saturday, 3/2), I will not give a fuller description of the plot.

All I will say is this: congratulations Stuyvesant students. You have once again demonstrated that not only can you do math and science but  you can also play music, produce a show, dance and sing, Stuy High Style.

Update 3/2/13
Here are some links to the performances: (especially from 6:44)