The history of senior musical

Lights, camera, senioritis!

42 years ago, Mater Dei debuted its first senior musical, “Bye Bye Birdy,” which has since become a long-standing Mater Dei tradition. Senior musical was originally brought to life by former Mater Dei Vice President John Merino, who took inspiration from Broadway productions and brought them to Mater Dei.

What started as a creative outlet for seniors diagnosed with senioritis, has now become a highly anticipated and well-regarded celebration of talent, long-fostered friendship and the bittersweet farewell to high school.

“It was really something that came as a way to keep seniors out of trouble. [It] turned into one of the greatest camaraderie building events for the senior class,” said Mater Dei Performing Arts Director Scott Melvin.

Former Performing Arts Teacher and Dance Coach Gail Milby has admitted that the first senior musical was terrible and “she swears she’ll never do Bye Bye Birdy again,” recalled Melvin.

While the production quality has soared over the years and the use of theaters has switched from the Monarch Pavilion to Santa Ana High School, the tradition withstands all.

“People just loved the idea of seeing kids that have no experience in [the performing arts] excel,” Melvin said. “It turned out to be something that the entire community wanted to be a part of.”

Having performed in “South Pacific” with the graduating class of 1996, Allison Bergeron, Director of Planned Giving, recounted the theater antics and bonding moments that made the musical so unforgettable. From backstage feasting to French songs, her senior class used the many shared hours in production as a final bonding experience before graduation.

“I always said I had the tiniest role but I have the most immense memories,” Bergeron said.

For many seniors, it is their last chance to participate in a school production. What sets senior musical apart from other productions is its inclusive nature: any senior, regardless of experience, is encouraged to join.

Melvin estimates that nearly three-fourths of the current senior musical cast has never even been in a single musical before.

“I love it when a kid who has had no exposure to musical theater or singing, maybe a water polo player or soccer player, gets up there and kills it,” Bergeron said.

Senior musical is often the gateway for seniors who have never before experienced performing arts to explore. Athletes, artists and everyone in between can dance and sing together through long rehearsals, which are often tinged with nostalgia.

“It’s really compelling … taking a group of individuals that never thought they could do something like this … to get them to do it,” said Melvin.

Since its first debut, senior musical has continued to grow in both size and scope, allowing seniors from all walks of life to participate in creating a lasting memory.

This year’s theater setup will allow for actors and actresses to fly around the stage (just as they would in Broadway).

“[Mater Dei] solicited a lot of donations, they were able to get great sets, they were able to use great orchestras … everything,” said Melvin. “So they spared no expense to make this something that was really top-notch production-wise as well as really top-notch talent.”

Olivia Schulist, the lead in this year’s senior musical, ‘Mary Poppins,’ said, “We’re only a week into rehearsals and my experience is already unforgettable. Mater Dei’s senior musical tradition empowers students to do things they had never imagined while bonding with their classmates.”

Just like years previous, this year’s musical is certain to be one to remember.