The walls of Waupaca High School’s choir room tell the story of the school’s history of musicals.
The story begins in 1962 with “Brigadoon.”
A program from that first musical – and the 48 others that have since followed it – decorate the walls in the room.
Soon, another one will be added to the collection.
This year’s musical production, “Hello, Dolly!” opens Sunday.
It is the high school’s 50th musical, and Director Dan Wolfgram says, “This show has something for everyone. The sets and characters are fantastic, and there are many enjoyable chorus numbers. We are hopeful for a large audience.”
Performances are set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5.
Wolfgram said there are seats available for every performance, with the best seats available for the Tuesday and Thursday performances.
Senior citizen discounts are in effect for Sunday’s matinee and for Tuesday evening’s show. To reserve seats, call the high school at 715-258-4131, ext. 1001.
He said the past week has been one filled with excitement as more than 200 students put the finishing touches on what promises to be an exciting musical presentation.
For Wolfgram, who began teaching here in 1991, “Hello, Dolly!” will be his 21st show.
Like his predecessor Gerald Knoepfel, the first musical Wolfgram produced here was also “Brigadoon.”
Putting on a show that involves so many students is a challenge, and Wolfgram said, “It’s getting increasingly more challenging to do a production every year for many reasons.”
When the late Knoepfel started this tradition almost 50 years ago, there were not as many scheduling conflicts as there are today.
Wolfgram works around athletic practices and games, extra curriculars and students’ work schedules.
This means students do not have to choose one thing over the other.
“It’s important to have athletes involved in the productions,” he said. “At Waupaca, it’s cool to be involved in music.”
Producing a musical of this nature takes a big time commitment.
“When a Broadway producer decides to run a show, they are in pre-production sometimes as much as a year,” he said. “We are producing and putting on a Broadway show in eight weeks, which by any standard, is a feat.”
Outside of Homecoming, the musical is the largest, cumulative event for the school, Wolfgram said. He said no other single event in the high school combines and utilizes the talents of so many departments and members of the student body.
In addition to Wolfgram, this year’s production staff includes Anne Justmann as assistant director, choreographer and costume director; Wanda Eikenbary as accompanist; Mark Kryshak as pit band director; Monica Reeves as make-up director; Lee Schultz in charge of set design/painting and creative set consultation; David Larson in charge of set construction; Patsy Servey, Julie Ann Thompson-Austin and Beth Oestreich assisting with costume construction; and, Lenora Abrams as business manager.
“It’s everyone working toward that common goal, which really is the miracle of it all,” Wolfgram said.
In addition to students with busy schedules, another challenge he faces each year is the cost of putting on the production.
“The dollar does not go as far as it did 50 years ago,” he said. “Musicals are costly to produce. Throughout the years, businesses in the community have helped contribute props and set pieces, as well as individuals donating costumes for use.”
WHS also borrows a great deal of costumes from other schools. “Whether it’s using or renting, I usually spend the fall traveling around the state trying to beg, borrow and steal,” Wolfgram said. “Sun Prairie Community Theater has especially been wonderful. We have used them as a source every year for the last seven years.”
Waupaca High School also lends or rents the things that it constructs.
Moving into the new high school in 2000 brought new opportunities.
“I don’t think we would have a performing arts center as beautiful as we do if it were not for the previous past successes of Gerald Knoepfel,” Wolfgram said.
The stage is at least two times larger than what it was at the old high school. Plus, there is the orchestra pit, storage space, lighting and the many technical advantages of being in a newer school.
“It makes me wonder how we were able to fit everybody onto the stage,” he said.
Of course, with the bigger space comes bigger costs.
The sets have to be bigger, and with the royalty and rental charges based on seating capacity, those costs have increased.
The PAC seats 750. At the old high school, there was seating for almost 500.
When it comes to choosing musicals, Wolfgram said the decision is based on the talent pool. “I never pick a show for one person,” he said. “I try to pick a show where multiple people can audition for the same roles. Often times, it doesn’t turn out the way I thought it would. It is about making a complete cast. People sometimes get put in roles that they didn’t expect to be put in.”
He is somewhat limited by what shows he can choose. Schools in the Fox Cities or Stevens Point may do “A Chorus Line” or “Rent,” but audiences here may not find the material appropriate.
Other shows, such as “Wicked,” would be difficult because of the technical aspects.
Wolfgram does have a few shows on his wish list, and they are “West Side Story,” “Les Miserables” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
People often ask him which musical has been his favorite.
Sorry, but he does not have a favorite.
“Everyone is special,” Wolfgram said.
After each musical is done, he is asked if it was a success.
This is the question he poses to himself – “Did I pick the right show for the people I had, and did I get the most out of the people?”
One-third of the student body is involved in the music program, and by the time students end their high school career here, they can be involved in various aspects of the musical from being a lead, to a member of the chorus or orchestra to working on stage crew or lighting.
Wolfgram thanks the students, parents, volunteers, businesses, administration and his colleagues for their assistance each year with the musical.
Many who were in previous musicals return each year to see the latest production.
“I’m glad to say that many of Waupaca’s musical leads and participants have gone on to college and been successful on stage. Some have made it their career, and others have developed a lifelong appreciation and have continued to be involved in community theater wherever they may be,” said.
Wolfgram believes that Knoepfel saw an opportunity to produce musicals here and seized it.
“I feel a huge responsibility to carry on the tradition that he started 50 years ago. He was really a pioneer and an innovator to bring Broadway theater to a small rural Waupaca community at a time when most schools wouldn’t have thought about attempting to produce a show,” Wolfgram said. “And, I hope the tradition will continue for years after I’m gone.”