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The Show Must Go On: Rankings Are Out For High School Musicals, Plays


The rankings of the most popular high school plays and musicals are out. "Mary Poppins" is out from the list; "Matilda" is in, this according to Dramatics magazine. The trade publication has been collecting the top plays and musical since 1938. The rankings come as schools and theater camps across the country are being challenged to adapt - right? - adapt their theater and concert performances because of the coronavirus. Some are choosing to hold performances outside. Others are taking them exclusively online. Elissa Nadworny from the NPR Ed team has more.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: The top spot for high school musicals went to "The Addams Family," a show that's been hanging around the top 10 list for the last decade. For full-length plays, "Clue," an adaptation of the movie and the board game, finally beat out "Almost, Maine" for the No. 1 spot.

STEPHANIE FREICHELS: So it combines mystery with some really great physical comedy.

NADWORNY: Stephanie Freichels is the theater director for Vernon Hills High School outside Chicago. She says "Clue" was a great choice because of its creativity and humor.

FRIECHELS: There's secret passageways, and there's over-the-top characters.

NADWORNY: The cast was just getting going when coronavirus shut down rehearsals and classes. Performing in front of a live audience was not an option, so they called a meeting to announce they were just going to call it quits.

FRIECHELS: But one of our students was really adamant about trying to do something and trying to put it together, and he didn't want to give up on it.

NADWORNY: The technical director, Kevin Phalen, suggested they record it as an audio show.


NADWORNY: So they did.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Our story begins in the magnificent front...

NADWORNY: They sold tickets for one night only and streamed the radio play.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White, Professor Plum, Mr. Green...

NADWORNY: This year, 85% of schools surveyed by the Educational Theatre Association said they had canceled performances. About half of schools said the financial losses from those canceled shows would mean cutbacks for next year's theater and arts-related activities. At Vernon Hills High, where they're planning to hold classes remotely in the fall, staff are still working on a plan for the theater season. Perhaps another radio play is in their future.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

MARTIN: NPR published the first-ever database of the most popular high school plays and musicals in the U.S. in July of 2015. You can search the plays by decade at our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.