High school musicals are back

Photo by Alexandra Retter 

(From left) Winona Senior High School students Seamus Schwaba, Ro Paulson and Jacob Dulek practice a dance for their upcoming musical, “42nd Street,” at a rehearsal last week. This will be the students’ first musical since the pandemic began. Cotter Schools is also returning with a musical, “Mamma Mia!”, after not performing one last year due to the pandemic. 



The lights are set just so. The students dance and sing and joke. It is almost showtime for two high school musicals, “Mamma Mia!” at Cotter Schools and “42nd Street” at Winona Senior High School (WSHS). There is something particularly special about these productions. For Cotter Schools, it is a return to putting on a musical after not having one last year due to the pandemic. For WSHS, it is the first musical since the pandemic started and only the second in-person performance. 

Students agreed that they are ecstatic about performing for an audience again or performing for a larger audience. “We haven’t been exposed to as many people since the pandemic started, so it will be very nice to actually come back and actually to realize there is going to be a musical and shows are going on,” Cotter senior Ema Stankova said. “It’s very nice that finally, it’s a little bit going back to normal. Just a little bit, but at least something.” 

For WSHS sophomore Ro Paulson, it’s a mix of nerves and happiness. “It’s really exciting to know there’s going to be people coming in who want to see me and my friends put all this work into something … especially after the past two years,” Paulson said.

As the pandemic continues, performing in-person is a way to assert theater’s presence, WSHS senior Lily Compton said. Theater has been a big part of her life since third grade, and it’s important to her that the community knows productions are still happening. “We’re not stopping. We’re keeping it going,” she said. “Because I love doing this, and I love giving this energy to people.” 

To reach opening night, students have been going through extensive rehearsals. They’re memorizing lines and songs, as well as dances and where to go on stage when during the musicals. The WSHS students have been learning how to tap dance, too. The students are also getting sets, props and costumes ready. Some families typically provide help with things like sets and costumes, too. 

There’s work to be done outside rehearsal, as well. WSHS freshman Seamus Schwaba runs through dances himself, for example. 

There are plenty of joyful moments while putting in this hard work. Students agreed they love spending time with their cast mates, who are often their good friends. “They’re all really, really fun people to be around,” Schwaba said. 

“It’s the people, because all of the people that are in the play are people that like most of the same things,” Cotter junior Pablo Costa said. 

Stankova added that for her and Costa, who are international students, being in the play has been a great way to get to know fellow students. “We actually get to get closer to each other, everyone here,” she said. 

Students also enjoy dancing. One of Costa’s favorite rehearsal moments is dancing and singing together at the end of the play. “It’s difficult at first, but seeing the final product we’re having right now and the results that we’re getting currently, it’s so satisfying to see how far we’ve come since the beginning,” WSHS senior Reed Schwanke said. 

Overall, it’s interesting to watch the story the musical tells unfold at rehearsal and see the show formed from the ground up, WSHS junior Dominic McQuinn said. 

WSHS students will perform on Friday, November 19, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, November 20 at 1 p.m and 7 p.m. at the high school’s auditorium. Tickets will be available at the door. 

Cotter students will perform on Friday, November 12 and Saturday, November 13 at 7 p.m., as well as Sunday, November 14 at 3 p.m. 

Cochrane-Fountain City School District students are also performing “A Murder is Announced” on Friday, November 12 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, November 14 at 1 p.m. 

Stankova is already excited to reflect on the musical after the performances. “We’re just going to look retrospectively at how we had such a great time together, and how we got to know one another better,” she said, “and how such a small group of people can do such a big thing.”