Plymouth High School musical director Herb Stoltenberg works with members of the cast of “42nd Street” in front of the stage that will bear his name. Photo by Peter Hernandez of mp2 Productions LLC
Posted February 19, 2018
When Plymouth High School presents “42nd Street” March 1-4, it will be the 50th musical directed by Herb Stoltenberg.
PHS has been presenting annual musicals since the current building opened in 1967, putting on “Guys and Dolls” that first year and “The Pajama Game” in 1968. (Before that, while the high school was housed at what is now Riverview Middle School, PHS presented a one-act play and a senior class play in the fall, and a three-night talent show in March.)
Mr. Stoltenberg joined the PHS faculty in the fall of 1968 as English teacher, forensics advisor, and director of the play and the musical. That first year, he directed the senior class play “The Miracle Worker” in January and the musical “My Fair Lady” in May. He also started a Drama Club, which had nearly 60 members its inaugural year.
Plymouth High School has presented a musical every year since, all directed by Herb Stoltenberg, alongside others, including Bob Stoll, Mike Schultz and Amanda Smith. PHS also has continued with the annual play and the one-act play.
Mr. Stoltenberg directed the fall play until 2002 and retired from teaching in 2009, but he continues to direct the one-act play with PHS English teacher Brad Feick and the spring musical with PHS choir director Amanda Smith and band director Jason Sebranek.
Before coming to PHS, Mr. Stoltenberg did not have much prior theater experience, he told the Hi-Lights student newspaper last year. “I was in a One Act in high school, and in college I had a walk-on as a Civil War soldier. I pushed a cart across the stage. If I was [onstage], it was like ‘Oh, is he back there?’” he said.
He certainly has plenty of theater experience now. And he’s seen changes in high school musicals over the decades. “Audiences want more of a fast pace to the musical and will accept less sets than 30 years ago,” he said. “But audiences like the standards – for the young audiences these oldies are new.”
During the past 50 years, PHS has presented “Oklahoma!” five times, “Anything Goes” four times, and “No, No Nanette,” “The King and I,” “Music Man,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Fiddler on the Roof” three times each. “42nd Street” is being presented for the second time, having first been staged at PHS 30 years ago in 1988.
Asked to name a few favorites, Mr. Stoltenberg said, “Well, since I have directed ‘Oklahoma’ 5 times, I guess that is one of my favorites. Great story line and great music,” he said. “I also enjoy the music and plot of ‘The King and I’. Love ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ and ‘All Shook Up’.”
A number of factors go into selecting the musical each year, most notably the talents of the current students. “You don't do a musical if the lead must be a tenor and you don't have one,” he said. “Also you consider when was the last time it was done – you need at least a 10-year span.”
Many of Mr. Stoltenberg’s colleagues admire the way he welcomes a variety of students. “He’s been able to help bring all these kids onto the stage,” Mr. Feick said. “He’s been able to make theater cool.”
In recognition of his influence on generations of students through directing, teaching and mentoring, the Board of Education has approved naming the PHS stage in honor of Herb Stoltenberg.
All alumni who ever participated in PHS performances are encouraged to enjoy a reunion weekend March 1-4, as PHS presents “42nd Street.” They also are invited to share memories of Mr. Stoltenberg in particular and their performing arts experiences in general.
Each performance will conclude with a celebration of PHS performing arts, including a formal dedication of the Herb Stoltenberg Stage after the Saturday night (March 3) performance.
In addition, the Plymouth Education Foundation has established a fund for donations to be made in Mr. Stoltenberg’s name to support PHS performing arts, and will match the first $5,000 in donations.
• Read an article about this year’s musical, “42nd Street.”
• Read a feature story about the naming of the Herb Stoltenberg Stage.
• Read an article about PHS One Act’s incredible performance at State.
• Visit The Arts section of our District Report Card to learn more about how our students excel at traditional and unique arts opportunities at all levels, both in and outside the classroom.