Singers return to Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons for ‘Evening of Stars’

Show a tribute to beloved educator
Terry Murphy Hartley wears red as Annie in the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School production of "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1978.
Terry Murphy Hartley wears red as Annie in the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School production of "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1978.

Tom Maguire loved his singers.

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As musical director at Schenectady’s Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School, Maguire would cry with joy when performers such as Jonathan Sozek and Terry Murphy belted out songs and brought down the house.

Maguire also cried about the school’s sound system. It was old when he began directing shows in 1976.

“The sound system was always the problem,” said Melanie Anchukaitis, a ND-BG Spanish teacher who now co-directs the school’s musicals. “He would sigh and become very upset.”

Teachers and performers from the past are taking a page from the Nathan Detroit playbook — while good old, reliable Nathan could raise an awful lot of lettuce in a gambling venture, the guys and dolls at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons hope well-heeled shooters bring their bundles to the school on Saturday.

An “Evening of Stars” will begin at 6 p.m. and put singers back on stage and back in their old roles. The show will be held in the school gymnasium, which will be decorated to look like a night club for the big party.

Tickets are $50, food from local restaurants will be available and proceeds will be used to buy new equipment for the fine arts program. A limited number of seats are still available by calling ND-BG at 393-3131.

Paul O’Brien, who taught English at the school for 47 years before his retirement in 2014, came up with the idea last fall – a night to honor Maguire, the longtime ND-BG math teacher who died suddenly on Dec. 30, 2008 at age 65. Anchukaitis and musical co-director and English teacher Linda Neidl had always wanted an “encore” show with former students, so the plans were combined.

“We have 11 musicals represented that Tom was responsible for,” Anchukaitis said Thursday night, during a show planning session at the school. “We have 22 musical numbers that are coming from the 11 musicals. We have 17 alumni dating back from 1977 to 2016. Some of them are going to be singing with people old enough to be their parents.”

Putting together a cast has not been a problem.

“We have people from New York City, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts,” Neidl said.

“Our goal was to sell 200 tickets,” said Mickie Baldwin, who graduated from ND-BG in 1984, is now a member of the school board and is on the Maguire planning committee.

“I think we’re going to exceed 200 for for sure,” added Karen Drago, who graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1973, is a school board member and a former Schenectady County Court judge.

Nine members of ND-BG’s Class of 2017, performers in more recent shows, will be in the chorus. Six other alumni will be on the stage, lighting and costume crew.

Adam Weatherwax of the Class of 2005 will be master of ceremonies. Mike Purcell of the Class of 1974, who has provided music for the musicals since 1997, will also be part of the production.

Jonathan Sozek, who played Curly in “Oklahoma!” in 1978, is prepping his plaid shirt and cowboy hat for a reprise of the song “Oklahoma!” which he’ll sing with Jessica Michael Harrell, Class of 2000, Tara Strichman, 2016, and the high school chorus. Sozek and Strichman will also sing “People Will Say We’re in Love.”

“Mr. Maguire was really good teaching us how to tap dance,” said Sozek, 35, who now lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and teaches theology at Fordham University in the Bronx. “He always wore a big bow tie on show nights.”

Teaching occasionally insecure teens how to tap dance could be a challenge, but Maguire kept feet moving.

“He would criticize you in a joking kind of way but he would push you, he would really try to get you to give your best,” Sozek said. “He ran a tight ship. Everything was planned out, things ran on schedule … everything was always late, of course, but he kept things going without fail.”

Sozek has found versions of his songs online, and they’ve helped make his personal rehearsals easier.

“I have to learn the lyrics again, I’m looking forward to it,” Sozek said. “I have some photos of that time, I’m very interested to see others on stage even more than to be on stage myself. All of us have aged and have begun to live our lives. To be able to go back to this defining moment in the past together is a very meaningful thing. I would not want to do it myself, alone. To do it together makes it a community event.”

Terry Murphy – now Terry Murphy Hartley – might be a little nervous on Saturday. Her “Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” from “Annie Get Your Gun” will be the first solo song performed.

Maybe she won’t be that nervous as Annie. During her career in the U.S. Air Force from 1982 until 1988, Hartley piloted a massive KC-135 air refueler.

“I think I’m going to be the oldest person there,” said Hartley, 57, who graduated in 1978 and now lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

“I would do anything for Mr. Maguire or his memory,” Hartley said. “He was probably one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever had. It’s because of him I became a math teacher.”

Like Sozek, Hartley appreciated Maguire’s skills as a choreographer.

“You learned how to dance from Mr. Maguire,” she said. “I never took any dance lessons in my life. … He had dance numbers in those shows that were just fabulous.”

O’Brien said Maguire was also a performer.

“I decorated my room,” O’Brien said. “I said, ‘Tom you need something, your room is bare. If you get boring, the kids have something to look at.’ And he said, ‘I am the whole show. They can take it or leave it.'”

Maguire began teaching math at all-boy Bishop Gibbons High School in 1967. Gibbons and Notre Dame High School, all girls, merged in 1975.

He directed 12 musicals from 1976 until 1988, when local productions and variety shows replaced musicals. The student singers and shows returned in 1996, and Maguire directed 12 more shows between ’96 and 2008.

After 2008’s “Guys and Dolls,” the show that would become Maguire’s last production, the cast bought their teacher a director’s chair. Anchukaitis and Neidl also received chairs.

When Maguire passed away, his funeral service was held inside the ND-BG gymnasium. He made arrangements in his will for the school’s singers, actors and dancers: the Maguire estate provides funds for the cast party held after every autumn musical.

Now it’s time for the singers to remember their mentor.

The organizers and performers want to raise enough funds to purchase the new sound system and update the lights, which have been known to smoke and spark in the past.

“If we make enough money, we’ll build a theater,” Anchukaitis said.

The hugs and handshakes will begin Friday.

“People are arriving Friday afternoon and we have a rehearsal that begins at 5 o’clock,” Anchukaitis said. “The next morning they’re back here at 8:30 and they’re here until 3.”

Everyone will be ready for show time. An ensemble performance of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun” will open the show.

“We’re closing with ‘Cabaret,'” Anchukaitis said. “It’s rumored it was Tom’s favorite musical.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog can be found here.

Categories: Entertainment

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