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'I finally found a community': High school musical a refuge for students

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Olivia Timothy moved into the Central York school district at quite possibly the worst time: right before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Olivia Timothy, during a dress rehearsal for The Music Man at Central York High School in Springettsbury Townhship, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Entering  a new school full of strangers — coupled with online learning — made it   difficult for the now-senior to make friends.

"I have been incredibly lonely," Timothy said, getting emotional. "This year, I finally found a community, and I finally found people who I could trust and who I love more than anything in the world."

There was not a dry eye in the choir room Sunday afternoon inside Central York High School. Timothy, joining hand-in-hand with dozens of fellow students, gathered one last time for a pre-show prayer circle before performing "The Music Man" for the final time.

As junior Christina Ellis handed out tissues to crying cast members, educators Ben Hodge and Jim Martini delivered passionate speeches about pride for the Central York Performing Arts program. 

Since January, the cast and crew of 85 has worked to perfect their first show with a live audience in more than two years. The iconic story, originally written by Franklin Lacey and Meredith Willson, follows the story of a con artist in a small Iowa town. 

In Hodge's words, however, "The Music Man" — the 1912-set story of a con man who has a change of heart — is a story about love. And for the cast and crew, this production has been a labor of love. 

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"I'm definitely feeling very excited. I think just the jitters of everything is still wearing on after everything's ending," said student producer and stage manager Novalea Verno. "I'm also very tired. It's been a long, long time coming — I'm excited for rest."

A true testament to drama, Sunday's run had some minor bumps.

Student stage manager Novelea Verno places tape as a place marker on stage during dress rehearsal for the upcoming performance of The Music Man at Central York High School in Springettsbury Townhship, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

During Marian Paroo's solo "My White Knight," the theater organization's music software Sinfonia froze. The glitch forced cast member Payton Lutz to make a difficult decision: Pause the entire performance or keep it moving.

For about 10 seconds on stage, Lutz continued singing, starting her song without musical cues or a melody to help keep time.

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"Payton, being the ultimate professional, she started right on cue, right on pitch with her number," Hodge said. "That's an example of preparation and hard work paying off because stuff like that happens."

Though the cast and crew with Central York Performing Arts are students — Hodge said they should not be labeled as amateurs. 

Olivia Timothy (Mrs. Paroo) prior to dress rehearsal for the upcoming performance of The Music Man at Central York High School in Springettsbury Townhship, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"The amazing thing about this is that we really try hard to make our kids feel that we hold high standards and teach then what it's like to do this for a living," Hodge added.

While the cast and crew got down to business when they needed to — they still had time to be kids.

Hushed giggles while taking Polaroid pictures during scene changes was evident enough of a working collaboration between not just colleagues — but a close family.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.