They surmounted a week of winter weather that eliminated days of rehearsals, and coped with the death of a beloved student, to pull off a memorable weekend of theater at Morristown High School.
But the cast and crew of Anything Goes faced one more emotional jolt moments after the final curtain came down on Sunday. Michael Maguire, their artistic director for the last three years and a teacher at the school, informed them he was leaving.
“It’s time to start a new chapter,” Maguire said on Monday, after completing his first day at his new job, as art director for a marketing company.
Maguire, who performed in Anything Goes as an MHS freshman in 2003, said he loved directing. But he is eager to start a family with his new spouse, Anything Goes producer Ralph Losanno, and running plays while teaching entry-level courses in graphics, wood shop and broadcasting left time or energy for little else, Maguire said.
Students appeared crestfallen on Monday as they broke down the ocean liner set that was the show’s centerpiece.
“It was kind of upsetting for all of us,” junior Katie Rosa, house manager for the show, said of the news. “But everyone has to move on eventually. I’m happy for him and Ralph. I know they’ll come back and support us.”
“I’m sad to see him go,” said senior Nile Birch, one of the stars of Anything Goes. “At the same time, I’m so happy for him, and for them to start having an opportunity to start living their lives. I’m so grateful I was able to see how he impacted this theater and the community. It meant a lot to me.”
Maguire’s time at the helm also included the musicals Once Upon a Mattress and Legally Blonde. During that span, the program won several NJ State Theatre Awards and Rising Star Awards from the Paper Mill Playhouse, introduced special performances for audiences with disabilities, and upgraded lighting and audio gear in the school auditorium.
“Michael has done wonders for the theatre program at MHS,” said Derek Vintschger, MHS ’99, an award-winning audio engineer who helped with the production.
“It has grown and modernized more in the last few years than it has in decades. I think what set him apart was that as an alumnus of the program, he had a deep and personal interest in seeing it succeed. It meant far more to him than just a job. Whoever takes over will have awfully big shoes to fill,” Vintschger said.
Two nor-easters shut down school, and rehearsals, for several days leading to opening night–which got pushed back one night. A second show was added on Sunday.
Quirks of the school calendar already had shortened the production schedule by two weeks. Additionally, many of the students attended a weekend memorial service for freshman Hedda Sivertsson, who passed away this month after battling brain cancer. The students dedicated the show to her.
Maguire said he was proud of everyone for rising to the occasion for Anything Goes.
“We say it was magic, but nothing about it is magic. It’s hard work, a ton of work. We make it look easy. That’s why it’s called theater,” said Maguire, who added a dedication to the late Lauren Failla, who starred in the 2003 production.
“They had to literally make every minute count,” Losanno said of this year’s cast and crew.
Although rumors swirled about Maguire’s departure, he decided it was best to tell the students in person, at the conclusion of Anything Goes. There were some tears, but “they handled it with a lot of grace and maturity. There were very understanding,” he said.
Maguire said he always aspired to becoming an art director for an ad agency. However, if Morristown High had a full-blown theater department, where he could teach stagecraft, he might have stayed.
But “they can only make so many classes,” he said, while visiting the set tear-down with Losanno and the production’s therapy dog, Madigan.
Morris School District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast said he could not discuss personnel matters.
“We’re all thrilled with what our very talented kids and parents and community were able to do with Anything Goes,” Pendergrast said.
Birch said Maguire taught him “about dedication, and about making your dreams happen, and putting yourself 100 percent into a project. He has a laser focus to everything, and I’m inspired by him.”