Penn Hills musical alumni celebrate 50 years
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The first glimpse of what the future could hold for George Maguire started during his senior year of high school -- with a single song at what became the T.A. Bond Auditorium stage at Penn Hills High School.
"When you are young, you can do anything," said Mr. Maguire, 65, who went on to a successful career as an actor and director that has ranged from Broadway musicals and the New York City Shakespeare Festival to Hollywood. "It's only later that you sort of figure things out, where anxiety starts coming in. But when you are young, you don't have anxieties."
Nearly 50 years after his first audition for the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza's suitor in "My Fair Lady," Mr. Maguire still remembers the moment as though it were yesterday.
"I auditioned for Henry Higgins, but a star student also tried out for that role and everyone knew he was going to play Higgins," Mr. Maguire recalled during a phone interview from his California home.
"Then Mildred Dunham asked ... 'Can you sing "On the Street Where You Live"?' and I said 'Sure.' Suddenly the sound just started coming out. And I had no idea I could sing. I didn't know that I had it; it just started coming out rather effortlessly.
"I think it surprised me as much as it surprised them."
Mr. Maguire said he was among the students to perform in the second annual musical performance at Penn Hills -- thanks largely to the hard work of Mrs. Dunham, Betty Jo Wareham, Tom Bond and Fred Williams, who had first launched the high school's musical productions a year earlier with the production of "Bye Bye Birdie." It was a first among local high schools.
And it's a tradition the high school proudly continues 50 years later.
Mr. Maguire will return to Penn Hills to join dozens of alumni from his alma mater Aug. 10 and 11, as part of the Penn Hills Musical Alumni's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the high school's first musical performance. Alumni performances are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. both nights.
The weekend celebration also will include Mr. Maguire's induction into the Penn Hills Art and Music Foundation's Hall of Fame, along with fellow inductees, the late Mrs. Dunham and the late Mr. Bond, during a gala at the Churchill Valley Country Club at 4 p.m. Aug. 11.
"It's kind of like a lifetime achievement award for the area," Mr. Maguire said. "And it is wonderful and comes unexpectedly and is just lovely."
For this year's celebration, the art and music foundation and the Penn Hills Musical Alumni collaborated to help mark the milestone that has helped launch careers and inspire youth for five decades -- at a time when the high school is preparing to move into a new facility with a new auditorium.
"It really was a springboard for so many, many people," said Barbara Spiri, Penn Hills High School's music coordinator and an alumna of its musical stage. "Just because someone didn't go into the field, it doesn't mean they weren't part of the show."
For Mr. Maguire, it was that song, "On the Street Where You Live," that opened doors to the stage -- he auditioned for a role in a production at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, where he spent five years, worked his way through college and performed in more than 20 musicals before moving on to Broadway.
"In a weird kind of way, that song was responsible for everything else," he said. "That song gave me my [Actors'] Equity card."
After college, Mr. Maguire returned to Penn Hills for a brief time to teach German, but quickly was lured to the stage.
"Back then, there was no 'America's Got Talent' or 'Star Search,' " he said. "None of that existed. What you had was choir, where you sang. Then our school began doing musicals."
Although Mr. Maguire has given up singing in public due to hearing loss, he remains active in his craft, adding to a career that has included working with Hollywood legends from Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood to Brad Pitt and David Fincher, who directed "The Social Network."
"I don't really have a favorite character," Mr. Maguire said. "They are all like little children to me. I have treasured moments that often the audience doesn't see. Once, I auditioned for Woody Allen. I didn't get the part, but it was some of the best acting I had ever done ... for me, auditions are really quite my treasured moments."
First Published August 2, 2012 5:14 am