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From the Archives: Woosteria (A Wooster-Inspired Musical)

From the Archives: Woosteria (A Wooster-Inspired Musical)
Hannah Rogell '26 & Julia Loewengart '27

When Mr. Franklin Young came to work at Wooster School in 1947, did he know how much of an impact he’d have on the community? 

Over the past couple of months, we (Hannah Rogell and Julia Loewengart) have had our noses stuck in the Archives, digging up old theater secrets after being inspired by the wonderful experience of Guys and Dolls. Pretty quickly, we discovered a framed playbill titled “The Wooster School Presents “Woosteria ‘50”, Written and Directed by Franklin Young, Saturday, May 6, 1950, Saturday, May 13, 1950, at 8:30 P.M.” A Wooster-inspired musical?! Wow! To say we were excited would be an understatement. After telling Mrs. Thaler about our discovery, she got us in contact with Mr. Jay Young '64, Mr. Franklin Young’s son. Since Franklin had sadly passed away, Jay was our only way of learning new information about Wooster’s theater history. 

Mr. Franklin Young was born in Portland, Maine. He was a “gifted student and musician,” going to Yale for his undergrad, and receiving a master's in music. He composed music as well as played the piano and organ (he even played the organ in our very own chapel!). He served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, entertaining the troops all over Europe and India with his musical talents. He loved his family and the Boston Red Socks (especially Ted Williams), and in the words of Billy Joel, “he was the entertainer.”

After the war, he was recruited by John Verdery to round out a very talented team of educators, including Joe Grover, Hobart Warner, and Donald Schwartz. This was in 1947, shortly after Aaron Coburn had passed and Mr. Verdery had become headmaster at the young age of 26. “The rest is history,” said Jay. Mr. Young taught Latin (and later French), as well as playing the organ and leading the hymns for the daily services. “I fondly remember daily music practice with the whole school becoming very proficient at singing all those hymns,” Mr. Jay Young reminisced with us via email.

As for Mr. Franklin Young’s inspiration for creating a Wooster-inspired musical, Mr. Young had done “this kind of thing” for many years and throughout the war. “The music was great and the message of the music was fun and often instructional. He loved a good melody and turn of word…The Woosteria shows were the highlight for the whole Wooster community each year.”

Mr. Young’s first musical was in May of 1948: a show called “Woosteria.” His next musical was called “Wooster-Sheer Sauce,” which is mostly unknown. Then in 1950, Woosteria ‘50 was born! Amazingly, all 10 songs from this show were recorded on vinyl and exist today in a box in the archives. What an amazing experience to listen to voices not heard in 76 years! After the success of the first few shows, many, many, MANY more productions followed. When we asked Jay what his father’s favorite musical creation was, he responded, “That’s like asking who is your favorite child - he loved them all, but most of all the process of making them with the boys. Some who thought they couldn’t sing and he gave them the confidence to make it happen. It was a daunting task to write all the songs and sketches and I recall watching him at the piano with blank sheet music transcribing his creations; most at a piano that was in the room above the Chapel where Mr. Byrne’s office is today.” 

Wooster, during the time of these masterpieces, was “a unique and wonderful place to be a part of. It was magic. Lots of really talented teachers, students, and athletes. Looking back I am very impressed with the foresight of John Verdery using the ABC program to create a diverse and inclusive student body. Learning so many things as a close community.  And I had the advantage of being there all the time.  And great food from Elsie in the kitchen.” Jay also recalls the “great privilege” of knowing the Rudenstine brothers, the Marcus family, John Cheesman, and “having wonderful classmates like Wic Carter, Chris Wakefield, Angus Compson, Rawn Fulton, and others who to this day are my close friends.”

As for when Mr. Franklin Young retired from Wooster, Jay said, “There continued to be good music and chapel, just no original material as far as I know.  The stage in the Alumni gym was turned into the Black Box theater you know today.  Some great productions have taken place.” Thanks, Mr. Young! We’d love to have you come to watch one of our shows sometime!

Mr. Jay Young actually grew up on the Wooster campus. Moving onto campus in 1947, Jay went to Park Avenue School from kindergarten to 6th grade and then “straight to Wooster” in 1959. The family originally lived in Wellington with the students, but later a house was built for them by the athletic field, which has been torn down (Hannah and Julia think that the house was where Wooster’s bee hives are now! Definitely something to look into…). Jay went to college at Hobart, but his studies were interrupted by the Vietnam War. He served for 3 years, 8 months, and 26 days in the Navy, flying on and off aircraft carriers. After his service, he went to work in NYC and attended Fordham University at night for his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He worked in IT for 42 years and retired in 2012. Now he lives a peaceful life in Lakewood Ranch, Florida where he says: “I chase golf balls most days.” His children, Whitney and Katie, are also Wooster graduates! They were the MVP on the baseball team and senior prefect respectively. Jay is one “proud papa”!

Mr. Jay Young would like to thank Wink for “becoming a great way for me to stay in touch with what’s happening at Wooster.  I am very impressed with your writing skills. In my day we had a similar publication which was produced on a mimeograph machine.  Ask an old person what a great machine that was. The name of our paper was ‘Fodder.’  There have been several iterations since then to get to WiNK.  I say ‘long live WiNK. Thanks to all who contribute.” And thank YOU Jay for all your helpful stories! You are officially a WiNK legend! And from all of us here at Wooster School, we’d like to thank you and your father for your service.

If you’d like to learn more about the amazing history of Wooster’s theater, don’t be afraid to email either of us: Hannah.rogell@woosternet.org or Julia.loewengart@woosternet.org. Thanks for reading and happy almost Summer!
 

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