Peter Stuyvesant Station
New York, NY 10009
610 West 115th Street
New York, NY 10025-7771
For many, SING! (which originally was spelled SING, without the exclamation point) is Stuyvesant’s main event--an annual competition between grades in which the theater is the battlefield and song, dance, comedy, and creativity are the weapons. In the weeks leading up to the performance in early spring, Stuyvesant’s halls are filled with dancers, band troupes, and wacky scenery.
SING! is a student-run musical competition. Three teams (seniors, juniors, and the combined sophomore and freshman classes) each write, cast, and create a full-scale production, performing it before a large audience and a panel of alumni judges. An early “New Haven” performance is not scored, but two “Broadway” productions, usually held on Friday and Saturday nights, are judged for script, acting, dance, music, and technical quality. For the senior class, it’s a matter of pride to come in first. But upsets--almost always achieved by an enterprising junior class--have occurred.
Students create everything in SING! except the some of the music--new lyrics are usually written to existing songs, allowing the band time to learn the music and singers and dancers to practice the numbers before the new lyrics are complete.
Biology teacher David Cronen was coordinator of student affairs when SING! came to Stuyvesant in 1973. He recalls, "Physics teacher Arnold Bellush and I went to schools in Brooklyn in the ’50s and early ’60s, where they had already established SING! The original SING! was simply a lot of songs put together and with a theme. Especially since the girls had just come into the school, Mr. Bellush thought it might be a good idea to bring the tradition to Stuyvesant, and so SING! was born.” The first year’s theme was program cards:
When SING! started at Stuyvesant, however, students scorned the idea. Elli Barasch '73 says he became the director of the first senior SING! primarily because no one else wanted the job. (Actor Paul Reiser, also of the class of 1973, agreed to be band director.) After all, SING! was replacing the much beloved Student-Faculty Talent Show, which began in the mid-1960s and was coordinated by Arnold Bellush. The show shared many of SING!’s basic characteristics: students wrote the material and built all the sets and props. Performances depended on talented--and devoted--students and teachers alike. The talent show generally consisted of a school-oriented satire and drag show, but as Barasch recalls, “We couldn’t blast the teachers much, because the scripts were pretty well censored. Since the teachers also participated, it would have been bad form for a colleague to appear to condone another’s lambasting.” Nevertheless, the seniors were so angry about the change to SING! that during the first Saturday night performance they reportedly protested by appearing on stage drunk, and their romping parody far exceeded the bounds of the judges’ tolerance. In an unusual--perhaps unique--outcome, the seniors finished third.
One other feature of the first Sing was that is was in early June in a non-air conditioned auditorium, contributing to the intensity of the experience.
Meanwhile, the freshman-sophomore performance, with Tim Robbins '76 playing the lead, was earnest and the story was good, but the execution was uneven and the program ran twice the allotted time. They placed second. The juniors had some good actors, they sang well, their story was peppy and concise, and their victory was a landslide.
After that first year, student opinion of the competition changed quickly. Anita Scheff '73, former president of the Stuyvesant Drama Club, recalled, “Some of us protested its beginning and tried to stop it, petition and all. The following year it turned out that I was a SING! judge.”
Mr. Bellush continued to be the SING! advisor for more than twenty years, and in November 1995, just before his retirement, he unveiled major reforms, including new, transparent guidelines for appointing student directors; a fifty-minute limit on performances; and a ban on heckling--an aspect of SING! that had been an integral part of the show’s culture.
Vincent Grasso, who served as COSA for fifteen years, commented in 1999, “They do things differently now than they did then. In the ’80s they were more into a good script, good songs, dancing, and acting. Today there aren’t as many singers, they don’t do as many songs, and the dancing is basically all hip-hop. We had a variety of types of dancing years ago. Other than that I see no difference. The student spirit has always been the same.”
The production has often pushed the envelope in its satirical portrayal of school life, but in the last few years, the trend has been to move away from SING! plots set entirely at Stuyvesant, although comedic references to the school are usually abundant. Recent SING! productions have been set in a mental institution named “Yuts” (“Stuy” spelled backwards), the Kennedy White House, and a 1920s speakeasy. Faculty members are now often invited to perform cameos in SING!, sometimes with a line or two, and occasionally even with a song.
Twenty-five years ago, SING! was a large musical production. Today, it is even larger - a heavyweight bout between creative talents in each grade. The shows sell out every year, and teachers curse the productions for capturing the attention of so many of even their best students.
Adapted by Abbie Zamcheck '03, with assistance from Lindsay Long-Waldor '04, from the article “SING!’s Secret History,” by Katherine Liu '81, which appeared in the 1999 edition of Stuyle (an end-of-the-year Spectator publication), as well as from notes received from Richard Sadano '75 and SING! advisor Annie Thoms.
“Stuyvesant,” the song closed the senior SING show in 1975 and was sung again that year at graduation. The lyrics are by Michael Kaplan '75 set to the music of “Happiness,” from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (courtesy Richard Sedano '75.)
Stuyvesant is Baskin & Robbins
McDonald’s and Blimpie’s
The three o'clock crunch.
Stuyvesant is streaking a concert
Chemistry, math and
Throwing up lunch.
Stuyvesant is everything that I'd hoped it'd be.
Stuyvesant means so much to you and me.
Stuyvesant is waiting for subways
Getting up early
Yet I return.
Stuyvesant is people together
Learning to learn.
Stuyvesant, you taught me more than I've ever known.
Stuyvesant, I'm no longer alone.
Stuyvesant is liking some people, loving some people, too.
For Stuyvesant, oh Stuyvesant, oh Stuyvesant, my school
Oh I love you.
Stuyvesant is part peanut butter
Ten million pills
And a name of our own.
Stuyvesant though it may not be perfect
It's all that we've got
We call it our home.
Stuyvesant, these past couple years have been good to me.
Stuyvesant, please, please set me free.
Stuyvesant is liking some people, loving some people too.
For Stuyvesant, oh Stuyvesant, oh Stuyvesant, my school
Oh I love you.