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Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  545 Ratings  ·  142 Reviews
Friday Night Lights meets Glee—the incredible and true story of an extraordinary drama teacher who has changed the lives of thousands of students and inspired a town.

Why would the multimillionaire producer of Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon take his limo from Manhattan to the struggling former steel town of Levittown, Pennsylvania, to see a high school produc
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 26th 2013 by Riverhead Books
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,610)
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Oct 13, 2013 Dan rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
It's difficult to be objective with this review, seeing as how I'm a former student of Lou Volpe's (1996 through 1998, years not covered in this book). I feel very strongly about Lou and I can say, without hyperbole, that he had a tremendous impact on my life - a recurring theme here. I may ramble and reminisce a little here.

What I loved discovering here is how cyclical Lou's life at Truman was, even back when he was teaching English. Students always felt the same way about him, he always devel
Sep 26, 2013 Judie rated it it was amazing
I don’t use similes very often, but I can’t help comparing DRAMA HIGH to an onion. There are some tears, but that’s not the reason. Like an onion, it has many layers, all combining to produce the singular product.
The top layer is the story of Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, particularly the theater department, possibly the best in the country. While many schools had drama clubs that did not attract many students, especially not the popular ones, such as the athletes, Tru
Richard Kramer
Oct 27, 2013 Richard Kramer rated it it was amazing
A great teacher, in high school, can be like an author who tells you some of what your own coming story might be. Lou Volpe, who ran the drama program at Truman High School in Levittown, PA for more than forty years, is such a teacher – one whom, even though he has retired, has to be referred to in the present tense, because his impact, on those forty years of students, is ongoing and life-long. His productions of SPRING AWAKENING and LES MISERABLES were so fine that they convinced their produc ...more
Jul 24, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
This is a book about a small town with an outstanding theater program. At the helm for forty years has been a teacher that has shaped the culture in his community surrounding theater.

Lou Volpe started teaching at Truman High School in 1973. His impact on the lives of his students is reflected in the fact that a former student wrote this book over thirty years after he sat in his class.

Volpe has pushed the envelope with the productions he puts on. But, more importantly, he has challenged his st
Hank Stuever
Oct 20, 2013 Hank Stuever rated it it was amazing
The author is a friend; I gave it a very solid 4+ stars and rounded up to 5, because that’s what friends are for. So there’s your disclosure, now here’s your honest review:

Many features reporters (including this one) have delved into the “making of the high school play” story as a means of telling an epic narrative, intending to capture something fraught and beautiful about teenagers and teachers and dedication and art. In the narrative, it is essential to note that the arts are always on the l
Feb 02, 2015 Jessi rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is pretty much exactly what the title and subtitle would lead you to believe. If you like Broadway musicals, were a theater nerd, or like an underdog story this will likely work for you. I loved learning about Lou Volpe, a man who had no theatrical training and managed to create a highly successful theater program in a school that didn't have much going for it. Even more amazing, he created that program as as safe space for students from all walks of life who may not have safety or suc ...more
Aimee Kessell
Apr 20, 2016 Aimee Kessell rated it it was amazing
When this book was chosen for my Book Club, I was worried more than anything. Non-fiction is not my thing. I find it dull and exhausting. This book is 352 pages. I was horrified that a non-fiction could be that long. However, I'm glad I gave this book a chance. What a gripping piece. So beautifully written that it's sometimes hard to remember this is non-fiction. That these events have actually taken place.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It truly tells a story of a theatre teacher and the w
Dec 01, 2015 Susannah rated it liked it
Shelves: plays
I was so hoping that in Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater I had found the successor to one of my very favorite books, The Stuff of Dreams: Behind the Scenes of an American Community Theater by Leah Hager Cohen. And while the theater parts of this book came close, the narrative was dragged down by the other stories - Sokolove's in relation to his hometown of Levittown, Pennsylvania, and the state of arts education in the U.S. ...more
Julie Ekkers
Feb 09, 2014 Julie Ekkers rated it liked it
Shelves: non-ficition
I felt like the topic of this book--meaningful and transformative high school experiences and teachers--was a five-star topic, done in a three-star way. (And I think I liked it as much as did because of the difference the theater productions of which I was a part in high school made to me. I think if you did theater in high school, and if you loved it, you will at least like this book because it will take you right back there.) Drama High is the story of the theater program at Truman High is Lev ...more
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Aug 05, 2013 Rachel Kramer Bussel rated it it was amazing
In Drama High, Michael Sokolove returns to his high school, now called Harry S. Truman High School, to profile drama teacher Lou Volpe, who, despite budget cuts and a flagging economy, has brought acclaim and popularity to his classes and spawned several generations of drama students. While never fawning, Sokolove makes it clear that Volpe has had a disproportionate effect on many of his students, including the author, who never took a drama class. By pushing his students to go deep into the mat ...more
Nov 20, 2014 Sonia rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Eh. It's hard to write about theater. This felt like it would have been more effective if it had been a documentary, because Sokolove does a lot of telling us how amazing these kids are but not a whole lot of showing us. Also, it is mostly hagiography about Lou Volpe, who seems like he is quite amazing, and yet. I was a theater kid and my director was great and it saved my life in a lot of ways. It's a common story. I wish the book was less about Volpe and more about these kids, because that's t ...more
Drama High was not what I would call riveting, but then I’m not a big fan of memoirs or biographies. I picked this for my library book clubs to read during our "Read to the Rhythm" themed summer reading program.

I’ve no doubt that Lou Volpe was an incredible teacher who inspired passion and helped many students find their best selves. Still, the author is a little too starry-eyed for my tastes. His love and respect for his former teacher affects his objectivity. It’s just all so sweet, and every
Rachel W
This book covers a wide range of topics, as the subtitle suggests: history, economics, education, biography. The focus is Lou Volpe, drama teacher of almost 4 decades, who has earned a reputation for creating excellent productions in an otherwise average, if not underachieving, high school. Sokolove interviews current and past students, Volpe's family, school officials, and many others, building an overall picture of how Truman High School's drama program has developed. He follows two particular ...more
John Alexander
Aug 05, 2014 John Alexander rated it liked it
"Levittown had no Main Street or downtown, no culture, not a single thing of visual interest. Its poverty was of a particular kind--lack of imagination, color, zest."

This wasn't my experience. I grew up "south of Route 1" as Sokolove puts it so many times, but barely, and don't claim to have had the same experiences as Bristol Township L-towners of the 2010s, but it's my hometown. At least that's what the tatoo on the inside of my left arm says.

Levittown had range. Sokolove only speaks to part
Jun 23, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Sokolove is a former student of Lou Volpe, the drama teacher at Harry S. Truman High School. From this inside look, we get biographical looks at several students as they interact through Volpe's last years before retirement. Along with themes of prejudice in every possible version you can think of (including father's calling their son's gay because they are in theater instead of football), Sokolove explores the confidence and success that Volpe encourages and brings out in his students.
Apr 28, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Drama High is a profile of the end of the career of a legendary high school theatre director, Lou Volpe who is an extraordinary inspiration in an otherwise unspectacular suburb that has been decaying from its heyday. While not as well constructed as some biographies or education exposes, Drama High was a rather enjoyable read that is provoking me into wanting to be involved.

There are many things that are going wrong. We have a community that is economically depressed after the steel manufacturin
Apr 07, 2014 Julia rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, journalism
Lou Volpe the Drama teacher at Truman High School in Levittown, PA regularly does productions that no other high school theater will touch: Spring Awakening, RENT and Les Miz. In fact, MTI often “tests” difficult high school versions of their plays at Truman High School in Levittown.

Lou Volpe has taught there forty years and he has some cache there. He can get away with things and touchy content because the community and the administration trust him.

But this book could have easily been much sh
Bookish Jen
Feb 15, 2014 Bookish Jen rated it it was amazing
There are good teachers. There are bad teachers. There teachers somewhere in between. And then there is Lou Volpe. And journalist Michael Sokolove deftly tells Lou Volpe’s journey and how he has affected his students and their town in the book Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.

Lou Volpe is the drama teacher at Harry S. Truman High School located in the struggling, blue collar town Levittown in Pennsylvania. Truman High is mo
Mar 03, 2014 Liz rated it it was amazing
In Drama High, Michael Sokolove returns to his high school alma mater, Truman High, in rundown Levittown, Pennsylvania to give tribute to teacher, Lou Volpe, who ran the school’s nationally recognized drama program for more than forty years. We all remember high school and let’s face it…being a teenager ain’t easy. The Truman kids are an anomaly in the drama world in which the most successful drama programs are from well-funded, upper-class schools, but Truman High kids are anything but and this ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Carol rated it liked it
Shelves: bio
PTL for dedicated educators, all-in for their students! This is SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS meets GLEE/FAME meets MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS! (Note - I'm not a GLEE fan (it's too R for me) but I did really like FAME!) Lou Volpe is legendary - a 40 year veteran who inspired students in English & Theater. His directing lead them to transforming accomplishments they never dreamed themselves capable of. That he piloted several High School versions of edgy(!) Broadway shows for MTI is an over-the-top accredita ...more
Chris Aylott
May 15, 2014 Chris Aylott rated it really liked it
The cheesy blurb for this would be, "If you want to see what Glee looks like in the real world..." and that's pretty much accurate. Though recently retired, teacher Lou Volpe has a credible claim to have been the greatest high school drama teacher who ever lived. Over more than four decades, he took plays to national showcases, launched the first high school productions of Les Miserables, Rent, and Spring Awakening, and changed generations of students' lives.

Sokolove was one of Volpe's first stu
Nov 09, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing
Reviewers have called it “…part ‘Glee,’ part ‘Hoop Dreams’” and “’Glee’ meets ‘Friday Night Lights.’” It reminds me of “Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and Their High School” (1991), a true story about a journalism teacher in New York City written by Samuel G. Freedman. It reminds me of the film “Freedom Writers” (2007), the true story of high school students and their diaries in Long Beach, California.

Author Michael Sokolove, a contributing writer for the New York Ti
Drama High is a profile of the end of the career of a legendary high school theatre director, Lou Volpe who is an extraordinary inspiration in an otherwise unspectacular suburb that has been decaying from its heyday. While not as well constructed as some biographies or education exposes, Drama High was a rather enjoyable read that is provoking me into wanting to be involved.

There are many things that are going wrong. We have a community that is economically depressed after the steel manufacturin
Robin Lynskey
Dec 30, 2014 Robin Lynskey rated it really liked it
I went to Truman during Volpe's years and agree he made an impact on you whether or not you were one of his students! I took one star away because of the portrayal of my town. The author was not at the school long enough to capture the entire essence of the area. He made us sound like bottom of the barrel poor people and that is not the case. I was actually angry about a lot of his comments about the area and the people. Truman is rated one of the highest in american public schools! We also have ...more
May 10, 2014 Anne rated it really liked it
Shelves: x-read-in-2014
This is not Glee or Smash, it is the real deal. Go behind the scenes at Harry S Truman High School and meet Lou Volpe. Lou has taught high school drama and theater for over 40 years and his productions have put the school on the map. For anyone who has ever acted on a high school or college stage or for those who have ever done community theater, this is a great read. Volpe guides his students through rehearsals with tough love, never pulling punches, delivering the truth but receiving total res ...more
Elizabeth Bernhardt
Apr 05, 2016 Elizabeth Bernhardt rated it liked it
Michael Sokolove's Drama High is the story of a brilliant teacher, a struggling town, and the magic of theater -- in that order. Even though I expected a book that primarily focused on theater, I enjoyed this homage to the influential career of theater teacher Lou Volpe.

The book is incredibly personal, written by a former student and town resident who stops to chronicle the town's history and his own experiences. Occasionally, balancing all of these topics made the book feel a little disorganiz
Teresa Cooper
Mar 13, 2014 Teresa Cooper rated it really liked it
Must read for anyone passionate about theater and especially, youth theater. Well written.
Danielle Mohlman
May 08, 2014 Danielle Mohlman rated it really liked it
I have a theory that no matter how much high school sucked for us creatives, we each had at least one teacher that inspired us to keep doing what we’re doing. For me, it was Ms. Yu. She introduced me to the concept of feminism before I knew what to label it. She showed me that great literature could be subversive.

For many high schoolers, that teacher was Lou Volpe. Sure, Sokolove does make some dramaturgical missteps — Frank Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening isn’t the obscure text Sokolove makes it
Feb 12, 2016 Analese rated it liked it
Ed.D Reading!

Performing Arts programs are vital, particularly in areas of high poverty and low achievement. A nationally-ranked drama program is rare in those circumstances, so to read about a success like Mr. Volpe and his decades of running a program that changed the lives of at-risk students is enlightening. I have a few issues with the program and how it's placed on a pedestal, however, ranging from questioning why there hasn't been more success in other parts of the school to how the progr
Lacy Compton
Jun 25, 2015 Lacy Compton rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-a-z
I loved this book, and not just because I was a theater kid growing up. This is a must-read for teachers looking for inspiration for truly connection (and reaching) their students, no matter who they are or where they have come from in life.
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“You have become so good that every mistake you make has a spotlight on it.” 1 likes
“There is a difference between people who strive and those who merely work hard. Levittown was full of hard workers, hourly wage-earners who eagerly stepped forward for overtime shifts and spent what extra money they had to repave their driveways, build rec rooms, or buy was full of people who felt they had *arrived*.” 1 likes
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