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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,370 ratings  ·  283 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 produ
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 26th 2013 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  1,370 ratings  ·  283 reviews

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Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"[Truman High School] has one principal mark of distinction: [director Lou] Volpe's astoundingly successful drama program . . . He is like the winning football coach in some down-on-its-luck Ohio or Texas town - a beacon, a sign that grand achievement is possible, albeit unlikely. Schools with vastly greater financial resources, boasting higher-achieving students born to wealthier parents, cannot match the quality and accomplishments of Truman. No high school in America can." -- page 9

From March
Jun 19, 2013 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 20, 2013 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
Hank Stuever
Sep 20, 2013 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
Richard Kramer
Oct 27, 2013 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
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’ve pretty much told everyone that I know that they should read this book. If that isn’t the ultimate compliment, I don’t know what is. While the book focuses mainly on Lou Volpe, the incredible theater director of Harry S Truman High in Levittown PA, it’s also about the town, the people, their struggles, the disappearing middle class, the state of the education system, and the importance of the arts. The author, Michael Sokolove, was a student of Lou Volpe’s and grew up in Levittown. I’ve seen ...more
Jan 26, 2015 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
Really enjoyed the book. I'm from Levittown so I felt like I really understood what went on during much of the time Mr. Volpe taught. I did not attend Truman but being a part of the community, I knew how much he and his troupes were revered. ...more
Victoria Zieger
Of course, I started watching the show that was inspired by this book and found out that not only was it a book, but also that it is set in Levittown which is very close to where I live! The writing was really excellent. It’s very different from the show as it definitely focuses more on theatre in general and the shows. It did get into the lives of those involved which was very interesting and really gave you a glimpse of the town this was set in as well.
Mary Lou
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
If you love the arts, if you've had kids involved in the arts (all 3 of ours were involved, especially in theater), if you believe in the transformative power of a teacher, coach, mentor...this book is for you. ...more
Millie May
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-reads
I was only reading for the stuff about Spring Awakening (because of nbc’s RISE) and it felt like it was too long to get there and then it was over. A well written book though
Nov 03, 2014 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
Julie Ekkers
Dec 26, 2013 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
Jul 19, 2015 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
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
A love letter to a great teacher, high school theater, and drama kids. A wonderful, inspiring, and necessary read in this time of standardized testing and data mining. A passionate argument for the need for arts education in schools. I loved this book.
Catherine Read
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"I'm not here to make you a great actor. That's not my job. The reasons you should be taking this class are far more important. I want you to gain confidence, learn something about life, grow up a little bit. I want to help you see who you are."- Lou Volpe, Truman High School - Theater I Class.

The author Michael Sokolove was one of Lou Volpe's English students back in the early 1970's at the beginning of Volpe's career in education. Four decades later, he returned to tell the story of how this t
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
If ever an author wanted to write a book with me as its target audience, this would be it. Part memoir, part teacher biography, part educational ethnography, part sociology of suburban decline, part theater celebration, it hits all the right marks. And, it's about a local Pennsylvania school!

Although the narrative thread of the book tells the story of two school productions (Good Boys and True and the high school debut of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening), the book moves back and forth in t
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A quick and interesting read about an awesome theater program at a high school that is about an hour from where I live. Who knew? Exactly!

Truman High School is located in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Levittown is a prime example of an up and coming, middle class town that stopped moving up once the manufacturing industries left the area. Levittown is very conservative, white and blue collar. It is surrounded by many wealthier communities, which makes it the brunt of jokes from time to time. But wha
Matthew Akers
Oct 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
First of all I want to say I am happy this book was written! The book was good but was not deep and only grazed the surface of what could of been. The teacher is inspiring and we need more teachers like him. I didn’t like that they talked about cutting language from plays etc. that’s a no no/ you need to seek permission to do that.

I am glad the book inspires the TV show Rise! I hope it expands on the students lives. Like one the the actors from the show said, “it’s like Friday Night Lights for
the friedman
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq-stuff
I enjoyed the parts about each performance and how the rehearsals went. I didn't find interesting any of the stuff about the town and many of the tangents that I came across while reading the book. Some parts about Volpe's life I found interesting.

I read the book to learn about the shows that were put on at the school and how that happened. There wasn't as much as I expected about the shows. The book also talked about other things that I hadn't expected. Over all its a pretty good book.
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting look at an inspiring teacher who created and ran a super successful theatre program in a high school in a low income area. I love how the students clearly loved and learned so much from their teacher, Lou Volpe, and I like the behind-the-scenes of how the school put on their productions. It's a lovely tribute to a great teacher, written by one of his former students. 3.5 stars. ...more
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Damning indictment of the state of the US education system and inspiring story of the impact that one good teacher can have on a person’s life. A profile of a town, a teacher, and the economic failures of government, Drama High is a thoroughly personal non-fiction work that will likely endure longer than the already cancelled TV series it inspired.
Chelsea Craig
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a former theatre kid, I ate this UP. It's a beautiful story of the passion and the purpose that a teacher gave to his students across many decades. Heartwarming and sweet and a wonderful work to dedicate to an educator that is so important to so many people.

Anna Esten
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is much more than meets the eye. The story of an amazing teacher and the power of the arts to lift up a struggling town. Echoes of Hillbilly Elegy, but without all the heavy handedness. An excellent read.
Sandy Spinello
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book!! As a teacher and avid theatre goers and parent of a past theatre student it brought home so many points and helped me recall many memories!! I cried through much of it due to the intensity and real world application!
Carmen Liffengren
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Drama High does for high school theater what Friday Night Lights did for high school football. Lou Volpe managed to create a distinguished theater program at Truman High School, a school that doesn't have much else going for it. Lou Volpe spent four decades at Truman High School creating a nationally acclaimed theater program. Truman High School Theater had the distinct honor to pilot Les Miserables for the high school stage in 2001. Cameron Mackintosh himself even came to see the show. He wante ...more
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Aug 05, 2013 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
Oct 19, 2013 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
Aimee Kessell
Apr 20, 2016 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
La Tonya  Jordan
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: n/a
Recommended to La Tonya by: Pallidum Books
Shelves: ok-read
This book discussed the 40 year history of a drama high school. How he reformed a school from a sports high school to a drama high school. It had a lot of data on low-performing schools and students. This was a low-performing high school. The students excelled in theatre by adapting to different characters in plays and finding their strength and weaknesses.
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165 likes · 41 comments
“You have become so good that every mistake you make has a spotlight on it.” 4 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*.” 2 likes
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