World premiere of ‘Wrestling! The Musical’ set for Heritage High School

Wrestling! The Musical debuts Thursday night at Heritage High School. The musical comedy was written by Derek Garrison, the school’s principal. Photo courtesy Heritage High School
Wrestling! The Musical debuts Thursday night at Heritage High School. The musical comedy was written by Derek Garrison, the school’s principal. Photo courtesy Heritage High School

Musical comedy was written by Heritage High School’s principal

A world premier, right here in Clark County.

A new production, a musical, right here in Vancouver.

An original piece of art, performed right here at Heritage High School.

Most high school theater productions are of shows that audiences are familiar with even before buying a ticket. Maybe it’s “The Addams Family.” Or “Beauty and the Beast.” Or perhaps “The Wizard of Oz.”

On Thursday night, though, The Heritage Thespians proudly present “Wrestling! The Musical.”

Say what?

“It’s not a lot of pressure,” said senior Payton Graham, who stars as wrestling coach Royal McKay and who also is the choreographer for the show. “Nobody’s expecting anything. Nobody’s seen it before so nobody has anything to expect. It’s a high school musical written by a high school principal. Not to offend, but we can only go up.”

“I wholeheartedly agree,” said Derek Garrison, the principal of Heritage High School, and yes, the person who wrote this musical.

Payton Graham, who plays wrestling coach Royal McKay, said it is challenging to originate a role. Wrestling! The Musical makes its world debut on Thursday at Heritage High School. Photo courtesy Heritage High School
Payton Graham, who plays wrestling coach Royal McKay, said it is challenging to originate a role. Wrestling! The Musical makes its world debut on Thursday at Heritage High School. Photo courtesy Heritage High School

Wrestling! The Musical is directed by Charlie Jackam, the longtime head of the school’s theater department. This is the first original performance for the school.

“It’s great for the kids to go down a path that they’ve never gone down before, and they can’t go to YouTube and watch somebody else do it. It’s their creation, their character. It’s liberating and intimidating at the same time. You are putting footsteps in the snow.”

Garrison said he knows nothing about theater. He is a writer and a former wrestler. He had an idea to showcase the sport and theater.

“Football, basketball, and volleyball seem to get a little more of a spotlight than wrestling does. Oftentimes, band and choir get a little more of a spotlight than theater does,” Garrison said. “I thought there is an interesting overlap between these two worlds of wrestling and theater.

“What they have in common, there is a bright spotlight in the moment. In wrestling, it’s just you out there. It’s just you on a mat. In the theater, the lights go down, the spotlight goes on, and it’s you on that stage. There is a lot of pressure that I think is different from team sports or huge choirs. There is an overlap between these two crazy worlds. Let’s see if we can get any laughs out of it.”

So what is Wrestling! The Musical all about?

A comedy. A musical. And a positive message.

“Mostly about a coach who is about to get his 100th career win,” Garrison said. “He’s a legend, but kind of a legend in his own mind. (The school) decides to bring in an assistant coach. She comes in with some of her own expertise and ideas.  They are a clash of personalities. He wants to be the boss. She wants to prove herself. Hijinks ensue.”

Wrestling! The Musical is the first original show that Heritage High School has produced. Photo courtesy Heritage High School
Wrestling! The Musical is the first original show that Heritage High School has produced. Photo courtesy Heritage High School

Another plotline, the coach’s son is good at wrestling but wonders if he is just wrestling because his dad is the coach. And there is a cast of other characters who bring their own drama.

“Conflicting personalities. People taking themselves too seriously, and a need to take ‘em down a notch,” Garrison said.

In song, of course.

Oh yes, Garrison doesn’t write music, either. So he and family members dabbled with an app that allowed him to find a sound that seemed to fit. Still, he needed a real musician to write the music. He posted a help wanted ad on the Fiverr app, looking for someone to write a musical. 

Joe Gautrey, from London, agreed. 

Garrison and Gautry would meet via Zoom, coordinating schedules that worked best from England and the west coast of the U.S., and together, they got it done.

This fictional story takes place in a fictional high school that just happens to share the name of the real high school. As an added bonus, by naming the school after Heritage, the costume budget was “way down” because the actors just wear Heritage wrestling uniforms and Heritage wrestling mats,” Garrison said.

If this show ever gets picked up by another school’s theater program, Garrison said it’s as simple as “insert school name here.”

The pandemic put off the debut of the musical. This year, Garrison, Jackam, and the Heritage theater community figured it was time to showcase this new idea on the stage. The students have been working on the production since September.

“It’s a lot of hard work. This is my first musical,” said Izzy Nascimento, who plays Dee, a wrestler and the team manager. “I struggled in the beginning. There is no reference to go off of. But it’s been an enjoyable experience. I like how I get to originate my role and take my turn on how I want to play her.”

Tristyn Moore, who plays coach Annie Goulet, also noted how it is strange to have zero reference as to how Goulet is supposed to react, because she is the first person to ever play Goulet.

“It’s just weird. But it’s cool to be part of something new that no one has ever done before,” Moore said. 

There was an idea by Garrison. Then the writing. Music had to be composed. Then the community had to get through the toughest years of the pandemic.

On Thursday night, though, Wrestling! The Musical arrives.

“It’s go time,” Moore said. “I’m just excited to represent Heritage and show the audience what we’ve got going on.”

Wrestling! The Musical

Performances run Dec. 1, 2, and 3 and again Dec. 8, 9, and 10.

All performances begin at 7 p.m.

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