Taking Center Stage

The secret sauce behind musical excellence.

Maple Grove High School (MGHS) does not have a theater program. There’s no theater teacher or theater classes. So how is it that the school performs two highly successful productions each year (plus one-acts) involving hundreds of students and wins awards? The secret sauce is community.

“Within the district, we are different because of our parent boosters,” says production director and choreographer Nikki Swoboda. “We are so lucky to have engaged and impassioned parents who want their children to experience professionalism and excellence and so do the leg work to support the production team.”

That community supported a production of The Pajama Game last fall, which won numerous Spotlight Awards which honor Minnesota high school musical theater students and programs. Spotlight evaluators decide whether students are doing outstanding work with the resources available to them. “So, when we receive many 'Outstanding' awards, that tells us that our students are making the most of what they have been given,” says choir teacher Beth Hellstedt. “Yes, they have a great staff from whom they can learn—my biased opinion, of course. And yes, many students are naturally talented. But, talent doesn’t make a great show. It’s the connections that our students make with their directors and with each other that allow us to push ourselves toward that 'outstanding' mark year after year.” (See website for a list of past MGSH Spotlight production awards.)

Working on a four-year cycle, students who spend four years in the program will have the opportunity to work on four different types of shows. Example:

Year 1: Classic piece of musical theater, often a show that has been around for many decades.
(The Pajama Game, 2017)
Year 2: Family-friendly (Cinderella, 2014)
Year 3: Epic/Large-scale/Opera (Les Misérables, 2015)
Year 4: Creative/Artsy (Pippin, 2016)
While the district does designate funds each year for one musical, students wanted more opportunity, so vocal and instrumental teachers created an additional opportunity eight years ago. They call it Center Stage and it’s a musical review focusin on vocal and instrumental performance and dance. “This production is fully funded by our theater boosters, since the district does not support it in any way. We have more than doubled the number of students in the production over these 8 years,” Hellstedt says.

More experience working together makes directorial staff members (Hellstedt, Swoboda and orchestra director Peter Buller) more versed in creating a great experience for students. “It also builds community because our parents and families get to spend more time together, too,” says Hellstedt. “And it means that students who might do a fall sport or different activity can still perform in the spring, and vice-versa.”


This year’s theme for Center Stage is Once Upon A Time. Using songs from a variety of genres, the show will use minimal narration to tell three different stories, like mini-musicals, Hellstedt says. “The first story will be a children’s adventure tale. The second, hero and villain situations. And the third will be a sort of play on the High School Musical idea, taking place at MGSH and focusing on what life is like as a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior.”

“We’re really excited about it because it’s just a slightly different format than we have used in the previous years and it allows us to get even more creative about the way the songs in the show will all flow together,” she says.

The show will most likely sell out, as it has in the past, so consider reserving tickets early for the production running May 10 through 19.

“I still wish our school to do a regular play each year to give kids who aren’t into musicals a chance to perform. It’s on my list of dreams/goals,” Hellstedt says.

Center Stage 2018
Once Upon A Time
Reserve tickets here.