The Musical Synopsis
It’s the first day of school for new theatre teacher Ms. Hope at Jimmy Carter High School, home of the NUTS! As she walks into her first Professional Development Day she meets all of her fellow teachers and administration with enthusiasm and hope as she is met with bitter cynicism and jaded excitement (“Professionally Developed”). The principal, Mr. Assle sets the tone as he works through the opening day agenda and introduces the new faculty to the rest of the group with a rousing rendition of the school’s football fight song (“Nut Nation”). Relentless and uncaring, Mr. Assle pushes through the agenda and unbeknownst to him, one of his “seasoned” teachers dies on the spot while complaining about the current status quo, signaling the death of the profession, as we know it. The school nurse runs in to evaluate her and reveals to the faculty that her cause of death was because she was labeled ineffective on her evaluation (“Ineffective”).
Ms. Hope is deeply moved by the teachers passing and very little comfort is offered to her. In fact, “this sort of thing happens every day. You either get used to it, or you leave. Either way some part of you dies.” Before ending the meeting, the staff is forced to watch a “Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying” training video before they can leave (“H.I.B. Rap”). After the uninspiring start to the school year, the first day of school for students is upon us as we see the disengaged teenagers enter Ms. Hope’s classroom for the first time. As she struggles to even get them to look up, Ms. Hope gains their trust and gets to know her students by asking them to simply try something new (“#TrySomethingNew”).
Not everyone feels comfortable with this new concept, including the quiet boy in the back, Aaron. He eventually gets swept up in the action and feels excited about something for the first time ever. As we see the students succeeding in trying something new, we see them then auditioning for the big Spring musical. Ms. Hope is pleasantly surprised at how much growth the students are showing and knows that she is finally in the right place, along with Aaron (“This is Our Year”).
Later that evening we go home with Ms. Hope as she tries to make it in time to kiss her children goodnight. Her husband tries to assure her of her many commitments; however, they end up getting into an argument about finances due to Ms. Hope’s position only being part-time. The stakes are high financially and Ms. Hope struggles with trying to be a mother, wife, teacher, and artist (“Fully Present”).
Back at school, things aren’t any easier. During a teacher lunch period, we see Ms. Hope ask her fellow teachers about some financial decisions in regard to her pension. The teachers all lament how the Pension system is broke while the financial representatives are close at hand trying to lure each teacher in a la Fosse (“Pension Tension). During the song, Mr. Assle comes on over the loud speaker to reveal a dangerous staff infection that is spreading like wildfire, the ineffective flu!
With the threat of the infection immanent, Ms. Hope decides to take action and ask the administration for the resources she needs in order for her theatre program and students to be successful. She is met with much patronizing opposition by Mr. Assle, Vice Principal “Coach,” brassy Vice Principal, Ms. Ballz and ditsy secretary, Tracy (“Mediocrity”).
Despite the “good enough” attitude, that doesn’t stop Ms. Hope. She heads back to class, slightly ticked off because the football team seems to get everything handed to them. Meanwhile, the bell has already ringed and Aaron tries to start class. Ms. Hope makes an instructional decision to have Aaron run the warm up and he does so with flying colors. As they start their rehearsal, Aaron asks Ms. Hope to speak to him out in the hallway. He reveals to her that he finally feels accepted and confident in class and in rehearsal and that he doesn't have a supportive family; especially his father. Ms. Hope assures Aaron that he has found his true calling; that the theatre is his home.
The bell rings, signaling the end of class and the students filter out except Aaron hangs around to hear Ms. Hope mutter something not so hopeful. He quickly confronts her and she confides in him that she is trying to start a full time theatre program and it's a lot harder than she anticipated. Aaron assures her that she is “definitely worth it” and that she shouldn't give up; however, he doesn't understand how high the stakes are for her and her young family. Aaron leaves to go to lunch and Ms. Hope goes to grade some homework. She stumbles across Aaron’s Actors Journal Entry to the prompt: “Why do you love the theatre?” As she reads his homework, Aaron sings his response (“Anyone But Me”).
It's the day of the show and the musical director and music teacher, Mr. Sharp is leading the student musicians and professional ringers in a full-out rehearsal on stage as Ms. Hope, the director and Ms. Chasse, the choreographer lead the staging and dance rehearsal (“Overture”). The students are doing a fabulous job and are really performing full out when Tracy runs into the auditorium yelling at them to STOP! She makes everyone leave because the stage is a “secure testing location.” The rehearsal abruptly stops as everyone clears the space for the ASS Test: The Assessment for Students in All States. The students are quickly ushered in via rolling desks with Chrome books attached, a la Thoroughly Modern Millie. The State Test Coordinator, Ms. Ballz organizes the Test Administrator, Senorita Verde and the Proctor, Ms. Chasse (in full dance clothes-no time to change) and Mrs. Peterson. The students are then instructed that they are taking multiple ninety-minute sections of the ASS Test (“C,CRAP!”).
After the debacle that is standardized testing, the staff gets the privilege of an afternoon of Professional Development. Poppy Fields, an author of children’s stories is brought in to “teach the teachers how to teach.” As she rambles on, the teachers rally in the back of the room and discuss how much money Ms. Fields is making by coming in and “teaching them” (“Wrong Business”). They all successfully complete their P.D. hours and Ms. Hope, Mr. Sharp, and Ms. Chasse get to finally rehearse for their opening night of the big Spring Musical.
The curtain is ready and the actors are at places when Ms. Hope gives a pre-show pep talk to the cast. She reveals to them that her administration “forgot” to do her last observation so they are observing her during the show. The cast and Ms. Hope wish each other to “break legs” as Ms. Hope gets ready for her “Shit Show” of an observation, where the administration makes her jump through hoops, literally (“Shit Show”).
As her students hold the last pose on stage, Ms. Hope takes a second to reflect on how much her students have grown and how proud she is of them. As she pans the crowd, she sees VP Coach in the back counting money. She runs over to him and he basically tells her that her full-time program was denied and that she will remain part-time next year. In a tearful, emotionally conflicted moment, Ms. Hope congratulates her students on a job-well done, but something doesn't feel right. She sends her kids to the cast party at the diner as she cleans up and Facetime’s her husband. He tries to cheer her up by telling her a full-time theatre position has opened up and they want her to come in and interview. Aaron overhears the end of this conversation and she discusses with him how dire the situation is. He doesn't understand her adult problems fully, but he knows he wants to help. Ms. Hope, left alone and conflicted decides to go to the interview. She can’t understand why she can be doing everything right, but it’s just all wrong (“Fully Present Reprise”).
Aaron catches up with the rest of the cast and reveals to them that Ms. Hope is struggling because she is only part-time and cant afford it anymore. Shocked, the students make a plan to write letters to the Board of Education in an effort to “share their experience,” because that is what you do in the theatre. As the students are rallying, so are Ms. Hope’s colleagues. They hear of her fulltime program being denied and decide to show up to support her at the Board of Education Meeting as well.
At the Board of Education meeting, one by one, teary-eyed students make their case as to why they should keep Ms. Hope and develop a full time theatre program. They unite on the fact that arts education matters and they wouldn't be who they are today without Ms. Hope’s influence (“#TrySomethingNew Reprise”).
It is now time for Ms. Hope to speak and she has her own letter to share, of resignation. She pleads with the Board of Education, parents, students, and community to let her do what she loves and does best: teach (“Just Let Me Teach”). As she makes her decision to walk away strong, Aaron runs after her and admonishes her for “just giving up.” She tries to explain to him that this has been a very difficult decision for her and she has to go because she has to respect herself enough to leave. Aaron finally understands and watches her walk away.
The company comes together to console each other and the audience with the upbeat and inspiring message of: we teach despite these obstacles (“We Teach”). The characters, audience, and Ms. Hope are now Professionally Developed, because we all teach in some way, shape, or form.