Nothing says more about the Parkers tradition than the last five minutes of the show. The cast and crew—around 150 strong—assemble in rows on the stage steps to sing the closing song, “That’s All This Year” (set loosely to the tune “Goodnight, Ladies”). On the last line, “So long, see you next year,” everyone pulls a little fireworks popper and waves to the audience. Drop confetti. Cut the lights. It seems simple, but if bullish administrators ever tried to alter it, they would have a mutiny on their hands. And that zealous loyalty is how, in the face of budget cuts, tax levies, and iPhones, you keep a high school variety show alive for 70 years.
My Parkers memories date to the early 1990s, when I was a student at Amity Elementary. Each spring, our teachers marched us up Galbraith Road so we could view the Parkers dress rehearsal. This event was A Very Big Deal. “For those kids, they were watching professionals,” says John Matre, a retired Deer Park district music teacher who worked on the show from 1975 to 2012. “When they got to high school, they wanted to be carrying on a tradition.”
Nothing substantial about Parkers has changed in its lifetime. Sure, there are new cultural references in the skits and solo performances, all designed by the students. But there’s still a theme, which is set by the director and drives the whole show. The choir acts still lean heavily on familiar Broadway songs (“Hello, Dolly,” “I Feel Pretty”). There is still a proper girls’ kick line, with character shoes and everything, and a wacky boys’ kick line.
“Multiple generations participate in Parkers,” says retired Choir Director Marjean Wuest (née Miller), who worked on the show from 1980 to 2007 and directed it for most of that time. “A lot of kids go through high school and they pack up their books at 3 o’clock and they never participate in anything. Parkers gives them a big window to what it’s like to be responsible, to be on time for something, to cooperate with directors. It teaches students esprit de corps.”
On that dress rehearsal day, many young Deer Parkers, myself included, vowed to be on the Parkers stage. And most of us ended up there. In a school of 500-odd kids, Parkers was the great equalizer. Everybody who wanted to participate could. Former Deer Park City Schools Band Director Joe Vetter headed up the jazz band that carried the show for over 25 years. I can still see him down in the pit, conducting “Birdland” or “The Final Countdown” between acts. It was always billed to us as “the longest-running live music variety show in the state,” which seemed totally plausible yet unverifiable. But that’s the mythology of Parkers: “It’s something special. And you’ll be part of it.” So long, see you next year.
Click through our gallery to see more photos from Parkers of the past: