FAIRLESS HILLS >> It’s two weeks before the prom and the gym at Pennsbury High School is buzzing with activity.
The floor is completely covered in mural projects as more than 50 student volunteers - with paint brushes in hand - are working on some pretty impressive scenery that will serve as the backdrop for Pennsbury High School’s Senior Prom on Saturday, June 1.
The transformation of the school into what has been hailed as “The Best Prom in America” by Readers Digest and Seventeen Magazine is well underway with a targeted completion of Friday, May 31.
And if you think that previous proms were over the top, just wait until you get a taste of “Prom to the Music,” says Prom Adviser and retired high school art teacher Tony Napoli, who says unequivocally that this will be “the best Prom evah.
“By far this is going to be the best from the entertainment to the decorations and the schedule of events for the students,” said Napoli, who is working on his 28th Prom, but his first as a retiree.
“That’s probably why it’s going to be bigger and better because I’ve been able to focus all my energies this year on the Prom,” said Napoli.
This year’s theme is all about music, from instruments and festivals to every music genre with an extra emphasis on rock and roll.
“We’ve been wanting this theme for about eight years now. It finally won,” he said, noting that each year students vote on the Prom theme.
It was a tight vote with the music theme winning by a scant 10 votes over Promacon, which would have spotlighted conventions, said Napoli.
From the time seniors walk through the doors at PHS, they will be immersed in the “Prom to the Music” theme, from the lobby and the cafeteria to the gym and even the bathrooms.
“When you first walk in everything is going to be instrumental,” said Prom advisor and high school art teacher Curtis May.
Just inside the door, they will be surrounded by “an amazing display” of musical instruments, including a grand piano made out of Styrofoam and covered in sheet music and a concert harp, its strings made out of recycled cassette tape.
“They have also taken vinyl albums and they’ve melted them down and then painted them to look like flowers. I’m talking about hundreds of them. It’s jaw-dropping,” said Napoli.
The piano from the movie, “Big,” starring Tom Hanks, will also be making an appearance inside the lobby.
In the far area of the lobby will be a giant-size reproduction of an album cover featuring Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” which May said will have a three-dimensional arm reaching out 17 feet from the album cover.
And two large murals in the lobby area will pay tribute to Louie Armstrong and Beyoncé, both in Styrofoam relief.
From there, couples will pass by a tribute to American Band Stand and Dick Clark with a giant spinning record followed by the New York music scene with subways and streetlights.
The cafeteria will be devoted to Broadway, its walls plastered with playbills, while the hallways will celebrate musicals, jazz, music from around the world, the evolution of hip hop, music festivals and a glow-in-the-dark hallway devoted to the 60s and complete with a Volkswagen van.
“Every album cover that you can think of, that you loved, will be represented,” said Napoli.
It all builds up to the grand centerpiece of the Prom - the gymnasium - which will be transformed into the Rock and Hall of Fame.
Dominating one of the walls inside the gym will be the pyramid facade of the Hall of Fame and its outside display of guitars. Another mural will pay tribute to inductees who have passed away.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame President and CEO, Greg Harris, will also be in attendance that evening to crown the Senior Prom King and Queen at approximately 7:45 p.m. in front of the Hall of Fame replica. Harris is a member of the Pennsbury High School Class of 1983.
To add to this year’s excitement, the students of Pennsbury High School are attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest mural of kisses -- a wall-sized, 3D sign that spells ROCK MUSIC covered with lip prints.
An 18-foot-tall guitar (also covered with kisses) will serve as the centerpiece to the 53-foot-long mural. The current world record stands at 13,316 kisses in Brazil in 2012. Pennsbury plans to shatter this number with over 40,000 lip prints glued to the mural. The school’s carefully-documented attempt to break the world record has been nearly a year in the making.
And suspended over the center of the gym will be a giant Falcon with an impressive 60 foot wing span, its talons clutching a giant boom box with pulsating speakers, spinning CD player, lights and a simulated graphic equalizer that will be synchronized to the music.
“Its wings are going to be flapping and it’s going to have on a backward baseball cap,” said Napoli.
May, who is devoting much of his time to creating the 3-D effects, said this year’s Prom is “going to be pretty spectacular.
“We used to have one or two jaw-droppers,” adds Napoli. “At this one, their jaws are going to drop in many different places. The level of creativity just boggles the mind.”
“At each step there’s going to be something else,” adds May.
Adding to this year’s prom will be its special musical guests, which is kept a closely guarded secret until a few days before the Prom.
“Whenever a student or teacher asks me who will be performing, I always tell them the Faculty Band,” says Napoli with a smile and not providing any clues or hints as to this year’s performers. “You’ll have to wait and see.”
Some of the Prom’s past performers have included Bo Diddley, Robert Klein, John Mayer, Metro Station, Matt Schuler, Pauly D, Quest Love, Asher Roth and Moosh and Twist.
The Prom culminates many months of planning and decorating by scores of students and their parents and teachers. A long-standing, popular tradition, the prom decorating also attracts local community members who participate as alumni and also parents of alumni.
“This wouldn’t happen without the parents and students,” said May. “For the parents to come out four or five nights a week at the end of their work day, it’s just amazing to see.”
Over the course of the project, more than 300 students and about 200 parents will have worked on the Prom, bringing the school and the community together in unity.
Three seniors - Madigan O'Neil, Daniel Cherepko and Rahil Dixit - are among the 60 chairs overseeing the preparation. They were busy on a recent Saturday working on murals and other projects.
O'Neil was focusing her efforts on four giant murals that will decorate the school's hallways, including a glow-in-the-dark hallway devoted to the 60s.
For O'Neil, Prom is about legacy. "My cousin did this when she was a senior. And I had my 10th birthday on a prom parade float," she said with a smile.
Cherepko concentrated his efforts in the gym working on the largest murals of the prom, including a tribute to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees who have since died; one celebrating the Live Aid concerts of the 1980s; and a third featuring the logos of every band inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Dixit focused his efforts on a mural celebrating music festivals from around the world, including Tomorrowland, a festival held in Belgium.
"With our Prom chairs putting in so much effort, it's exciting to see everything come together," says Dixit. "From the moment you walk in there's going to be so much to see and experience."
And what's it like being a part of the Best Prom in America?
"I don't think there are words," says Dixit. "It's just a big smile and a magical feeling."
"It's amazing," adds Cherepko. "You wouldn't even know its our school because every part of it is covered. When you walk in, you're in another place. It's something we're going to remember all of our lives."
This year’s Pennsbury Senior Prom advisers are Tony Napoli and Curtis May. MaryAnn Daley serves as entertainment coordinator. Reggie Meadows is Principal of PHS East and Cherrissa Gibson is currently Acting Principal of PHS West. The PHS administrator overseeing the 2019 prom is Assistant Principal, Laura Tittle.
Public Walk Through
A public walk-through is scheduled for Saturday, June 1 from noon until 3 p.m. at the high school with the traditional Pennsbury Prom arrival parade and red carpet walk cheered on by spectators from 5:15 to approximately 7:30 p.m. outdoors that same evening on the high school campus.