Graduate column: Michael Mahler


As a student at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Michael Mahler often appeared on stage — acting and singing in “Guys & Dolls” and “West Side Story,” not to mention tap dancing in “42nd Street,” although, “not very well,” he admits. Soon, he’ll be back at the St. Louis Park high school to see current students in “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock ’N’ Roll Adventure,” a retelling of the Lewis Carroll tale for which Mahler wrote the music and lyrics.

“It’s a fun piece that enabled me to work in different musical idioms. For example, the caterpillar plays Indian Bollywood music, and the Cheshire Cat is a punk rocker,” explained Mahler, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

He lives in Chicago, where the vibrant theater community enables him to work as an actor while composing works garnering wide acclaim. Last spring, the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis staged the premiere of Mahler’s musical version of “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” while San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre recently staged “October Sky” — a musical based on the 1999 movie for which Mahler wrote the songs. When time permits, Mahler also performs with his band, The Lincoln Squares (

Music has long been part of his life. Mahler, who also attended St. Bartholomew Catholic School in Wayzata, says some of his earliest memories are of accompanying his parents to choir practice at church. By high school, Mahler had begun writing his own music for Masses.

“It’s amazing how similar songs for musicals are to liturgical music,” he said. “Both theater and liturgical songs have to be artistic and beautiful, but also work in the context they’re written for — either a group of people praying together or to get a character from Point A in the story to Point B.”

Mahler believes his K-12 Catholic education provided a strong foundation.

“I attribute a lot of where I am in life and what I do to my Catholic education. It was top-notch and provided all sorts of opportunities,” he said. “In any career, the most important thing a young person can have is a real mentor — someone to emulate and learn from. I had many of those people.”

One of Mahler’s mentors is Marty Haugen, a prolific liturgical composer. Mahler also credits his high school choir director for encouraging him to participate in Catholic music conventions.

“I was published as a songwriter even before leaving high school, which was pretty cool to write on my college application,” noted Mahler, whose liturgical compositions are distributed through GIA Publications, Inc. “That was an exciting opportunity I never would have gotten anywhere else.”

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