SALEM — After more than 40 years of teaching high school physics, Jim Centorino says he's heard a number of memorable stories.

And that inspired the Salem native, now a teacher in California and a lifelong musician, to compose a humorous musical about prom. Written in 2016 and featuring 17 original songs, “Senior Prom: The Musical” showcases the memorable highs and dramatic lows experienced by high school students across the country.

And the script is entirely factual.

Over the years, whenever his students said something funny, goofy or surprising, Centorino wrote down the phrase and placed it in a coffee mug on his desk.

“It was filled to the brim with paper. I had to do something,” he said, noting that many of the quotes were "too precious to lose." He used those pieces of paper while composing songs and dialogue for his musical.

“It’s a slice of life,” Centorino said of his family-friendly musical. “It’s just kids being kids.”

The diverse musical score consists of tango, classical, country, rap and pop genres. But this ease of creating stems from Centorino’s personal musical background. He earned two degrees from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, released nine musical albums and had a number of compositions performed internationally.

Centorino grew up near Salem Willows, attended St. John's Prep and graduated from Boston College in 1971. His family was well-known in Salem. His two sisters still live in the area: Nancy in Ipswich and Fran in Danvers. His brother, Joe, was an eight-term city councilor who ran for state senator and mayor in the '80s. He lives in Florida now, where he served as director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust until 2018.  

Jim moved to California in the 1980s to further his music career, but also continued teaching. 

Now he is looking to have his musical performed around the country and has contacted several high schools in California and Massachusetts. 

Dean Bennett, one of the assistant principals at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, California, taught science with Centorino for nearly a decade and is interested in having “Senior Prom: The Musical” performed at his high school. 

“I’m hoping we can do this,” he said, adding that he always knew Centorino would do something with that jar of quotes on his desk. Bennett said Centorino had a gift for making physics entertaining, and the kids “absolutely loved him."

Centorino taught at the charter school for more than 20 years.

Today he teaches physics at Louisville High School, an all-girls prep school in Woodland Hills, just north of Los Angeles. But some of the most memorable musical lines came early in his career while teaching physics at Natick High School in the 1980s.

He recalled one student in particular, a young girl who approached him after class sporting a leather jacket and brass knuckles.

She asked what he thought of them, and Centorino said, “I think they’re the shiniest brass knuckles I’ve ever seen.” Then he remembers her saying they actually belonged to her mother.

“I couldn’t let that go,” said Centorino. Now it's part of the musical, he said, and always gets a laugh from the audience.

The lead couple in the musical, Toni and Tommy, were inspired by students Centorino had in physics class decades ago. After pairing them up for an assignment, he said the two instantly clicked and attended senior prom together. They were later married, and Centorino said one even attended the premiere of “Senior Prom: The Musical” at Louisville High School.

He's currently working on a cello and piano piece with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Conservatory. He's also considering a sequel to "Senior Prom: The Musical." saying he’ll always keep creating. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” he said.

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or adiamantides@salemnews.com.