The department is known for its lavish, emotionally detailed productions of contemporary and classic musicals, its full-production workshops of new musicals, and its spring New York City industry showcase of graduating performers — a 45-minute revue featuring the wide range of talents of the department's senior class.
In addition to shaping future Broadway performers, the musical theatre department and UM's School of Music have helped shape songwriters in American musical theatre. UM musical theatre seniors Justin Paul and Benj Pasek penned a revue called Edges, which has been performed at colleges around the country; their songs have also been heard at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater.
The fall 2006 UM musical theatre season will launch with The Pajama Game, directed by Mark Madama at the Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor. In spring 2007, at the Power Center, the rock opera Tommy will be directed and choreographed by Linda Goodrich.
Musical theatre department chair Brent Wagner will direct a full production of Pete Mills and Cara Reichel's recent Off-Off-Broadway musical about the early college life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Pursuit of Persephone, which recently received a Drama Desk nomination for Best Music.
The Princeton University angle of the story appealed to Wagner, whose cast is made up of musical theatre majors. "I think that Pete is very talented, and I'm thrilled that I've snagged one of his shows," Wagner told Playbill.com. "So many of our graduates have worked with him in various workshops and productions [including Pursuit] through the years that I've heard about him for a long time. They all rave about his writing, and I can see why."
Pursuit will play Nov. 9-12 on UM's north campus.
The original musical — not a strict re-telling of "This Side of Paradise," but based on the young life of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the time of his debut novel — has music and lyrics by Peter Mills, book by Mills and Cara Reichel, and was directed by Cara Reichel in its Off-Off-Broadway run in 2005-06.
Staging new work is vital to the UM musical theatre program, Wagner said. A new musical exposes students to material they have to explore from the ground up — no cast albums, movies or videos to research.
"In their careers, they'll have to be able to do both [revivals and new works]," Wagner told Playbill.com. "New musicals will never replace Brigadoon or West Side Story [in the program], because those are essential parts of our field, but graduates are always asked to work on something they've never done before, and I want to make sure that's something they know how do."
In the fall, the musical theatre department moves into the new Walgreen Drama Center on north campus, across the street from the School of Music. The Arthur Miller Theatre (which is the only theatre the late Miller allowed to use his name, since he's a Michigan graduate) will open in spring 2007. It will be populated with productions by the department of theatre and drama and musical theatre department.
For additional news of UM musical theatre graduates, click here.