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March 31, 1994 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-03-31

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, March 31, 1994 - 5

Continued from page 1
Go Into Your Dance
One of Wagner's first tasks was
the hiring of a resident choreogra-
pher. Through a recommendation
from a friend, he discovered Tim
Something Bad Is Happening
Millett did wonderful work as a
*horeographer and a lecturer in dance
in the MT program. Who can forget
the wondrous ballet sequences he put
together in 1992's "Pal Joey"? How-
ever, later that year Millett became
sick. "A Day in Hollywood /A Night
in the Ukraine" (October 1992) would
become his last show.
Although the program gives no
indication, John Schak ("Into the
Woods") came in to finish the direct-
Dg of "Hollywood / Ukraine." Stu-
dents who worked on that show re-
member Millett being confined tocho-
reographing from a seat in the house.
Millett died in November.
Move On
"It was a tremendous loss. He was
a great creative artist and a great
teacher," Wagner said.
"Tim was someone who was here
n the real developmental years of the
rogram and really helped to make it
thrive," Wagner continued. "But as
Tim would have wanted it we're still
moving ahead and not forgetting him
in the process."
"We were all profoundly affected
by Tim's death. Everyone loved him
immensely," said DePuit. "We just
tried to pick up and keep going. I still
very keenly feel Tim's presence."
Sunny Side to Every Situation
In January '93 the program was
lucky to find Debra Draper. An active
performer and choreographer with a
thriving career in New York, Draper
was approached by Wagner while in
between projects. Among her Broad-
way and regional theater credits, co-
incidentally enough, she had traveled
in "A Chorus Line" with Millett, and
the two had become very good friends.
"It was kind of bittersweet in a
ay - kind of strangely right that I
Continued from page 5
musical theater is truly about."
Any hopes of a new Harnick mu-
sical in the near future? Well ...
Harnick is currently sitting on two
one-act operas - entitled "Love in
Owo Countries." The first, "That Pig
of a Molette," Wagner directed some
years ago at the O'Neill Theater Cen-
ter in Connecticut. The second, "A
Question of Faith," was added by
Harnick and composer Thomas
Shepard soon afterward.
"I talked to Brent and I'm hoping
he will be able to direct them in con-
junction with the opera program,"

would up replacing him," Drapersaid.
Draper was in an awkward posi-
tion, with some big dancing shoes to
fill. "The first week or two they were
still a little bit shocked," Draper re-
membered. "There wasn't much en-
rollment in the dance courses, but
once they heard that I was okay ...
they started coming in droves.
"I'm glad for them that it ended up
being me, because I think that really
helped them be able to speak about
him and know they were talking to
someone who knew him so well."
Draper's "Brigadoon" showed that
she was indeed a very gifted choreog-
rapher, and in the past year Draper
has become more than Millett's re-
placement; she has made her own
place in the program.
I've Got What You Want
The 20-25 freshpersons selected
each year are a pretty special bunch.
At a typical MT audition, one would
sing two pieces (one ballad and one
up-tempo, one of which was written
before 1960), perform a monologue,
dance a combination, and take a mu-
sic theory and piano proficiency test.
"Potential" -not perfection -is
what DePuit claims they are looking
for. Potential in acting, singing and
dance plus "commitment, interest
and love for the field."
"You rarely get a freshman that
you would label a 'triple threat.'
You're always going to get a fresh-
man who's got a really strong voice
but needs to work on acting, or you
get the ones who are great dancers
who still need to work on their voice,"
Draper noted.
"I think what this program does is
give everyone his/her place to feel the
most comfortable, yet provides the
environment to work on the areas
they need to strengthen."
Learn Your Lessons Well
Strengthening those areas comes
through a strict and rigorous curricu-
lum. Wagner has designed a degree
program which focuses on five areas:
1. Music - theory, voice, piano
2. Theater - acting, stagecraft,
3. Dance-tap,jazz, ballet, musi-
Harnick said.
Harnick also has his hands in an-
other pot - his animated film, "The
World is One Big Chelm," has a pro-
jected release date of 1995. Based on
the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, a
"chelm" is a mythical town inhabited
mostly by fools.
Harnick did have some advice for
budding performers: "Have some kind
of fallback employment. (You) have
to make some way to make a living
while (you're) waiting."
"Be prepared to accept heartbreak
and disappointment. The rewards can
be great, but it's a very tough field."
Did Harnick go through heart-
break and disappointment? "Oh yeah,"
he sighed. "And still. It goes on."

cal theater styles
4. Musical Theater - tying to-
gether acting and singing, audition
techniques, arranging music
5. Academic - at least 30 credits
outside of the School of Music
Nice Work If You Can Get It
So after four intense years of
classwork and performance, where
does a MT student go? New York (or
Chicago or Los Angeles). And be-
cause Wagner, DePuit and Draper
have all been involved in the profes-
sional world of musical theater, they
know what it takes to survive.
The students learn how to prepare
for an audition, receive contacts and
most importantly, leave with a true-
to-life perspective of the field.
"The program I came from was
strictly a ballet program," Draper said.
"We didn't know what a backstage
was. No one told us to pick up the
New York Times and read it. We
didn't have that kind of knowledge
being given to us."
While there are no employment
guarantees in the performing arts, the
success of the MT graduates should
be an encouraging sign. To date, the
program has 84 graduates. Wagner
(who corresponds with all of them)
estimates that 75 percent of them are
still dedicating themselves to careers
in the theater, through performing,
directing, or producing.
Young and Healthy
Though the program has acquired
a notable reputation in its 10 years, it
is still growing. Applications for the
1994-95 year increased 60 percent..
Wagner recognizes the success of
the program, but still keeps his goals
in perspective. One of his main goals
is to continue to do new works.
"The more we can do with new
works and supporting new writers is
really our mission," he explained.
Over the years, the program has
done many new works: "A Wonder-
ful Life," the world premiere of
Sheldon Harnick-Joe Raposo's musi-
cal (1986); "Dragons," a new version
of the Harnick musical (1989); "Love
Life," the first-ever revival of the
Alan Jay Lerner-Kurt Weill vaude-
ville (1987); "Quilt: A Musical Cel-
ebration," the Midwest premiere of
John Schak-Michael Stockler-Jim
Morgan-Merle Hubbard work (1993).
Another of Wagner's goals is to
bring the arts to new audiences in the
University community and Ann Ar-
bor. "Young people are exposed far
more to video than they are to live
theater," Wagner commented.
"Whether we are developing future
performers or future audiences, we're
all sharing what we already love."
Everything's Coming Up Roses
Sharing what they love - that's
what the program is about. And if the
past 10 years are any indication, this
still-blossoming program should pro-
vide education and entertainment for
years to come.

Stephen Sondheim's "Company," which was presented in fall of 1991. At center is Hunter Foster, 1992 graduate.
A lnut

Daily Arts Editor Melissa Rose Bernardo recently
interviewed four students in the Musical Theatre Pro-
gram: Christopher French, sophomore; Ronit Mitzner,
junior; James Cooper, senior; Danny Gurwin, senior.
Daily: Why did you chose Michigan?
Chris: When I came up to audition, immediately from
the program I felt very much a sense of family and
Ronit: I wanted to stay away from someplace like
New York, because if I'm going to spend therest ofmy life
there I can certainly spend four years in a cultural haven
like Ann Arbor.
Danny: I was interested in getting a well-rounded
education - not just a conservatory education.
D: What has been to date your best experience in the
Chris: Performing "Brigadoon" was an incredible
experience - being part of a professional kind of produc-
tion, where everyone acts professionally yet they still
know how to have fun.
Ronit: I love both performance classes ... because
you're allowed to do so much ... You're allowed to
explore stuff which later on you'll probably never be
allowed to do or get paid to do.
James: I think the greatest asset of the program has
been Jerry DePuit ... you learn (from him) so much about
music, about the composer and the lyricist, and he really
is very personal to the students.
Danny: Whenever we have a lab, we get to watch
everybody sort of do the work that they're proud of, and
that always makes me feel a part of something bigger --
something wonderful really.
D: In your time in the program how do you feel you
have grown as a performer and as an individual?
Chris: I think that one of the first things this program
has stressed is that we cannot expect to be anyone other

than who we are ... I've found more about the things that
make me unique, and I've been able to utilize those, from
a personal and a career perspective.
Ronit: I came from a huge high school where the
director was always saying, "Make that bigger! Play to the
last row!" and so I did. I learned here that is not always the
best choice ... It was great learning how to be more real.
Danny: I think you just develop an overall sense of
style, an idea of what's needed of you, what you need to
accomplish. Also, I think you come in with a sort of self-
interested perspective ... and you learn to sort of let that
go and become a part of an ensemble.
D: James and Danny, you're both graduating this May.
What are your plans?
James: I'm getting ready to move to New York ... I'm
looking forward to seeing all the people who graduated
before me, who are my friends and who are auditioning
and know what's in New York at this moment.
Danny: I'll work over the summer and save money,
and then I'm moving to New York in the fall. And dive
right in. To the abyss. And we'll see what happens.
Both James and Danny were confident that the pro-
gram had prepared them for any situation they'll encoun-
ter. But the tentativeness in their voices was apparent.
U alum Hunter Foster offered some advice. Foster
graduated from theMT program in 1992, and after touring
with "Cats," is currently touring in the Broadway-bound
revival of "Grease," starring Rosie O'Donnell.
"Save all of your money," Foster advised. "It's very
sad, but the more money you have, the better off you're
going to be."
And waiting for that big break isn't going to be easy.
"I know a lot of graduates who are in New York right now
and are very frustrated, because they aren't used to not
having a job for five months.
"Be patient and wait your turn. If you're patient
enough, things should come your way."

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