Vincent J. Cardinal named chair of Department of Musical Theatre

The new chair of the Department of Musical Theatre at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) will be Vincent J. Cardinal, who begins his tenure in September 2016 as the Arthur E. and Martha S. Hearron Endowed Professor of Musical Theatre.

Cardinal succeeds Brent Wagner, who retired at the end of the 2015-16 academic year after serving for 32 years as the first and only chair in the department’s history.

Cardinal is currently the artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre and chair of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut. Previously, he was associate dean of performing arts at Adelphi University (Long Island, NY) and chair of theatre at the University of Miami (FL), where he was artistic director of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, garnering international attention for his musical theatre productions.

In addition, Cardinal served at Ohio University as director of the School of Theater and head of the MFA Playwriting Program, and was the director of Off-Broadway’s Circle Repertory Company School of Theater. He was also an associate artist with the Circle Rep Company, as well as a member of its Projects-in-Progress series, Circle Rep Lab.

“Vincent Cardinal’s exceptional combination of academic and professional accomplishment ideally qualifies him to lead our renowned musical theatre department,” said Aaron Dworkin, dean of SMTD. “Under Brent Wagner’s brilliant leadership, the department became one of the nation’s finest, and one of the University’s most beloved. I have no doubt that Vincent will sustain Brent’s legacy and continue the tradition of excellence that has made the program a model for all others.”

“I am honored and humbled to follow in the footsteps of the department’s founding chairman and to work with a gifted faculty who have been so influential in musical theatre and musical theatre training in this country,” said Cardinal. “I am excited to join SMTD’s visionary dean, Aaron Dworkin, and the SMTD faculty, staff, students, patrons, and alumni for the next great era of musical theatre at the University of Michigan.”

A graduate in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, where he was honored with the ASCAP-Cole Porter Award for Best-Collected Work, Cardinal’s plays have been produced internationally, including The Colorado Catechism, which premiered at Circle Repertory Company. The Los Angeles production of the play garnered actors Timothy Daly and Amy Van Nostrand Dramalogue Awards for Best Performances.

Cardinal has directed 80 productions from coast-to-coast; premieres under his direction include Killing El Cid by Dan Shea and Disengaged by Anita Gabrowsek. He recently directed Terrence Mann in My Fair Lady and Man of La Mancha; Pat Sajak in The Odd Couple and The Drowsy Chaperone; Steve Hayes in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Jerry Adler and Richard Kline in The Sunshine Boys; and Leslie Uggams in Gypsy.

SMTD’s musical theatre department is one of Michigan’s most competitive, with only 22-24 freshmen admitted from approximately 1,000 applicants annually. More than 700 artists have graduated from the program over its 32 years, and at any given time many can be found on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in regional and touring companies.

Musical theatre alumni include Jenni Barber, Nick Blaemire, Gavin Creel, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Barrett Foa, Hunter Foster, Alex Gemignani, Doug LaBreque, Brynn O’Malley, Cary Tedder, Toni Trucks, Carlos Valdes, and Helene Yorke. Other alumni include producer Matthew Rego, the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, casting director Rachel Hoffman, and choreographer Josh Rhodes.

Brent Wagner is credited with making the SMTD musical theatre department one of the country’s most esteemed. He adapted the curriculum to reflect changes in the industry without sacrificing a solid foundation of coursework in musical theatre history, and he advocated that one-fourth of student degree requirements be in academic classes not related to the arts, encouraging students to reap the full benefits of the University of Michigan.

A tribute concert honoring Wagner was held at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City on May 16. Produced and performed by alumni, “Maize & Blue on Broadway” was a sold-out event that raised funds for the Michigan Musical Theatre Endowment Fund (, founded by alumni. The fund supports educational opportunities for students, including the Brent Wagner Speaker Series.