The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) has appointed acclaimed musical theatre artist and educator Michael McElroy as the new chair of the school’s top-ranking Department of Musical Theatre.
McElroy, who is also a Grammy nominated vocal arranger, composer, and a leader in forging diversity initiatives for the performing arts, begins his tenure in September 2021 as the Arthur E. and Martha S. Hearron Endowed Professor of Musical Theatre. He succeeds Vincent J. Cardinal, who has served as chair since 2016 and is stepping down to focus exclusively on teaching.
A Tony-nominated musical theatre veteran, McElroy joins SMTD after 10 years at New York University (NYU) where he was an associate arts professor in the New Studio on Broadway, a musical theater acting studio in undergraduate drama at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Part of the inaugural faculty that created the studio, he served as head of Vocal Performance, creating the curricula for the discipline, and as director of diversity initiatives for Tisch Drama, a position that he originated.
In 1994, McElroy founded Broadway Inspirational Voices (BIV), a diverse, professional choir of Broadway artists, “united to change lives through the power of music and service,” for which he served as music director until stepping down this month. In 2019, BIV received the Tony Award Honor for Excellence in the Theater.
McElroy is also a founding member of Black Theatre United, Music Theater Dance Professionals in the Academy (MTDPA), and MUSE (Musicians United for Social Equity), organizations that share a mission of advancing more equitable practices in the performing arts.
“This is a thrilling appointment for us,” said David Gier, dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “Michael McElroy brings a trifecta of invaluable experience: As a seasoned artist with 30 years on the Broadway stage, as an educator with impeccable credentials, and as a leader working for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the performing arts. With this unique background, he is ideally suited to guide our celebrated musical theatre program into the future at a pivotal time for the theatre industry and for higher education.”
“Professor McElroy is a leader in the teaching of our craft and is committed to raising up diverse voices in our field,” said Jason DeBord, associate professor of musical theatre who led the search committee for the new chair. “He is one of the most respected individuals in musical theatre education and performance, and we are fortunate to have him at the university and SMTD.”
“I am so excited to be a part of such an amazing program, at a university that looks at its musical theatre program as something of absolute value and importance to the institution,” said McElroy. “And I’m thrilled to be in conversation with faculty who are really excited to build upon the legacies of Vince Cardinal and Brent Wagner.”
McElroy’s performance career launched when he moved to New York after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1990 with a degree in theatre; he received the university’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2020. His Broadway credits include Sunday in the Park With George (2017 revival), Next To Normal, Rent (in the role of Tom Collins), The Wild Party, The Who’s Tommy, Miss Saigon, Patti LuPone on Broadway, High Roller Social Pleasure Club, and Big River, for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as Jim. His vocal arrangements have been heard in the Broadway shows Disaster! and Street Corner Symphony, as well as Off-Broadway and regional productions.
“I know what that long term journey is,” said McElroy, speaking about his performance career. “I can now help students understand what longevity is in a career and the importance of reputation, consistency, building relationships, having joy in the room—all these things that the world in which we live doesn’t always help you to cultivate.”
Earlier this year, McElroy received NYU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Faculty Award, presented to “outstanding faculty who exemplify the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through teaching excellence, leadership, social justice activism, and community building.” The award reflects McElroy’s role as director of diversity initiatives, work that has become intrinsic to his career and identity.
“It’s a part of who I am, because I have to deal with these issues,” said McElroy. “Having to navigate these challenges, I know how it builds resilience and I’ve come to believe that it’s the next iteration of musical theatre training: how we build those skill sets so we’re able to really see and value every lived experience in the space, and then engage in complicated subject matter through the work.”
McElroy developed a relationship with SMTD over the last three years as he has twice served as the school’s Broadway Artist in Residence, an initiative supported by the Benard L. Maas Foundation and further developed by Vincent Cardinal.
“We are indebted to Vince Cardinal, for his exceptional stewardship of our department, and are grateful and delighted that he will remain on our faculty as a beloved teacher and colleague,” said DeBord. “His leadership has set the stage for this transformative new era in our school and industry.”
The U-M Department of Musical Theatre was founded in 1984 and for 32 years was chaired by Brent Wagner, who built it into one of the top musical theatre programs in the world. It provides students with a unique opportunity to receive a premier university education in conjunction with intense, conservatory-style training, and features one of the largest networks of alumni working on Broadway, including Tony Award winners Gavin Creel, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul.
Founded in 1880, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance is a vibrant community of approximately 1,100 student performing artists and scholars. Encompassing programs in dance, music, musical theatre, and theatre, it is consistently ranked among the top performing arts schools in the country when compared with performance-oriented conservatories or prestigious academic departments of music.
The SMTD faculty have national and international reputations, but are in every sense a resident faculty. The school offers a wide variety of programs, from traditional to cutting-edge, from primarily performance-based to those that are more academic, giving students huge resources to draw from in completing their education. In addition, students have access to the vast resources of a major research institution allowing them to greatly enhance their performing arts training.