Oh, What A Night!
It was a night like no other in the history of the University of Michigan. Last May, alumni and current students of the Department of Musical Theatre, along with current and past faculty, honored retiring department chair Brent Wagner with an extravaganza in New York City.
Titled Maize & Blue on Broadway, the event honored Wagner’s extraordinary contributions as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. During his 32-year tenure, Wagner built the department into one of the nation’s top musical theatre programs (recently rated number one by On Stage Blog). In effect, he launched the careers of hundreds of graduates, almost all of whom showed up to express their gratitude, either from the stage or in the audience.
The two-hour spectacular, at the August Wilson Theatre, featured dozens of alums and students performing a wide variety of musical theatre numbers, many of them Professor Wagner’s personal favorites. The show was produced by Gavin Creel (’98) and Matthew Rego (’92), written by Nick Blaemire (’06) and David Kirshenbaum (’93), and included new musical numbers featuring music and lyrics by Benj Pasek (’06) and Justin Paul (’06), as well as Andrew Lippa (BM ’87, voice and education).
Maize & Blue on Broadway featured a who’s who of Broadway performers, including Jenni Barber (’05), Celia-Keenan Bolger (’00), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (’07), Todd Buonopane (’00), David Burtka (’97), Erin Dilly (’94), Barrett Foa (’99), Hunter Foster (’92), Alex Gemignani (’01), Brynn O’Malley (’03), Ashley Park (’13), Toni Trucks (’03), and many, many more.
Other alums who took the stage were Broadway casting director Rachel Hoffman (’99); actress Miriam Shor (BFA ’99, theatre); music arranger, orchestrator, and composer Sam Davis (BMA ’98, composition); Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien (BA ’61, MA ’62, theatre), who gave the opening remarks; and Sheldon Harnick, the Broadway lyricist (Fiddler on the Roof), who was an early friend of the department and a great supporter of Wagner’s work.
Faculty worked as music directors/orchestrators/arrangers (Jason DeBord, Cynthia Kortman-Westphal, Catherine Walker), and in critical behind-the-scenes roles including Linda Goodrich (director and choreographer), Ron De Jesús (additional choreography), and Nancy Uffner (production stage manager). A very special appearance was made by Assistant Professor Emeritus of Musical Theatre Jerry Dupuit.
Performed before a sold-out house, Maize & Blue on Broadway raised funds for the new Michigan Musical Theatre Ambassador Endowment Fund (MMTAEF). Created by alumni, the fund will support a number of musical theatre initiatives including the Brent Wagner Speaker Series, which will bring top musical theatre professionals to SMTD to teach and present master classes.
By Marilou Carlin, director of communications and editor of Michigan Muse.