One and a two and a three
Musical theater workshop finds home at U-M
The rehearsal room in the Power Center was filled with random taps and
claps and leg-lifts until the choreographer cued the students to start
“One and a two and a three and a four,” Brian Spitulnik said. The
song “Dirt” from “Sweet Smell of Success” blasted from
Photos by Marcia Ledford, U-M
Twenty-four high school dancers moved in sync as they rehearsed a routine they
learned only the day before. Less than two weeks after they arrived at the July
workshop, they performed this number before an audience as part of an original
That is the goal of this summer workshop in musical theater: to start with a
concept, and turn it into a well-rounded show through eight-hour-a-day rehearsals.
“It’s very intensive for the students,” said Brent Wagner,
chair of the Musical Theatre Department and director of the musical theater
From 1986 through last summer, students experienced this rigorous instruction
at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan as part of the
All-State program. For the first time this year, the audition-only musical theater
workshop was held on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.
Wagner decided on the move in order to make the program national instead of drawing
almost entirely from a pool of Michigan high school students. He also wanted
to give students exposure to U-M, with its highly respected musical theater program
and performance facilities, such as the Power Center and the Mendelssohn Theatre.
Wagner maintains a high regard for the All-State performing arts program as well
as for Interlochen itself, which has had a relationship with U-M since 1942.
But he hopes to keep the musical theater workshop at U-M in the future, and says
some of the other workshops may come to campus as well. Other All-State programs
include band, choir, flute, orchestra, saxophone and piano. A workshop in music
technology also is held on the U-M campus.
“Now that we’re here, we’re looking for a new name. It can
be a national program,” he said. “It can become anything we want
it to be.”
Brody Hessin, a student from Littleton, Colo., participated in the workshop at
Interlochen last year. He returned to the workshop this year and was excited
about the opportunities afforded by staying on campus for two weeks.
“I get to feel what the college life is like,” Hessin said.
The workshop forces all of the participants to work hard, he said. At Interlochen
and at U-M, he said, “you really get the experience of how demanding
it is, what a career in musical theater would be like.”
Angela Johnson, who will be a senior at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, was another
second-year student in the workshop. She had high praise for Wagner and other
faculty members; U-M students such as Spitulnik, the choreographer; and others
who worked with the students, including musical director Grant Wenaus, a former
U-M faculty member who now is on the faculty of New York University.
“They’re just such great people to work with. They give a lot to
us,” she said.
Several current faculty members, Wagner said, taught master classes during
the two-week workshop. Following the eight-hour practice sessions, events in
the evening included a tour of Central Campus and a viewing of “From Here to
Eternity” at the Michigan Theater, followed by a discussion about the
historic theater with Executive Director Russ Collins.
The students performed July 31 the Mendelssohn Theatre. The theme for the performance
was politics and social issues; a previously selected name, “The Country’s
in the Best of Hands,” evolved into the title: “Louder Than Words,” the
title of a Jonathan Larson song used in the production.
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