Throughout the Spring 2021 semester, the Michigan State University Department of Theatre Musical Theatre classes focused on workshopping a new musical by composer Joshua Salzman and lyricist Ryan Cunningham and the classes were able to safely meet in-person on the spacious Wharton Center stages.
Michael Collins was one of 90 submissions for the Fall 2020 ĭmáGen New Musical Development Workshop. Though not selected for the program, faculty were excited to further develop the material and entered into discussions with the New York- and Chicago-based writing duo about workshopping the show.
“Every show that has come through our doors has left closer to the dream of becoming a commercial, professional product in the world of musical theatre. During the pandemic, we believe it is vitally important to continue our outreach within the musical theatre community,” said Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre Brad Willcuts. “Unprecedented creativity will emerge from this time in the history of American theatre and we’re working to build on the reputation of Michigan State’s Department of Theatre as a leader in new musical development.”
Unprecedented creativity will emerge from this time in the history of American theatre and we’re working to build on the reputation of Michigan State’s Department of Theatre as a leader in new musical development.Brad Willcuts, Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre
Michael Collins follows the true story of the Irish rebel who was a leading figure in the early 20th century Irish struggle for independence. In 1916, following the failed Easter Rising, Collins joins a group of rebels, which led to revolution and a free Ireland, telling a universal story of how people respond to oppression and the terrible cost to the oppressed when that response is violent, even if it ultimately leads to freedom.
The focus on development of new works is unique to most musical theatre programs, but Academic Specialist in Musical Theatre Dave Wendelberger says it is integral to the experiential learning of a singer.
“When a student approaches material from a well-known musical, they might rely on familiar tools like looking up celebrity recordings on YouTube or Spotify,” Wendelberger said. “New material, however, requires their unique voice and interpretation in order to make it come alive.”
For Willcuts, it’s about giving students the chance to dig deep on character development.
When a student approaches material from a well-known musical, they might rely on familiar tools like looking up celebrity recordings on YouTube or Spotify. New material, however, requires their unique voice and interpretation in order to make it come alive.Dave Wendelberger, Academic Specialist in Musical Theatre
“Working on popular musical numbers does not afford students the opportunity to speak directly to the creators of the roles they will be portraying,” Willcuts said. “It’s rare and magical to have that kind of access to developing a song or character. It teaches an important foundation around the collaborative process of the theatre arts.”
It also serves to build a student’s network of industry professionals, says Cameron Michael Chase, an MFA Acting candidate and Musical Theatre Instructor. “In each semester of the Musical Theatre minor, students are introduced to multiple industry artists. Working with active professionals gives students relevant contacts for when they move into the professional world.”
Writer and lyricist Ryan Cunningham says working with faculty and students at Michigan State was invaluable to the process. “Any time we are able to see our work up on its feet with such talented students is a boon to our creative development and we couldn’t be more appreciative of how it all came together.”
Click here to listen and watch the Musical Theatre students perform selections from the show.