Musical Theater loves Company

Finally, for the hordes of musical theater fans at Yale, prayers have been answered.

Founded in 2003, the Yale Undergraduate Musical Theater Company (YUMTC) fills a niche in the Yale theater world that has sorely been lacking for years.

Greg Edwards ’05 explained the impetus for creating the YUMTC.

“The straw the broke the camel’s back was when the Dramat announced that they would only do a musical every other year,” said Edwards.

While other organizations, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, do serve thespians of the singing variety, Edwards felt that late 19th and early 20th century light operas were “close but no cigar” to the kind of musical theater he wanted to see more of on campus.

Driven by his desire to ensure the survival of musical theater at Yale aside from the odd Sudler-funded show, Edwards joined forces with Music Director John Hansen-Brevetti ’07, Managing Director Katie Mathis ’07, Treasurer Hilary McQuaide, and Assistant Artistic Director Elisabeth Schneider ’06 to build the YUMTC.

The company, which staged William Finn’s “A New Brain” last spring as sort of a trial run, is currently anticipating the kick-off of their first full-fledged season this year. While stock favorites such as Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” and the ever-popular “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” are in store, the YUMTC also boasts a commitment to developing new musical theater works. Hansen-Brevetti, who transcribed the score from Baz Luhrman’s film “Moulin Rouge” for the stage production “Bohemian Storm” at Yale last year, will have a chance to show of his musical composition chops in the YUMTC’s winter production, “Nero,” featuring an original score by Hansen-Brevetti as well as original lyrics by Edwards.

Indeed, the overall philosophy of the company seems to be not only to celebrate and create a venue for much-loved musical theater classics, but also to encourage new ventures and talent.

“Because we’re a new company, there’s no favoritism,” said Edwards. “We’re open to giving people a chance, as opposed to simply reusing existing talent.”

The YUMTC’s mentoring program encourages people who want to learn new production tasks (such as lighting or sound design) to work with experienced individuals The apprentices are then given opportunities to take over the production duties themselves in future shows.

The company is also holding weekly musical writing workshops every Monday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. in JE, where budding lyricists and composers can share their works-in-progress and bounce ideas and suggestions off one another. The YUMTC also plans to hold a series of master classes or guest speakers within these workshops.

“When the Avenue Q composer Bobby Lopez came for a Master’s Tea last year, he said that his main complaint while at Yale was that there was no support at all for musical theater composition,” said Schneider. “If he were at Yale now, he’d be so much happier.”

Not only does the YUMTC promote original creative talent on campus, but it is also focused on building bridges to the professional musical theater world. This fall, the YUMTC is presenting The Shen Prize for Excellence in Musical Composition. Winners will take private lessons with renowned composer Ricky Ian Gordon, recipient of the Richard Rodgers Award, the National Institute for Musical Theater Award, and the Stephen Sondheim Award, among others illustrious recognitions and prizes. Gordon’s works have been performed by the likes of Kristen Chenoweth, Audra McDonald and Betty Buckley.

Edwards emphasized that acceptable submissions to the prize can be in a variety of styles — not necessarily Broadway — and include Gospel, Blues, Folk and Classical. Edwards said that the prize is “dedicated to teaching people how to compose, not rewarding people who have composed already.”

Interest in this young company and The Shen Prize is already running strong.

“Freshmen and upperclassmen kept on coming up to us at the Old Campus bazaar and saying the same thing: that we had really stepped in there and filled a niche at Yale,” said Hansen-Brevetti.

Over 100 people have expressed interest in production and acting aspects of the YUMTC, and over 75 musicians have expressed desire to be involved in future pit orchestras, said Hansen-Brevetti.

Edwards, who is directing “Company,” said the turnout of incredibly talented people interested in the YUMTC was impressive.

“I’ve directed five shows here at Yale, and [casting “Company”] was the first time that I’ve sat down and not had to compromise. There simply weren’t enough roles for all of the phenomenal people who auditioned.”

More information about The Shen Prize and the YUMTC itself can be obtained at www.yale.edu/musicals.

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