stories | Students

Award-Winning Musical Theater Artists Visit With King’s Students

September 19, 2019 | Virginia Hart Pike

Musical theater is a budding area of study at The King’s College. The College offers classes in Musical Theater Studio and Musical Theater Survey, and also provides students with the opportunity to be involved in a musical production each year, both onstage and behind the scenes. Many students who pursue musical theater at King’s choose to major in Media, Culture, and the Arts, but the opportunities are open to students in any major.

Taking advantage of the school’s location in New York City, Lecturer in Musical Theater Virginia Pike has been able to bring many high-level guests from the theater community to meet King’s students. These Tony Award winners and Broadway composers have visited campus as guest speakers and led workshops with students to give them feedback on their performances.

Charles Strouse

Charles Strouse has made no less than three visits to campus: two as a guest speaker, and one to conduct a masterclass with the students in the Musical Theater Studio class.

Charles Strouse has won three Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, and a Grammy Award, and he has received many more nominations. He is best known for writing the scores of the musicals Annie (1977) and Bye, Bye, Birdie (1960). Strouse has made no less than three visits to campus (plus a Skype call into a Musical Theater Survey class). Two were as a guest speaker, and one was to conduct a masterclass with the students of the Musical Theater Studio class. In the masterclass, each of the four students were given a Strouse song to learn, and then Strouse gave feedback on each performance.

The school’s relationship with the famous composer expanded when King’s staged the very first New York City production of the first musical Strouse and his longtime writing partner, Lee Adams, ever wrote. The musical is called A Pound in Your Pocket, and it was produced by The King’s College in February 2016 at The Fourth Street Theater in the East Village.

Strouse attended the production and gave a talkback with the audience after. His response was enthusiastic, saying that the show seemed “like a professional production.” There were seven King’s students in the cast, and around ten others involved with the design and production elements of the production.

A few months after King’s staged the production of A Pound in Your Pocket, leading lady Abbey Jasmine Rose (MCA Dec. ’17) reprised her role of the Small Servant Girl in the Feinstein’s/54 Below production of the musical. At Feinstein’s/54 Below, a Broadway supper club, A Pound in Your Pocket was presented as part of the Second Act Series produced by Steven Carl McCasland and James Horan.

Tom Kitt

Winner of two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for composing the score of Next to Normal, Tom Kitt has become one of the most sought-after composers, music supervisors, arrangers, and orchestrators on Broadway. His Broadway credits include Spongebob Squarepants (Music Supervisor, Orchestrator, Arranger); If/Then (Composer); Bring It On: the Musical (Composer, with Lin Manuel Miranda); and American Idiot (Music Supervisor, Orchestrator, Arranger), to name a few. He has also written arrangements and served as music supervisor for film and television, including the movie Pitch Perfect (2012), and NBC’s series Rise.

Kitt visited the Musical Theater Survey class in 2013, and talked to the students about his life and work as a composer in musical theater. Kitt so enjoyed meeting the King’s students in the class, he helped ensure they would get a group discount to his Broadway show, If/Then, and met with the group outside the theater before the show.

Lilli Cooper

Lilli Cooper is currently starring in the musical Tootsie, for which she was awarded a Tony nomination. She is also known for her leading role as Sandy Cheeks in the Broadway production of Spongebob Squarepants. Other Broadway credits include Martha in the original cast of Spring Awakening, and Elphaba in Wicked. Cooper came to attend a Musical Theater Studio class in 2014 as a special guest artist to give feedback on the students’ performances of their solos.

One student at the time, Dagmar Wetherill (MCA ’15), was given a comment from the Broadway star that she will never forget. Cooper said, in response to Wetherill’s performance, “You are a powerhouse waiting to happen.”

Pike’s Musical Theater Survey class will see Cooper perform in Tootsie this September, and will then meet Cooper in person when she speaks on campus on October 1.

Adam Gwon

Adam Gwon participated in a talkback with the audience after The King’s College’s production of Ordinary Days.

While Adam Gwon’s work has yet to grace the Great White Way, he is well-known as an up-and-coming composer of musicals, and has a long list of impressive credits. The New York Times has described him as “a promising newcomer to our talent-hungry musical theater.” In addition to being a well-known Off-Broadway composer, Gwon’s work has been produced on five continents and in more than six languages. He has won many of the coveted awards available to musical theater writers, including the Kleban Award, the Fred Ebb Award, and the Richard Rodgers Award. His show, Scotland, PA is currently playing Off-Broadway at The Roundabout Theatre Company.

The King’s College produced Gwon’s popular musical, Ordinary Days, in 2017, and Gwon visited campus twice. The first time was to meet the students involved in the production and share with them some stories about the show, and the second visit was to see the King’s production, followed by a talk-back with the audience, moderated by Professor Pike. Gwon shared some real gems with the students about his writing process, and what inspired his famous song “I’ll Be There.”

Adam Guettel

As described by The New York Times, “The theater composer Adam Guettel is so overwhelmingly gifted that any news of his activities stirs the kind of fervent expectations that surround Stephen Sondheim, and before that, Leonard Bernstein.” Guettel made his New York musical theater debut as a composer in 1996 with the cult hit musical, Floyd Collins. In 2005 he won two Tony Awards for writing and orchestrating the sweeping, lush score of A Light in the Piazza. He also wrote the incidental music for To Kill A Mockingbird, currently playing on Broadway.

Guettel’s work has been championed by many musical theater superstars, including the Broadway diva Audra McDonald, who included four of Guettel’s songs on her debut album.

In the spring of 2018, The King’s College produced its own production of Floyd Collins at The Salvation Army’s Theater 315, involving thirty-two students both onstage and behind the scenes. While Guettel was too busy with writing deadlines to attend the show, he very graciously offered to come to campus and talk to the students on campus a month later. In his interview with Pike, Guettel shared some inside stories about his work and samples from some of his works-in-progress. One of the most poignant moments of the interview was when he shared about his own discovery of God’s love in his life:

I couldn’t have come from a more atheistic, snooty, intellectual, “God is for weirdos” kind of family. And when I started to transform in this way I [started] to find. . . it makes me kind of emotional. . . to find love, and something greater than myself. . . it kind of freaked my family out. It freaks most people in the theater out. It’s not how the community is. . . In the last song in Floyd Collins, he is moving to God as he is singing the song. I never get to talk about it [faith], but I feel very comfortable talking about it here [at the King’s College].

Theater composer Adam Guettel said of his visit to The King’s College, “I never get to talk about it [faith], but I feel very comfortable talking about it here.”