IU Theatre and Drama’s 75th celebration to include Sondheim-Simon appearance, gala event
Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely considered the most influential artist working in American musical theater over the past half-century, will appear at IU Bloomington April 30 at the invitation of IU's Department of Theatre and Drama. The event is a highlight of the department's 2008-09 75th anniversary year celebration, which will culminate Saturday, May 2, in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center with the 75th Anniversary Gala "Launch" Party.
Sondheim will appear with author Scott Simon, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, in a live, unscripted conversation at 8 p.m. at IU Auditorium. This event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. (For ticket information, call 812-855-1103 or visit the IU Auditorium box office at 1211 E. Seventh St.)
The Sondheim-Simon appearance is made possible by the Ralph L. Collins Memorial Lecture Fund.
"It is a thrill to have a theatrical legend like Stephen Sondheim visit Indiana University during our 75th anniversary season," said Jonathan Michaelsen, chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama. "This is particularly exciting for our B.F.A. musical theater students, all of whom hope to become the next 'triple threats' on Broadway."
"Learning from greats like Sondheim helps us train and develop our musical theater program and our students to prepare for the future. Adding Scott Simon helps broaden the appeal to journalism and telecommunication students and everyone on campus who listens to him on NPR. We are delighted to share these two outstanding talents with the IU and Bloomington communities," said Michaelsen.
The department's May 2 gala features a gourmet dinner at 6 p.m. followed at 7:15 p.m. by a short film titled Memory Lane about the program's history and evolution and a performance by Broadway Cabaret -- a group directed by Emmy Award-winner George Pinney -- that features some of the department's top musical stars. After the show, at 8:15 p.m., is a cast party with a sing-along piano bar, a "Dancing with Our Stars" event, photo opportunities, a costume-and-set designer's boutique and exhibits that span the department's entire history.
Successful alumni planning to attend the gala include Tony Award-winning actor-director Stuart Vaughan, who received his master of arts degree from the department in 1952. Vaughn was founding artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Seattle Repertory Theatre and Repertory Theatre, New Orleans. He was also artistic director of New York's Phoenix Theatre and has directed 45 New York productions since 1955. Vaughan is also a Drama Desk and Obie Award-winning director.
Vaughn, now 83, says he "must be among the oldest of the department's extant graduates still active in the professional theater."
Some alums of the program shared memories of the program leading up to the 75th anniversary events.
• John Mills, who received his doctoral degree from the program in 1961 and his Master of Arts degree in 1959, shared memories of working with Charles Kimbrough on Hamlet. Kimbrough went on to an illustrious acting career, but may be best known for his brilliant comedic turn as the news anchor on TV's hit sitcom Murphy Brown. "During rehearsals Chuck (appearing as Hamlet), as we knew him, was in the habit of saying 'something, something, something,' whenever he couldn't come up with a line," recalled Mills. "So, wouldn't you know, at one performance he dried up momentarily and, whether from force of habit or in sheer desperation, said 'something, something, something,' and that got him back on track. It nearly broke up the cast, but the audience, of course, was none the wiser. It sounded quite properly Shakespearean, after all."
• Bloomington's Anne K. Wiley, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1956, recalled, "It has dawned on me that my husband (David W. Wiley, who earned a doctorate from the department in 1974) and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this year, and we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Department of Theatre and Drama."
Among other successful alums of the program:
• Eric VanTielen, who received his master's degree in fine arts from the program in 2006, performed in A Tale of Two Cities on Broadway in 2008.
• Nicole Parker, who received her bachelor's degree from the program in 2000, starred on Broadway as Elphaba in the hit musical Wicked.
• Taylor James, who graduated with a bachelor's degree of arts in stage management (through IU's Individualized Major Program) in 2005, is stage manager for Blue Man Group in New York City.