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A Broadway Community

The heading photo for the Broadway story

     Coastal Carolina University’s departments of music and theatre continuously develop student shows and professional performances, cultivating a campus community appreciative of cultural art. Typically, the performances hosted in CCU’s Wheelwright Auditorium have few connections beyond this cultivation and appreciation. This winter, however, there was a different playbill.

    A Broadway theme emerged among four events this year: Legends of Broadway, a performance and workshop by guest stars and Broadway icons Ron Raines and Donald Pippin; Putting it Together: the Songs of Stephen Sondheim, a performance by CCU voice students conducted by Jeffrey Jones, CCU associate professor of music; and Oklahoma! and The World Goes ’Round by the Department of Theatre, directed by Becky Timms, assistant professor of theatre.

    “It was not a conscious decision to have a Broadway-themed semester,” says Amy Tully, associate dean of the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts and associate professor of music. “Jeff Jones always does a themed studio recital, and this year he decided on Stephen Sondheim. The Department of Theatre had already decided on Oklahoma! and The World Goes ’Round. The Broadway theme began to take shape when we discovered that Ron Raines and Donald Pippin were also available for a performance this season.”

    Although the Broadway theme was unplanned, students gained a valuable shared experience in challenging styles, and audiences enjoyed performances with familiar tunes and traditional backgrounds.

    “The Cultural Arts Committee loves to host guest artists they know will give back in a tangible way,” explains Tully. “They are always looking for opportunities for students to have real access to these guest stars in a pedagogical manner.” Jones agrees with Tully. “We often choose artists who will work with the students as well, so not only are you exposing our students to legends, but [the performers] get to see the students, too. Sharing their experience with young upcoming stars and reinforcement by these industry professionals is an invaluable teaching tool.”

    Students recognize and appreciate the caliber of the guest artists’ talent, experience and perspective.

   “Ronald Raines and Donald Pippin definitely knew the difference between criticism and constructive criticism and how to work with everyone and adapt to different pieces,” says Wes Williams, a junior musical theatre major who worked with the guest artists and performed in both the Stephen Sondheim ensemble and Oklahoma! “I am so grateful we have a department that allows these experiences and offers these opportunities. Being exposed to this Broadway style was valuable not only in a performing aspect but in a learning aspect.”Donald Pippin offers direction to a student
Photo by Abby Sink

    The benefits of a Broadway theme were not lost on Jones, either. Once the Department of Theatre chose to perform Oklahoma!, he immediately gravitated toward Sondheim (who mentored Raines) as a featured artist for the Department of Music’s vocal production. Jones believes exposing students to traditional and iconic works draws exceptional students to CCU and also strengthens their performance repertoire.

    “Broadway-based performances have a lot to do with the growth of the musical theatre program, which means we can recruit a higher level of student,” says Jones. “We want to showcase and also inspire those students.” He believes the Broadway theme leads to new creative horizons on student, programmatic and departmental levels. He finds this type of material in the performing arts majors also reflects a willingness for departments to cooperate.

    “We in the [Edwards] college do something really unique when we collaborate with music and theater. In academics, they don’t always get along, but we benefit from having a voice and theatre department that really get along and work together to the betterment of our students,” Jones says. He feels that Broadway themes help to educate all types of performing art students, no matter their speciality, and hopes to continue this tradition.

    Timms has always found a home with Broadway in the performances she directs. Like Jones, she chooses musicals that will best reflect the talent of her students and help them gain valuable experience in the field. She is known for directing plays with contemporary flair, but Oklahoma! was her challenge to students to perform a different style.

     “I wanted to do Oklahoma! because it is within the musical theater canon as it is representative historically as the most famous musical period,” says Timms. “It’s also a certain style of musical theater acting that we have not done since I’ve been here, which is a valuable skill set for the students to learn if they want to go out into the world as contemporary actors.”  She considers Oklahoma! “a huge teaching and learning opportunity.”

    Timms’ cast accepted her challenge with enthusiasm. Although Oklahoma! was a new style for them, the leading cast members speak of their pride and enjoyment of the experience.

    “I’ve been somebody who’s mainly landed in contemporary roles, so I sort of discounted the golden age, for no reason in particular, and now I have a lot more appreciation for the show and the age,” says Hannah Coffman, senior theatre major who played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! “There is a reason they’ve been done for 70 years. This is the most fun I’ve had during a show, which was such an incredible surprise.”

    “I’ve never been more proud to be in a show,” says Emilee Hassanzadeh, senior theatre major who played Ado Annie in Oklahoma! “When we sing ‘Oklahoma!’ together and it’s a massive ensemble, there is this feeling of energy.”

    The faculty of the performing arts departments feel student expression and growth is a high priority when planning performances and workshops. Beyond the pedagogical benefits of a Broadway theme, there is also the sense of community surrounding a love of the cultural arts. “It has community appeal,” says Timms.

    “From an audience standpoint, it is nice to see these characters they probably have history with, and they see them re-lived through another performer. Broadway shows get more attention because they are so well known to the community,” Williams adds.

    There is nothing coincidental in the success of selling out the run of performances. The students and faculty members of the performing art departments have worked hard yet again to cultivate a community that showcases and appreciates cultural arts, this time with Broadway flavor.

By Chelsea Thomas
Photos by CCU Photography