Around The Town

Best of Broadway

By: Alix Cohen

May 6, 2024: In 1969, The University of Cincinnati’s Musical Theater Program was the first of its kind in the country offering a BFA. Its first graduate, Pamela Myers, was subsequently cast as Marta in Stephen Sondheim’s Companygarnering a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The many well known alumni include, in part, Stephen Flaherty, Christy Altomare, Ashley Brown, Jason Graae, Alton Fitzgerald White, Liz Callaway, Aaron Lazar, and host/performer/director/impresario Scott Coulter.

By: Alix Cohen

May 6, 2024: In 1969, The University of Cincinnati’s Musical Theater Program was the first of its kind in the country offering a BFA. Its first graduate, Pamela Myers, was subsequently cast as Marta in Stephen Sondheim’s Companygarnering a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The many well known alumni include, in part, Stephen Flaherty, Christy Altomare, Ashley Brown, Jason Graae, Alton Fitzgerald White, Liz Callaway, Aaron Lazar, and host/performer/director/impresario Scott Coulter.

Once a year, the nurturing musical theater department of CCM brings the graduating class to New York City for a showcase opportunity before agents, producers and directors followed, since 2016, by a performance of students and alumni at 54Below produced by Scott Coulter. 

Sarah Gettelfinger

Sarah Gettelfinger (Class of 1999), currently in Water for Elephants, opens the show with “And the World Goes Round.” (John Kander/Fred Ebb). Her appealing alto and sober approach works for the song. The artist has a powerful vocal instrument but starting big, there’s nowhere to go. Performance lacks an arc.

John Boswell, Emily Kristin Morris

Emily Kristin Morris (Class of 2017) has played Elphaba in Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked. “I didn’t get much response from my senior showcase and it terrified me,” she tells the students. “I’m here to say if you just go at it, you’ll be fine.” “The Wizard and I” exults in anticipation. Morris seamlessly steps into character like a sweater. Her voice soars. For students reading- the first observation is more important.

Did you/do you have stage fright? I ask graduate Nathaniel Jones. ” I see stage fright as more excitement than fear. The gift to perform and share with an audience isn’t something to be fearful of, rather, to be excited with anticipation to get out there and ‘do the thing’.” What are your plans after graduation? “I plan on balancing my love for performing and my love for administrative work. I will be starting at the artistic department of American Ballet Theatre in the summer as well as attending NYU pursuing my masters in Performing Art Administration.

Briana Barnes, Erich Schleck

“Last year this lady wrote music and lyrics for the Off Broadway show Walking with Bubbles,” Coulter says introducing Brianna Barnes (Class of 2016). “She’s also played Carole King in Beautiful. Barnes has a terrific pop voice and cozy presence. She must’ve been great as King. Erich Schleck (Class of 2020) has acted King Herod in the touring company of Jesus Christ Superstar. From John Kander/Fred Ebb’s Flora the Red Menace, he offers a joyful version of “Sing Happy” that would be at home in Las Vegas. Hands in his pockets, however, tamp down exuberance.

Cameron Anika Hill

Cast in Dear Evan Hansen and then the touring company of Oklahoma!, Cameron Anika Hill (Class of 2016) sings “Someone is Waiting” from Company by Stephen Sondheim, rather than a selection from the Rodgers and Hammerstein. “If you students can hear me, there’s a lot of waiting around, but after that something happens,” she tells those backstage. Hill sells the fickleness of the role, but facial expressions seem to try to convince..

Benjamin Cheng, Peter Neureuther 

Julie Spangler, accompanist, music director and arranger for musical theater has been on the adjunct faculty for 27 years. “CCM’s secret weapon” parenthetically replaces John Boswell on piano. We then hear two duets from the previous day’s showcase. Benjamin Cheng and Peter Neureuther (Class of 2024) give us a fully directed “When I Drive” (Bonnie and Clyde-Frank Wildhorn/Don Black). Both young men brighten the stage with energy and charisma. Buddy chemistry is palpable. Peter looks out and connects with the audience which, while not as necessary in theater, is paramount on a cabaret stage like this one.

When did you first resolve to become a performer and why? I ask Peter. “Sophomore year in high school we did In The Heights. I had always thought of theater as a hobby but doing that show I felt I was telling a story that was meaningful and could make people leave a theater learning life lesson.” What’s the most important thing you learned at CCM? “That becoming a better actor doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process. Theater has given me to some of the worst moments of my life, but when your work pays off, there is nothing like it. CCM taught me that talent can take me far, but it’s my work ethic that can bring me over the top.”

Annalise Prentiss, Amanda Bishop

A tandem “You Can’t Be Everything”/“Love in the Scene” (Joshua Salzman/Ryan Cunningham- Next Thing You Know & Soleil Singh -I Write Musicals- Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge) are performed by Annalise Prentiss and Amanda Bishop (Class of 2024). Selection itself shows thinking outside the box. You could drop the earnest Prentiss into Mean Girls, really any pop musical tomorrow. Bishop’s dramatized telephone call with her father- “I never meant to get a theater degree…” is tender, flustered, and comic. A character actress with vocal chops.

Did you/do you have stage fright? I ask Annalise “OH GOD, YES! I think less so than before, but there has yet to be a performance where I don’t have some sort of anxiety previous to going onstage.”  What are your plans after school? “My primary dream is to live in Guatemala for at least a year, focus on reclaiming my heritage and identity there and get my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification. Afterwards, I plan on moving back to the US to pick up my theatrical career dream again. I  hope that time abroad will continue to shape who I am .”

“The next performer attended CCM before there was a musical theater program and insisted we start one,” Coulter tells us introducing the inimitable Lee Roy Reams. “Give the little fella a great big hand,” Reams sings dancing around the stage with the kind of brio we rarely see anymore. (“A Great Big Hand”- Goldilocks-Leroy Anderson/Jean Kerr) “Not only is he a fabulous singer and storyteller, he truly is CCM’s greatest ambassador,” Coulter comments.

Lee Roy Reams

“I want to tell you a story with some advice,” Reams offers. “First, there’s no right way, no wrong way. Follow your instincts.” Before the performer went into 42nd Street, he played Bobby in Stephen Sondheim’s Company at a dinner theater. “I told them I knew who the character was- a closeted homosexual. You don’t need to change a word of dialogue and don’t tell the rest of the cast,” he’d said. It makes a lot of sense. The artist’s version of “Being Alive” is a plea and a prayer, a song of anguish from a performer who offstage, has never pretended, an actor. Alex Rybeck accompanist.

Lisa Howard

“The next guest won a Drama Desk Award for helping created The Putnam County Spelling Bee (William Finn) and starred in It Shoulda Been You (Barbara Anselmi/Brian Hargrove.) “Most recently, Lisa Howard (Class of 1997) played the witch in the successful revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Her rendition of “Last Midnight” is just gorgeous. The artist knows how to build and when to erupt. She sizzles.

A medley of excerpts follows, each of the graduating students having chosen a song from which he/she sings 16 bars. Variety ranges from musical theater to rock to pop to country. Stage attire could be better/less casual, but the young people have wonderful voices and real presence. They watch one another with bonhomie. “If you haven’t figured out there’s something in the water at CCM…” Coulter quips.

I ask graduate Julia Schick when she first resolved to become a performer and why. “I was on the aisle at The National tour of The Lion King. A woman dressed as a cheetah smiled at me. I knew in that moment I had to be up there- showing other kids that even people who look like me, could help tell a story.” And what’s the most important thing she learned at CCM? “To use the time while training to learn about yourself, not just your work. What is your best way to prepare for a show? What is the acting process that works for you? What are some weaknesses you need to work on and how?”

Jessica Handy

“It feels like yesterday we did our showcase – but it wasn’t,” Jessica Hendy notes (Class of 1993). “Write 
this on your mirror: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve had a lot of high highs and a lot of low lows, but I wouldn’t change anything. Hold onto your drive and passion and nothing will pass you by.” The performer played Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats . Her interpretation of Memory is heart wrenching.

Scott Coulter

“Sometimes support doesn’t come from your family. If you ever need anything, reach out to us,” Coulter says in closing. “Some of us will even give you our phone numbers.” The family aspect of CCM is enviable and unique. A gracious and impassioned host, Coulter is representative of the school’s success, a talent who’s cut his own path. “When you’re faced with the bad, you can always turn to a show tune” introduces his rendition of “Tomorrow” (Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin- Annie). The artist sings as if he believes it, ending the impressive evening.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Logo used with permission of CCM

Best of Broadway! A CCM Celebration
The University of Cincinnati
Producer/Host/Director/Alumnus- Scott Coulter
For CCM: music director Julie Spangler; Co-Director Eric Byrd.
Vincent DeGeorge is The Patricia A. Corbett Distinguished Chair of Musical Theatre. 
MD/Piano John Boswell

54Below  
254 West 54th Street