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Musical Theatre student’s musical about Shel Silverstein to debut at U-M

“SHEL: A Historically Fictionalized Musical," was written by School of Music, Theatre & Dance student Noah Kieserman (MT '18).

Noah Kieserman is a senior in the Musical Theatre program at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. His upcoming production SHEL: A Historically Fictionalized Musical, is based on the unusual life of renowned poet and artist Shel Silverstein.

Noah Kieserman

SHEL, which will incorporate Silverstein’s style of visual artistry and poetic rhythm through projections, music, and dance, will premiere at U-M’s Duderstadt Media Lab Feb. 22-23.

The idea took shape during Kieserman’s freshman year when his friend and classmate, Alex Sherwin, asked him to write the score for a musical based on Silverstein’s popular children’s book The Giving Tree.

As Kieserman researched Silverstein, he became more interested in his life and work, which then became the inspiration for the musical.

“When I was first outlining this project I went through all of his work and I found poems that I felt intersected with his life at some point conceptually or thematically,” said  Kieserman, who plays Silverstein in the show. “The musical follows him from being an amateur cartoonist to a Korean War soldier to a Playboy columnist to a father, lover, and friend. I started with poem titles at different parts of the outline, and then I took a lot of his themes and concepts and tried to weave those in so people who know his work would recognize where those are.”

For the next three years, Kieserman said he worked on the musical in various coffee shops, lakes, and parks whilst working on other productions, which helped him better understand the structure of a musical.

He said that he considers this production a “second draft” because during summer ’17 he took the work to Levine Music in Washington DC, where a group of high school students performed the full musical in front of an audience. He said that the process helped him, as a writer, to see where he needed to revise the score over the following six months, before its premiere at U-M.

From Left: Travis Anderson, Jamed Fobes, Noah Kieserman, Aaron Robinson, Allana Polard, Marty Mcguire and Audrey Kennedy

“SHEL” cast members pose for a photo at a recent rehearsal. From Left: Travis Anderson, Jamed Fobes, Noah Kieserman, Aaron Robinson, Allana Polard, Marty Mcguire and Audrey Kennedy

Tickets to SHEL unexpectedly sold out in just three hours.

“I’m grateful that there were a lot of talented artists that believed in the project enough when they read it to participate in it—the the musical director, the choreographer, the sketch artist, and everybody else who worked on the project,” he said. “The fact that a lot of people in my community were so interested in attending and supporting it is a very lovely thing.”

If you didn’t get a chance to grab tickets to the performances at U-M, don’t worry. Kieserman hopes to continue to revise the musical and find a place for it in New York City post-graduation.

SHEL: A Historically Fictionalized Musical was funded by Arts at Michigan, ArtsEngine, and the SMTD’s EXCEL Program.