Circle complete: Now a mentor | Arts & Culture

Circle complete: Now a mentor

Circle complete: Now a mentor

Visitors observe the artwork on display in the Bohlen Gallery of African Art. Photo courtesy of Levi Stroud.

By Marilou Carlin

Bringing the musical Little Women to life on the stage of Arthur Miller Theatre at the Walgreen Drama Center was a labor of love for the show’s director, Danny Gurwin, BFA ’94 (photo below).  A recent visiting guest artist at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Gurwin originated the role of Laurie in the 2005 Tony-nominated Broadway production, which meant that he was connected to the show from its early stages.  From the initial readings, to workshops, to out-of-town tryouts, and finally, to Broadway, Gurwin was a witness to and an essential part of the show’s evolution.  Stepping into the director’s role was something of a homecoming for him.

Gurwin returned in November to his alma mater from his current home in Los Angeles, and took on the role of mentor and teacher alongside those who had mentored and taught him, including Brent Wagner, chair of the musical theatre department. He spent seven weeks with students rehearsing the play, which was performed Dec. 9-11. “Those first couple of weeks were very emotional,” said Gurwin.  “The circle just feels complete and it’s been a remarkable experience.”

Directing Little Women is part of what Gurwin feels is his own evolution.  He made his mark in musical theatre as a performer, with top roles in such hits as The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Full Monty and Urinetown: The Musical and received rave reviews for his role as Henrik in productions of A Little Night Music at New York City Opera, Los Angeles Opera and the Kennedy Center.

Over the last few years, though, Gurwin has become more and more interested in directing and, just as importantly, in teaching.  A faculty member of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, Gurwin has discovered a passion for passing on his knowledge to students and directing them in shows.  “Productions are the practical classroom where students apply the skills they learn in class.  It’s helping them bring those skills to fruition.”

With Little Women, Gurwin believes his unique history with the show has been an asset.

“It’s been fun to be able to reimagine the show in this space, but it’s also been great to share the reasons why things in the show were being done as they were — how a scene was created, why a song was where it was, what used to be there instead,” he said. “It’s important for students to learn that an actor, in a production of a new work, is responsible to the writer to help them develop the show.  They should be able to make suggestions because they’re the ones living it and acting it.”

Gurwin believes the University of Michigan’s musical theatre department provides students with a unique edge in that it trains them for versatility, a rare commodity. “You have to be prepared for anything,” he said. “Here, you learn where your strengths are and you learn to strengthen your weaknesses to be an incredibly well balanced and rounded actor when you leave this program.”

Marilou Carlin is a development writer for the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance.