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Performing Arts

U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance alumni shine at 2017 Tony Awards

By Sydney Hawkins

Gavin Creel (right) dances with Bette Midler and Taylor Trensch in "Hello Dolly!" Creel won a 2017 Tony Award for his role as Cornelius Hackl. Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes.

This year’s 71st annual Tony Awards, which took place on June 11 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, produced many big moments for University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance alumni.

Gavin Creel (Musical Theatre ’98), who won Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for his portrayal of Cornelius Hackl in “Hello, Dolly!,” dedicated his award to the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s Musical Theatre department. In his acceptance speech, Creel encouraged the audience to start scholarships for young people in theatre, stating “…my education there [at U-M] as a young person changed my life forever.”

Creel is one of six U-M alums involved in the production of “Hello Dolly!,” which won a 2017 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. Will Burton (Musical Theatre ’11), Michael Hartung (Musical Theatre ’14) and Robert Hartwell (Musical Theatre ’09) were part of the cast, and John Miller (Music, ’68 / musical coordination) and Matt Rego (Musical Theatre, ’92 / producer, The Araca Group) were part of the production’s creative team.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Musical Theatre ’06)—who won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe earlier this year for Best Original Song for “City of Stars” from the film “La La Land”also had a big night at the Tony Awards. Their original musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” earned nine nominations, winning in six categories, including Best Musical, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Orchestrations.

In a post-ceremony press conference, the songwriting duo, who are often referred to as “Pasek and Paul,” answered a question about the comparison of winning an Oscar earlier this year to winning a Tony, to which they replied “We were Musical Theatre BFA majors at the University of Michigan…this is sacred ground for us, nothing compares to it.”

The “Dear Evan Hansen” cast, which included Jennifer Laura Thompson (Musical Theatre ’91), performed “Waving Through a Window”one of the songs written by Pasek and Paul—at the awards show. Watch it here:

And finally, James Earl Jones (BFA ’55), was awarded the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, which was not aired on live TV as part of the program, he thanked his father Robert Earl Jones, the NYPD, and his late wife Cecilia ”Cece” Hart.

*The original post indicated Rachel Hoffman (Musical Theatre ’99 / casting, The Telsey Company) as the casting director for “Hello Dolly!” She was actually the casting director for seven-time Tony nominated musical “Come From Away” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a new musical that debuted on Broadway in April 2017.

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