Stamps staffer shines in musical theater roles
By Marilou Carlin
The new chair of the Department of Musical Theatre at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance will be Vincent Cardinal, who begins his tenure in September 2016 as the Arthur E. and Martha S. Hearron Endowed Professor of Musical Theatre.
Cardinal succeeds Brent Wagner, who retired this week and served for 32 years as the first and only chair in the department’s history.
Cardinal is currently the artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre and chair of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut. Previously, he was associate dean of performing arts at Adelphi University and chair of theater at the University of Miami, where he was artistic director of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, garnering international attention for his musical theater productions.
In addition, Cardinal served at Ohio University as director of the School of Theater and head of the MFA Playwriting Program, and was the director of off-Broadway’s Circle Repertory Company School of Theater. He was also an associate artist with the Circle Rep Company, as well as a member of its Projects-in-Progress series, Circle Rep Lab.
“Vincent Cardinal’s exceptional combination of academic and professional accomplishment ideally qualifies him to lead our renowned musical theater department,” said Aaron Dworkin, dean of the U-M School of Music, Dance & Theatre.
“Under Brent Wagner’s brilliant leadership, the department became one of the nation’s finest, and one of the university’s most beloved. I have no doubt that Vincent will sustain Brent’s legacy and continue the tradition of excellence that has made the program a model for all others.”
“I am honored and humbled to follow in the footsteps of the department’s founding chairman and to work with a gifted faculty who have been so influential in musical theater and musical theater training in this country,” Cardinal said. “I am excited to join SMTD’s visionary dean, Aaron Dworkin, and the SMTD faculty, staff, students, patrons and alumni for the next great era of musical theater at the University of Michigan.”
A graduate in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, where he was honored with the ASCAP-Cole Porter Award for Best-Collected Work, Cardinal’s plays have been produced internationally, including “The Colorado Catechism,” which premiered at Circle Repertory Company. The Los Angeles production of the play garnered actors Timothy Daly and Amy Van Nostrand Dramalogue Awards for Best Performances.
Cardinal has directed 80 productions from coast-to-coast; premieres under his direction include “Killing El Cid” by Dan Shea and “Disengaged” by Anita Gabrowsek. He recently directed Terrence Mann in “My Fair Lady” and “Man of La Mancha,” Pat Sajak in “The Odd Couple” and “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Steve Hayes in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Jerry Adler and Richard Kline in “The Sunshine Boys,” and Leslie Uggams in “Gypsy.”
SMTD’s musical theater department is one of Michigan’s most competitive, with only 22-24 freshmen admitted from about 1,000 applicants annually. More than 700 artists have graduated from the program over its 32 years, and at any given time many can be found on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional and touring companies.
Musical theater alumni include Jenni Barber, Nick Blaemire, Gavin Creel, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Barrett Foa, Hunter Foster, Alex Gemignani, Doug LaBreque, Brynn O’Malley, Cary Tedder, Toni Trucks, Carlos Valdes, and Helene Yorke. Other alumni include producer Matthew Rego, the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, casting director Rachel Hoffman, and choreographer Josh Rhodes.
Brent Wagner is credited with making the SMTD musical theater department one of the country’s most esteemed. He adapted the curriculum to reflect changes in the industry without sacrificing a solid foundation of coursework in musical theater history, and he advocated that one-fourth of student degree requirements be in academic classes not related to the arts, encouraging students to reap the full benefits of U-M.
A tribute concert honoring Wagner was held at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City May 16. Produced and performed by alumni, “Maize & Blue on Broadway” was a sold-out event that raised funds for the Michigan Musical Theatre Endowment Fund, founded by alumni. The fund supports educational opportunities for students, including the Brent Wagner Speaker Series.