• The Story Behind the Photo: "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 18, 2021
    Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed
    Marqell Edward Clayton, Nicole Cowans, Melody Butiu and Daniel Bellusci in ​Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience, script and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma (2019, Theatre for Young Audiences show). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

    Wilbur is different from all the other naked mole rats. He wears clothes—and he likes it. His friends think it’s ridiculous and needs to stop—that’s just a naked mole fact. After all, what will happen when Grand-Pah, the oldest and wisest elder in the colony finds out? Filled with tail-shaking good tunes, this outrageously fun musical proves it’s okay to be yourself. Rock on!

    Six actors transformed themselves into a colony of naked molerats in the fun musical Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience (2019, Theatre for Young Audiences), adapted by Mo Willems from his book and directed by Casey Stangl. Daniel Bellusci portrayed Wilbur J. Mole Rat Jr.—above in the blue plaid suit—a character who wanted to be true to himself. Bellusci loved this comically shocking moment from the show.

    What moment does this depict?

    This ​is Wilbur (me), along with other mole rats Tall and Grande, while Venti is pressing the Grand-pah Grand Panic Button. It is only to be pressed in the state of a dire emergency and, from the look of Wilbur's attire, the mole-rats seem to be in the middle of a truly shocking situation! 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    This was one of those moments that Director Casey Stangl had us rehearse over and over. We had a lot of freedom in our delivery, but Casey made it clear to us that the timing of this had to be spot on. It was written in the script as a "Who's on First?" moment, so the timing of each line was crucial in order for it to be as funny as it could be. We did a lot of repetitions of this scene to find the timing and deliveries that felt the best and most funny to us. 

    What’s the emotion in this moment?

    The emotion for us, in this moment, as molerats is true terror. But to everyone in the audience watching, I am sure they were able to see how silly and fun it really was. 

    Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

    I really loved the theme of this show. I think everyone needs to have some kind of experience of self-discovery. Once we find out who we are, or who we might want to become, it would be rather nice if we lived in a world that celebrated and accepted differences. I think the world has a lot to learn from Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

  • Meet the Cast of "Harold & Lillian"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 10, 2021
    PPF Logo

    The Story of Harold & Lillian

    The musical follows the Hollywood romance of storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson. Beginning with their elopement after Harold came home from World War II, their marriage spanned six decades—during which they overcame daunting personal challenges and made surprising movie magic. Harold was the storyboard artist for such classic movies as The Ten Commandments, West Side Story and The Graduate. Lillian conducted research for numerous films including The Birds and Fiddler on the Roof. Harold passed away in 2007, but in 2017, the Michelsons received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Dramatic Arts—the first behind-the-scenes, non-actors to have been given the honor. Lillian will celebrate her 93rd birthday on June 21, 2021—the day that SCR’s concert-reading of Harold & Lillian is released. She still resides in Los Angeles.

    Actors Michael McKean and Annette O'Toole lead a cast of six to tell the true-life, six-decade Hollywood love story that is the Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) concert-reading of Harold & Lillian. This new musical by Dan Collins (book and lyrics) and Julianne Wick Davis (music) is based on the popular documentary film by Daniel Raim—and it streams June 21-27​.

    Get to know the cast as you continue reading.

    McKean,-MichaelMichael McKean (Harold)

    has had a distinguished career in theatre, television and film. His Broadway credits include The Little Foxes, All the Way, The Bandwagon, The Best Man, Superior Donuts, The Homecoming, The Pajama Game, Hairspray and Accomplice. His off-Broadway credits include The True, The Exonerated, King Lear and Our Town. His other theatre credits include Father Comes Home From the Wars and Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels (both at Taper Forum, Los Angeles), Superior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre) and On the Razzle (Williamstown Theatre Festival). His films include Used Cars, This is Spinal Tap, Clue, D.A.R.Y.L, Light of Day, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. His television credits include “Laverne & Shirley,” “Dream On,” “Better Call Saul” (Emmy Award nomination) and “Good Omens.”

    O'Toole,-AnnetteAnnette O'Toole (Lillian)

    is making her SCR debut. Her New York and regional theatre work include A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, The Show-Off (Theatre at St. Clement’s), The Traveling Lady (Cherry Lane Theatre), Man from Nebraska (Second Stage Theatre), Southern Comfort (The Public Theater) for which she received the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Actress in a Musical, and Drama Desk and Drama League nominations, Hamlet in Bed (Rattlestick Theatre, Edinburgh Festival), The Good Book (Berkeley Repertory), Magnolia (Goodman Theatre), Third (Two River Theatre), Heresy (Flea Theatre), The Quality of Life (Arena Stage), Kindness (Playwrights Horizons) and The Seagull (Classic Stage Company). Her film and television performances include Blow the Man Down, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Women Who Kill, 48 Hours, Superman III, Cat People, One on One, “Virgin River,” “Kidding,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Punisher,” “Search Party,”“11.22.63,” “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Smallville” and “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” for which she received Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations.

    Foreman,-KaroleKarole Foreman (The Matron, Others)

    has been in the PPF readings of Prelude to a Kiss, the Musical and Intimate Apparel. Her theatre credits include Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Ovation Award, Ebony Repertory Theatre and International City Theatre), A Little Night Music (San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award nomination), Stupid Fucking Bird (Cygnet Theatre); Haunted House Party (Getty Villa); Porgy & Bess, Sweeney Todd, Intimate Apparel (Ensemble Theatre Company); Fences (NAACP Image Award nomination, PCPA and International City Theatre); Wedding Band (Stage Raw Award nomination, Antaeus Theatre Company); Next to Normal (OC Weekly Theatre Award, California Repertory Company); Difficulty of Crossing a Field and Queenie Pie (Long Beach Opera); Caroline or Change (PCPA); Parade, Jelly’s Last Jam (Suzi Bass Award, Mark Taper Forum, Alliance Theatre, Atlanta); and Mamma Mia! (Las Vegas). Foreman worked with the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and numerous regional theatres across the country. Her television credits include “Monster,” “Good Trouble,” “NCIS,” “Brooklyn 99,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Rebel,” “GLOW,” “Kingdom,” “Training Day,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Stitchers,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Adam Ruins Everything,” “Switched at Birth,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Murder in the First,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Bones,” “Medium,” “Law & Order” and “Bold and the Beautiful.” Her film credits include The Banality, I’ll Be Next Door for Christmas, 42, Rebirth and Buddy Solitaire.

    Rusinek,-Roland​Roland Rusinek (​Mr. Wesley, Others)

    was last seen at SCR as Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2019). His film and TV appearances include Figaro in “Coop And Cami Ask The World,” streaming on Disney+, Jack Lapidus in The Producers streaming on Peacock. Frank in the first BearCity on Amazon Prime and as Caesar in the upcoming short film, Who Guardeth the Guards. His New York theatre credits include Piangi in The Phantom of the Opera (Majestic Theatre, Broadway); Fezziwig and others in A Christmas Carol (Madison Square Garden); Beadle in Sweeney Todd and Ciccio in The Most Happy Fella (NYC Opera); Jerry Springer: The Opera, in concert. (Carnegie Hall); Kismet (Encores!, New York City Center) to name a few.

    Smith,-Jacques​Jacques C. Smith (​Lt. McGowen, Others)

    was performing as Mafala in the national tour of The Book of Mormon when the pandemic halted all theatrical performances. He has performed on Broadway and internationally in RENT, as well as in the national tour of If/Then. Regionally, he has performed at The Old Globe, Ebony Repertory Theatre (Ovation Award), Pasadena Playhouse (NAACP nomination), Theatre Under The Stars, La Jolla Playhouse, Cleveland Playhouse, Goodman Theater (Black Theater Alliance Award, Joseph Jefferson nomination), Paper Mill Playhouse and many others. His television credits include “Marlon,” “Eagleheart,” “General Hospital,” “OZ” (HBO, series regular), “CSI:Miami,” Issa Rae’s “The Choir,” “American Masters” and “Law & Order,” among others.

    Warren,-Jennifer-Leigh​Jennifer Leigh Warren (​Leila, Others)

    is a critically acclaimed actress/singer lauded for her show-stopping Broadway performances as the original Alice’s Daughter in Big River (“How Blest We Are” was written for her by Roger Miller), the original Crystal in the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken hit Little Shop of Horrors, the original Lincoln Center cast of Marie Christine and the original Muse in the Drama Desk Award-nominated Lonesome Traveler. In RENT: Live on FOX TV, she showcased her acting versatility as Mrs. Jefferson, Mrs. Cohen, Support Sue and the infamous homeless bag lady. She starred as “The Blues Singer” in all four national tours of A Night with Janis Joplin (USA, Canada; now streaming on BroadwayHD.com) and performed her Diamonds Are Forever: The Songs of Shirley Bassey concert at the Renberg Theatre in Los Angeles. On “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” she performed with Broken Bells, The Kills, Trombone Shorty, Moon Taxi, Lisa Loeb and OK Go.

    Learn more about the concert-reading of Harold & Lillian and purchase tickets.

  • Four Questions With Dan Collins & Julianne Wick Davis

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 10, 2021
    Collins & Wick Davis
    Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis

    South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.

    The final work for the 2021 digital festival is Harold & Lillian, with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis. The story, based on the documentary film by Daniel Raim, is a Hollywood love story. The musical is about storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson. Beginning with their elopement after Harold came home from World War II, their marriage spanned six decades—during which they overcame daunting personal challenges and made surprising movie magic.

    In an email exchange, the pair talked about their favorite places to write and compose, the musicals that changed their lives and more.

    Writing Spaces
    Collins' favorite writing spot (left) on his dining room table and Wick Davis' ​at Ucross in Wyoming.

    About Dan Collins

    He wrote the book and lyrics for the musicals TrevorSouthern Comfort and The Pen, all with composer Julianne Wick Davis. Trevor received its world premiere at Writers Theatre (Chicago-area), where it won the Jeff Award for Best New Work; it’s set to open off-Broadway as soon as the New York City theatre season resumes. Southern Comfort was produced by the Public Theater, following productions at Barrington Stage and Cap21 (Critics’ Pick, New York Times and Time Out NYC); it received the Jonathan Larson Award, a GLAAD Media Award and was nominated for Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards. The Pen (Critics’ Pick, New York Times) was produced by Inner Voices and received a Solo Performance Drama Desk Award nomination for its star, Nancy Anderson. His other projects include Wood (starring Tony Award-winner Cady Huffman) and When We Met (Eugene O’Neill National Musical Theater Conference; Collaborative Arts Project/CAP 21). He was selected as a Dramatist Guild Fellow. Collins received his MFA in musical theatre writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and his BFA in playwriting at The Theatre School of DePaul University. 

    About ​Julianne Wick Davis

    She is the recipient of the Jonathan Larson Award (2012) and was the Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award for Outstanding Female Musical Theater Composer (2018). Named one of the 50 Women to Watch in 2020 by the Broadway Woman’s Fund, Davis also received a Lotte Lenya Competition Songbook Series Award (2020) from the Kurt Weill Foundation. Trevor, her collaboration with Dan Collins (book and lyrics), had its world premiere at Writers Theatre, Chicago, and received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Outstanding New Musical. Trevor is slated to open off-Broadway in 2021. Southern Comfort, also with Collins, received a production at The Public Theater and was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, as well as received Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle awards nominations for Outstanding Musical. Southern Comfort was part of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Convention (2012) and received a production at Barrington Stage Company, a reading at Playwrights Horizons and a developmental production at Collaborative Arts Project/CAP 21, which garnered a GLAAD Media Award and Critics’ Picks from Time Out NYC and The New York TimesThe Pen, with Collins, produced for for Inner Voices was another New York Times Critics’ Pick. When We Met (music & lyrics), was a part of the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theater Conference, York Theatre Company’s NEO Development Series, Broadway Bound Concert Series and received a developmental production at CAP21. The Willard Suitcases (book, music, & lyrics) had its world premiere at American Shakespeare Center (2019) and was named one of the Top Ten 2019 Theatrical Events by The Washington Post and was featured in the Broadway Bound Series at Merkin Hall. Lautrec at the St. James (music) with John Dietrich (book and lyrics), was selected for the NAMT Conference (2019) and will be a part of the Applause Concert Series at the Olney Theatre Center (2021). She has also contributed two songs for Shakina Nayfack’s Manifest Pussy and was commissioned to write a song for Lonny Price’s Lincoln Center Originals series. She is a Dramatist Guild Fellow, a York Theatre Company NEO 9 Emerging Writer and a Sundance Fellow at Ucross. She received her MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, where she is currently on faculty. Davis is an ASCAP and Dramatist Guild member. 

    What’s your favorite place to write?

    Dan Collins: Pre- and post-pandemic, my favorite place to be able to write has always been the dining room table of my home in the Hudson Valley. It's the perfect combination of a place that is both formal and comfortable to me; so, it keeps me focused enough to stay sharp but not under so much pressure that I can't be creative. Also, the table is at a good height for comfortable typing on the laptop!  

    Julianne Wick Davis: I have a little writing station in my small New York City apartment where most of my writing happens. It’s near a window so, when I need to stop and think or need to take a break from staring at screens, I can gaze out the window and look down and watch the rhythm of people in my neighborhood jogging or pushing strollers down the sidewalk. There’s something calming about knowing that the world is percolating outside my writing cave. It has been especially reassuring during the pandemic. Is this spot my favorite place to write? Well, I get the most writing done in this spot. But several years ago, I had an artist residency at Ucross in Northern Wyoming. There, the piano was next to a series of large windows and the strollers and joggers were replaced with leaping deer and strutting turkeys. It was a different rhythm and a bigger cave with more windows, and I wrote a lot there too. Weeks later, when I returned to NYC, I was happy to sit down at my little writing station again; and I realized that what defined my favorite place to write was not the size or location. My writing cave just needs a window. 

    As a child, did you read stories in secret?

    Dan: I can't really recall reading anything in secret as a child, other than frantically flipping through romance novels at the store in hopes of happening upon whatever scene the cover was depicting—and never finding it during the split-second opportunity.  

    Julianne: I have two older brothers. Growing up, I would often sneak in their room when they weren’t home and read books that weren’t appropriate for my age. One of those books was about all kinds of unexplained mysteries—the paranormal, UFOs, Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster. My heart would race while reading the stories of people’s encounters with these mysteries and I would lose track of time and place until the sound of my brothers coming home would pull me back to the present. I had to jump up on one of their twin beds, put the book back on the shelf, jump off the bed and run out of their bedroom before I was discovered and grumbled at for trespassing. Now that I think about it, the thrill of reading that book might have been more about the possibility of getting caught and less about the unexplained mysteries.

    When did you know you wanted to be a playwright and a composer?

    Dan: I always loved writing stories growing up, especially the dialogue. Then in junior high, we watched a video about the musical Les Misérables that completely fascinated me. I think it was that moment that I decided I wanted to write the words that people sang—and the words that people said before and after they sang!

    Julianne: For as long as I could remember, there was a piano in our home. Before I could read music, I’d sit at the piano and make up my own songs. I even wrote my version of an opera when I was four! I continued to write dramatic songs throughout my life, and I loved musicals and being in musicals, but I let people in my world convince me that this was merely a hobby and not really a viable career. I spent a lot of time following other paths, while always finding ways to keep creating musical theatre. It wasn’t until I discovered the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts that I realized it was time to stop listening to the naysayers and do what I really loved. Within a year of that realization, I was accepted at Tisch, moved to New York and never looked back.

    What theatrical work changed your life?

    Dan: Les Misérables was the theatre show that first "obsessed" me. I had to know everything I could about it and then, when I couldn't learn anything else (this was pre-internet!), I just started filling in the blanks with my imagination. I outlined a whole musical that was completely from Eponine's point-of-view and there were lots of ballads in it.  

    Julianne: I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to see live theatre growing up. Being able to watch movie musicals on TV was a godsend. When I was eight or nine, one TV channel started doing a weeklong late-night movie musical festival every summer. I loved that week so much that I begged my parents to let me stay up late and watch all of them. That’s the first time I saw West Side Story and I was hooked from the opening whistle in the score with the aerial view of New York City streets. The score, the dancing…it was unlike anything I had witnessed before. I think I stood in front of the TV for the entire duration of the musical with my mouth open. Since then, I have had many a transcendent experience sitting in the audience and watching musical theatre but discovering West Side Story on our Zenith television set was the most life changing.

    What should audiences know about Harold & Lillian?

    Dan: That it is a story about being ln love. I find that a lot of stories tend to be about falling in or falling out of love, so one of the many things that I find so special about Harold and Lillian’s story is how it explores what "love" and "being in love" means to one couple over the decades—not just at the beginning or the end.  

    Julianne: Harold and Lillian Michelson’s life together is truly an extraordinary story of devotion. But what I personally find inspiring is how remarkable Lillian was and still is—her strength to overcome so many challenges throughout her life, how she approached everything with inventiveness, bravery and optimism. Even when being a woman in a man’s world during the oppressive sexism of her time threatened to slow her down, she was determined to push the boundaries. In our post-pandemic world, I’m looking forward to sitting down with Lillian in person and telling her just how inspired I have been while finding the music to tell their story.

    Watch this video interview with the writer and composer for #PPFPlaywrights.

    Learn more about Harold & Lillian and the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Absurd Person Singular"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 03, 2021
    Absurd Person Singular
    Kathleen Early, Tessa Auberjonois, Robert Curtis Brown, Colette Kilroy and JD Cullum in Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn (2012). Photo by Henry DiRocco.

    About ​​​Absurd Person Singular

    In England’s most prolific and most ingenious playwright—and one of SCR’s most popular—outdoes himself this time by setting a party in the living room but keeping the drama in the kitchen. Three kitchens, in fact, on three successive Christmas Eves when relationships change, fortunes soar and then dive and the social kaleidoscope gets all shook up. Add an off-stage couple whose jokes are really bad, some of the most ingenious failed suicide attempts ever devised and lots of gin, and you’ve got a ferociously funny farce with very sharp teeth.

    Tessa Auberjonois has been in nearly a dozen productions at South Coast Repertory—as well as numerous new-play readings as part of the NewSCRipts series and the Pacific Playwrights Festival. In SCR’s production of Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn (2012, directed by SCR Founding Artistic Director David Emmes), she portrayed Eva, a desperately unhappy woman. The play follows the changing fortunes of three married couples over the course of three Christmas Eves in 1970s England. Auberjonois selected a rock-bottom moment for her character as a highlight for her as an actor. Here's why.

    What moment does this depict?

    This was towards the end of the second act. In the scene, my husband (not shown here, but played by Alan Smyth) and I were hosting a holiday party, but throughout it, my character (Eva) made multiple failed attempts to commit suicide. Everything she tried was misinterpreted and interrupted by the well-meaning guests. By this moment, Eva had taken pills and alcohol, but everyone else is still involved in their misguided attempts to fix the things they think are broken due to my uncoordinated and futile efforts. For example, Eva tries to hang herself from a ceiling lamp, so the other characters are trying to change the lightbulb, thinking that that was what she had been doing. They are so involved in fixing things that they do not notice that Eva is suicidal.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    There were some stage directions from the playwright about what Eva was doing, but there were long stretches where we had to determine where I would be and what I would be doing while the action and dialogue of the other characters was going on. There were a lot of people on stage and we all had to choreograph the blocking together to make sure that people could emerge and take focus in a well-timed way. We spent weeks and weeks coming up with all of the stage business and how to make it flow and support the activity in the script.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    My character, Eva, did not have any lines of dialogue at all in this entire act, although she was on stage from start to finish. She became increasingly high from her attempted pill-popping and drinking and, of course, the audience was tracking her progression. At this point, during all of the other comic mayhem, I decided to crawl limply and painfully slowly across the front of the stage and make a heroic effort to land in the chair as seen here. I really wanted to look like a wrung-out piece of cloth. The costume designer helped me find the most drapey, pathetic-looking clothes to help with this effect.

    Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

    I love this picture because Absurd Person Singular was a real ensemble piece that required great timing and specificity from every actor. The first act was a door-slamming farce and this act was filled with lots of business with props. Comedy is a serious business, as they say, and I really feel like this shot depicts how earnestly and seriously this company of actors approached the material. There was rolling and unsubsiding laughter every night and that was extremely fun to listen to from the stage, especially because I didn't speak in this act. It was fun to hear the audience tracking the comedy as it unfolded.

  • Inspiring Students With His Lifelong Love of Musical Theatre

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 01, 2021
    Musical Theatre Class
    Tom Shelton, top row, second from left, with his musical theatre students.

    About ​​Tom Shelton

    He’s an award-winning composer/lyricist as well as an acclaimed vocal coach and professional accompanist. He has appeared on many local Southern California stages including South Coast Repertory (The Trip to Bountiful, In the Next Room, A Christmas Carol and many more), Pasadena Playhouse, Musical Theatre West (1776), La Mirada Theatre and Laguna Playhouse, as well as off-Broadway at Manhattan Punch Line. He has written a half-dozen murder-mystery scripts on commission for The Gourmet Detective. His other works, which include musical adaptations, original plays, screen and radio projects, have been produced and seen nationwide, most notably Caddie Woodlawn, the original musical, and The Boy Who Ruled the Moon and Sun for the San Diego Opera. His other original works include The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Jesse James, The Disciples Undoing, Darling, You Slay Me! and a long string of classic fairy tales musically adapted for the Barnsdall Theater in Hollywood.

    Musical Theatre Teaching Artist Tom Shelton offers encouragement up front for prospective students: “If you can speak, you can carry a tune.”

    Shelton, who has been teaching Musical Theatre for nearly a dozen years in South Coast Repertory’s Adult Conservatory, likens his role to that of a coach by supporting his students where they are vocally, encouraging them and also helping them stretch themselves artistically.

    “Of course, people may be nervous,” he acknowledges. “But this class is a safe place to try things, where students bring their own ideas for vocal material and consider some other options. Most of all, it’s about singing for the joy of it.”

    Student Gabrielle Tinto describes Shelton as nurturing, encouraging, engaging, fascinating and fun.

    “He often will point out to a student a personal strength they have and say, ‘That’s one of your superpowers!’” she says. “He does not teach in a one-size-fits-all way.”

    For student Jami Bartlett, musical theatre classes can be about being part of a community.

    “One thing Tom emphasized in the first class has stuck with me: we all sing as children—it’s a fundamental part of the learning process, not only because singing is great for memorization (think about the pleasure of learning your ABCs), but also for community-building: singing gives us a sense of belonging, a sense that everyone has a unique individual voice that supports and enriches everyone else’s,” Bartlett says. “In singing, we create art collectively. And then, many of us learn to quiet that part of ourselves, in part because we internalize criticism from others or ourselves, and in part because we have fewer and fewer opportunities to sing—and live—out loud.”

    Musical Theatre is open to all levels of experience and the eight-week, online summer session begins the week of June 21. New students are welcome—as are continuing learners.

    Tom Shelton
    An animated Shelton teaching his class.

    About a Song: “Jacky”

    Student Jami Bartlett worked with Shelton on ​Jacques Brel's song “Jacky.”  “It is sung by a character who is experiencing something of an identity crisis: she considers all the lives she could live and the people she could be—a pop star, a mogul, even a god—and realizes that her strongest desire is to be a kid again, to go back to ‘the time when they called me ‘Jacky,’” Bartlett says. “It was easy for me to understand the appeal of childhood—innocence! silliness! cuteness!—but Tom really helped me think about what childhood looks like for the character. The character is thinking about what it would mean to be a powerful adult, but for her, a child holds a kind of ultimate power, a unique ability to persuade, a forgivable mischievousness that no adult can get away with. That insight brought so much depth to my performance of the song, because I could meet the character where she was, and communicate from that place.” 

    About a Song: “I’ll Be Here”

    Student Gabrielle Tinto recalls a watershed moment in class working with Shelton on “I’ll Be Here” from Adam Gwon's musical Ordinary Days. “Up to that point, I had been performing songs in a rather general way, with a general kind of emotion, and to a generalized, non-specific audience. During our work on this piece, Tom taught me the importance of identifying for yourself as a performer exactly who you are talking to when you a sing a song, what it is you want from them at that moment and why, and how you will go about getting it. When I was able to do that, and really focus in on who I was talking to and why, the song took on a new life, a specificity and an emotional intensity it didn’t have before. By the end of my second time through the song, I was in tears, and I understood what it meant to truly connect with your character. It was a breakthrough in my journey to become a singing actor.”

    Drawn to Musicals

    Shelton’s introduction to musical theatre came during childhood. His mother would bring home Broadway cast albums that were available in the grocery store and young Shelton was smitten.

    “After dinner, as a family, we would listen to these show albums and that was how I got immersed in musical theatre,” he recalls. One of his favorites was My Fair Lady. “There was an aliveness to those recordings and I guess I became stage struck. It also was the beginning of my long-distance love affair with New York City and Broadway.”

    His path to becoming a self-professed “musical theatre geek” was also helped by his mother’s insistence that he take piano lessons. By his mid-teens, Shelton was determined to become a Broadway songwriter/composer, so he teamed up with a friend, wrote songs together—a team like Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, among Shelton’s heroes—and produced shows in the back yard.

    Shelton confesses to having crushes on certain writers and teams, falling for their style and the unique things they brought to musical theatre. A rapid-fire list of his favorite writers and writing teams includes Jule Styne (Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, Funny Girl) for his “elegance and swinginess and real Broadway sound.” He’s also a fan of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green: “Oh, I wanted to be them!” he says of the latter team. “They had such quality and sassiness.”

    Teaching Musical Theatre

    Shelton is a teacher, accompanist, encourager and more for his students. When the pandemic moved classes online classes moved online in 2020, he started making customized piano tracks available for students to practice with. “I’m bringing my perspective and knowledge of the repertoire to help them develop not only the song but their confidence.”

    The way Shelton teaches, says Tinto, connects with students at all levels.

    “His approach to teaching is tailored to meet each individual performer where they are on their own journey and to give them what they need most in that particular moment to grow," says Tinto. "His vast knowledge of the repertoire enables him to select songs for each student to work on, with their specific set of skills and personal goals in mind.”

    SCR’s Musical Theatre class isn’t about doing big group numbers, it’s very detail-oriented. Students may dig into the context of a song, dig stylistically into the era of the song or into the mood of the song or more. And it’s as much an acting class as it is a singing class, since Shelton likens songs to monologues.

    Each week, all students have the chance to sing and Shelton has praise for how the students encourage each other through Zoom’s chat feature.

    “They’re so supportive of each other and tell me it’s great to see what everyone else is doing,” he relates. “It’s marvelous to see the positive impact of their instantaneous reviews. Students need to hear this kind of feedback.”

    In the first class, Bartlett recalls, Shelton said something that was life-changing.

    “He said, ‘When we are performing, we often aim for the illusion of the first time—the idea that we are singing this song for the first time, keeping it fresh for the actor and the audience,” says Bartlett. “But just as important is the sense of the only time: the idea that we are only ever going to sing this song and express these thoughts once.’  I have found that advice transformative, not just as a way of singing, but as a way of living: it reminds us that every moment, thought, and behavior is unique, even if it isn’t new to us. Valuing that uniqueness and allowing it to sink in and transform every moment—that’s powerful stuff.” 

    Learning From Each Other

    Shelton says the learning in his class is a two-way street: what the students learn from him and what they teach him. While he mostly assigns songs from Broadway shows of all eras, and an occasional piece from the Great American Song Book, his students bring him a broader understanding of contemporary music.

    “They may find a song I’m recommending on YouTube, then learn it and bring it back to the class,” he says. “They’re marvelously responsive.”

    Shelton is looking forward to the summer Musical Theatre class, seeing it as a positive experience for everyone and a rewarding journey.

    Learn more about Musical Theatre and other summer acting classes for adults.