Students perform at the Glencoe Theatre

SMTD Alumni Paint Broadway Maize and Blue

Scholarship support makes the School of Music, Theatre & Dance a leading destination for aspiring performers

Gavin Creel accepting Tony Awards
Gavin Creel accepts the award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Hello, Dolly! onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards.

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) prides itself as one of the most prolific performing arts programs in the country. With over $3 million given to establish the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Scholarship Fund to support musical theatre students, Jon and Lizzie (AB ’94) Tisch’s generosity is representative of the incredible student support that has nourished the SMTD program.

“Jon and I are so pleased to be able to support the Victors for Michigan campaign by offering opportunities for scholarships and internships for the talented students in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance,” Lizzie said. “We know that their education at the University of Michigan will help them prepare for a fulfilling and promising life upon graduation.”

Musical theatre has an especially rich tradition of success at SMTD, cultivated in part through the school’s tremendous culture of giving. Among the most successful graduates to pursue a career on Broadway is Gavin Creel (BFA ’98). You may recognize him from his impassioned portrayal of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, or more recently his Tony-winning role as Cornelius Hackl in Hello Dolly! Creel has established himself as one of the most gifted performers on Broadway.

He’s also a proud U-M graduate. “My education there as a young person changed my life forever,” he said in dedicating his Tony award to the musical theatre program at SMTD. “My professors, my classmates, they instilled in me an appreciation for what it is to be an artist.” Creel was a recipient of the Arthur and Martha Hearron Musical Theatre Scholarship as an STMD student. In gratitude for the Hearrons’ support and for his experience at Michigan, Gavin established his own student scholarship alongside SMTD classmate Celia Keenan-Bolger (BFA ’00).

One of Broadway’s most succesful new shows, Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, has a particularly maize-and-blue hue. Though not “mean girls” by any stretch of the imagination, Erika Henningsen (BFA ’14), Taylor Louderman (SMTD ’13), and Ashley Park (BFA ’13) comprise three of the leads for the show. Mean Girls racked up a record 12 nominations at the 2018 Tony Awards—more than any other show last year. Louderman, who plays the glamorous yet cruel Regina George, was nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. Park was also nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her adaptation of Regina’s sidekick—the ditzy and ever-loyal Gretchen Weiners.

SMTD musical theatre graduates
Onstage in Mean Girls: Erika Henningsen, Ashley Park, Taylor Louderman, Kate Rockwell, and Barrett Wilbert Weed.

SMTD musical theatre graduates can also be seen in Broadway shows like Aladdin, The Band’s Visit, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Frozen, Hamilton, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, Once on This Island, The Prom, School of Rock, Summer, and Wicked as well as other shows around the world. SMTD students work incredibly hard to succeed at what they do. As testament to this achievement, esteemed composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz says, “I know when I am sitting in auditions, if the resume says ‘U of Michigan’ on it, I am going to be seeing someone who is talented and highly skilled.” While at U-M, these students are given the tools to succeed not only in auditions or on stage, but in life as well. Henningsen, who currently plays Mean Girls protagonist Cadie Heron, recently reflected on how her education has helped her handle being a Broadway star: “A big thing our program taught us at SMTD was that you’ll be a better artist if you’re well-rounded, but you’ll also probably be a happier human,” she says. 

Scholarships are a vital reason SMTD graduates thrive after leaving U-M. As one of the most competitive programs at the university, scholarships drive recruitment, allowing students to learn and perform alongside incredibly talented peers. That support also allows students to focus on their education and hone the skills that can allow them to flourish in life after graduation.

With donors like the Tisch family supporting the program, SMTD will only continue to be a vibrant training ground for future Broadway stars.

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