A Shining Legacy

A “Guys and Dolls” preview image featuring senior musical theatre major Frankie Thams and recent alumna Mackenzie “Kenzie” Clark (BFA Acting, 2018). Photo by Mark Lyons.

Photo provided by UC CCM


College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) had already established a nearly 100-year-old reputation for excellence in the musical arts when it merged with the University of Cincinnati (UC) in 1962. At the time of this merger, though, theatre was largely in the domain of UC’s College of Arts & Sciences.

CCM faculty member Helen Laird believed other forms of singing should be included in conservatory training and, in alliance with CCM Dean Jack Watson, worked to establish an academic program in musical theatre. Jack Rouse, from the University of Wisconsin, was recruited to lead the charge in developing a new division of CCM that would encompass broadcasting, opera and musical theatre.

In 1969, Pamela Myers, a young Cincinnati singer, was CCM’s first musical theatre major graduate. This quickly put the college’s musical theatre program on the map, since Myers was cast as Marta in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking “Company” shortly after graduating.

Meanwhile, back in Cincinnati, Rouse continued to build the program while also establishing a live show program at the new Kings Island amusement park that provided summer work experience for CCM students.

More firsts and expansions unfolded quickly. The iconic Corbett Auditorium opened on UC’s campus, giving CCM’s musical theatre productions a world-class home. New doors began opening, as well. CCM’s production of “West Side Story” featured future opera stars Barbara Daniels and Kathleen Battle, showcasing the potential of multidisciplinary training in the performing arts.

Successors of Rouse ushered their unique flavor and talent to CCM. Worth Gardner brought a fou  ndation of creativity to the program before leaving to become artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Current program chairman Aubrey Berg, who first visited UC in 1987 as a guest director for a summer production of the musical “Nine,” joined the faculty shortly thereafter and continued shaping the musical theatre program into a national institution.

Students come from throughout the United States to study in CCM’s musical theatre program. The highly-lauded program auditioned 901 prospective students for 18 spots in the 2018-19 freshman class, a 1.99 percent acceptance rate. It’s easy to understand the appeal that the program holds for Broadway hopefuls, too. “BuzzFeed” recently ranked CCM musical theatre as the No. 2 program in the United States based on alumni success. According to “Playbill Magazine,” CCM places consistently in the top 3 most represented colleges on Broadway.

While it has long been categorized as one of the nation’s best, CCM’s musical theatre program was also the first of its kind to offer a four-year bachelor of fine arts (BFA) program back when Myers graduated in 1969. The ground-breaking curriculum was used by the National Association of Schools of Theatre in formulating the guidelines for the accreditation of Musical Theatre programs nationwide.

Notable graduates of CCM’s musical theatre program include Faith Prince (Tony award for playing Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls”), Kevin McCollum (Tony Award-winning producer of “Rent,” “Avenue Q,” and more) Shoshana Bean (the first actress to take over the role of Elphaba from Idina Menzel in “Wicked”), Betsy Wolfe (“Waitress”), Ashley Brown (originated the title role in “Mary Poppins”) and Christy Altomare (originated the title role in “Anastasia”). Liz Pearce (2000), who made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning “Billy Elliott” stated: “I simply would not be here without the training, support and encouragement I received from my teachers at CCM. The most important lesson I learned was perseverance. It’s not enough just to want to perform. You have to constantly work at your craft.”

In due celebration of its glowing academic accolades and obvious talent outflow, CCM is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its musical theatre program throughout the 2018-19 academic year and performance season. These celebrations continue with a special gala event on Saturday, October 20. The gala event will also celebrate the arrival of new CCM Dean Stanley Romanstein, whose tenure began in July.

The lavish evening will begin with a performance of the classic Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls,” followed by an after party inspired by the show that is playfully dubbed the “Saints and Sinners Bash.” Ticket proceeds appropriately support scholarships, student travel funds and master class opportunities.

The performance and gala to follow are hosted by CCMpower, a volunteer group associated with the college that is dedicated to empowering students and ensuring the future of the arts through scholarship opportunities.

“CCM truly is a treasure in our city that many people recognize, but our job is to reach out and educate more people who have not taken advantage of the many performances happening at CCM,” says current CCMpower President Arlene Katz.

“Knowing the talent that CCM has put out into the world is absolutely astounding to me,” adds Kent Shaw, CCMpower member. “It has given me such joy and pride having supported the students and established such a close relationship with the department and the school.”

“CCM is dear to my heart because it has given our son world-class preparation, unbridled self-trust and a deep passion for and commitment to musical theatre,” says Heather Vecellio, CCMpower member and event chairwoman for the “Saints and Sinners Bash” gala.

With 50 shining years to stand on, CCM musical theatre continues to blaze a trail that is hotter than a cat on a tin roof.