An Enchanting Evening of Music and Memories

The UM Theatre Arts Program celebrates its 75th anniversary with a gala concert honoring alum Jerry Herman.

By Melissa Peerless
Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 04, 2014) — A standing-room-only crowd packed the Ring Theatre Monday night to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Theatre Arts Program in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences – and to honor legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, a proud alum of the program.

Directed by Henry Fonte, director of Conservatory Programs and Producing Artistic Director for the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, the production was a tribute to Herman’s long and distinguished career. Esteemed entertainers Klea Blackhurst, Jason Graae, and Valerie Perri shared the stage with UM Theatre Arts students, and the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus. James Followell served as Guest Music Director/Accompanist.

Herman is an award-winning lyricist and composer whose melodies and words have indelibly shaped musical theatre in America. He is one of only two people to have written three musicals with more than 1,500 performances on Broadway. Herman is a Kennedy Center honoree, who has earned two Tony Awards, Grammys, Drama Desk Awards, and a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Hello, Dolly!, Mack & Mabel, Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles are among Herman’s best-known works. Monday night the talented student and professional artists brought some of the classic songs from these musicals to life. Highlights included a performance of “Nelson” from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine by junior theatre student Schyler Rice, senior Amandina Altomare singing “Gooch’s Song” from Mame, and a rendition of “Hello, Jerry” – adapted from “Hello, Dolly!” – by a dashing group of 12 young men in the BFA Conservatory Program.

Students were involved behind the scenes as well, including serving as Stage Managers, Company Managers, and other key roles.

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala said Herman “left a trail of stardust” at UM, adding, “Your melodies are unforgettable, your words inspiring. In your tunes, love is eternal and the heart an open book. Your music is a tribute not only to your creativity, but to your humanity.”

Donna A. Arbide, associate vice president of Alumni Relations and Individual Giving, presented Herman with a Distinguished Alumni Award. “We have 185,000 alumni all over the world, but you are absolutely our most shining star,” she said.

Herman – who performed on stage for the first time as a UM student, playing Og the Leprechaun in Finian’s Rainbow – was visibly touched by the tremendous admiration in the room. He said, “It’s been a thrilling life and it all really started in the drama department at the University of Miami.”

The professional actors each selected one of Herman’s songs to perform, and gave a short tribute to Herman before singing. Jason Graae sang “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles, which he called an “anthem for the ages”.

He added that he was intimidated the first time he sang for Herman, but was surprised to find the world-renown composer to be “very nice and supportive.” The two have been collaborators for more than 30 years. Graae said, “He’s been the greatest gift of my life and career. I hold on to him for dear life.”

Rick and Margarita Tonkinson provided generous support for last night’s special event. Tonkinson, a self-described “Broadway Junkie,” said he has enjoyed attending performances at the Ring Theatre for many years. “The students are outstanding, and it is important to support their careers. The theatre is also a great way for the University to interact with the community.”

The community spirit of the event was evident in the grand finale, a cast-audience sing-along of “The Best of Times is Now” from La Cage Aux Folles. The crowd took the lyrics to heart, singing together to “make this moment last – because the best of times is now”.

For more information about the Theatre Arts Program, please visit www.as.miami.edu/theatrearts/.


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