School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Music, Theatre and Dance News

December 2019

icon of a calendarDecember 4, 2019

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Music, Theatre and Dance News: December 2019
A scene from the Mainstage production of "Urinetown." (Photo by JLBoone Photography)

The Department of Theatre presented its first two Mainstage productions: Urinetown and Blue Stockings. A Tony Award-winning musical satire of the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, municipal politics and musical theatre itself, Urinetown was performed from Oct. 10-20. “Using catchy lyrics to help talk about serious issues such as class and privilege may sound odd, but in the context of Urinetown, it works,” wrote Sarah Hovis, a reviewer with Rochester Media. Blue Stockings, a play set in 1896 at the all-female Girton College in Cambridge where four women face obstacles both physical and emotional on their way to winning the right to earn degrees, was performed from Nov. 14-24. “Great strides have been made since the 19th century, but Blue Stockings reminds us as women and as a society that there is still work left to be done in the advancements of opportunities and equality,” Hovis wrote.

OU alum, Dana Lentini, M.M. in Vocal Pedagogy, has been selected as a presenter for the National Association of Teachers of Singing National Conference in Knoxville, June 26-30, 2020. She will be presenting “Children Will Listen: Teaching the Child Singer in the Private Voice Studio.” Co-presenting with her will be Dr. Jenevora Williams. Together they will share information about the physical differences of the pre-pubescent larynx and curriculum strategies.

The Dance Department of Oakland University's SMTD will be hosting a new initiative for the Michigan Dance Council. The MDC Honors Dance Ensemble is composed of 10 exceptional high school dance students who will be performing a work by The Maggie Allesee Choreography Award Winner finalist Bailey Allshouse. This work will be presented at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival Gala Concert in May at Western Michigan University.

Jake Skipworth (BM '13), baritone, has won the Georgia district of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. This program is designed to discover promising young opera singers and assist in the development of their careers. The National Semifinals and Grand Finals Concert will take place in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House in February and March.

Theatre alumna Sarah McEneaney (BFA ‘16) moved to New York after graduation and formed an international devised theater ensemble, Square One Collective. They’ve been selected to premiere their new work, No Place, at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in January. “I wanted to share this with OU’s SMTD because I don't think I would be where I am today without OU's theatre department,” McEneaney said. Square One Collective is also fundraising to help cover some of their production costs.

Brass students

Five OU brass students performed in the Music Teachers National Association's (MTNA) Collegiate Brass Solo Competition on Nov. 24 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Senior tuba performance major, Colin Holstein was declared the winner for the state of Michigan and will compete in East Central Division competition for a place in the National Finals held Chicago, Ill. in March. Scott Voytush, a senior trombone performance major, was selected as the alternate.

Musical theatre alum William Raveau will be recording a debut album in early 2020 “I'm so wildly excited to collab with another alum, Stefanie Sambrano,” Raveau said. “I've asked her to sing a duet — maybe two — with me on the album and thankfully she said 'yes.’” Raveau has also launched a crowdfunding campaign.

Oakland Dance Theatre and OU Repertory Dance Company will present their annual Fall Showcase from Thursday, Dec. 5 through Saturday Dec. 7 in Varner Recital Hall on the Oakland University campus. The annual showcase will feature works choreographed by OU dance faculty and guest artists Dušan Týnek and Bailey Allshouse. “The Oakland Dance Theatre and OU Repertory Dance Company concert is an exciting buffet of high-caliber movement flavors created by various Dance Department faculty and guest artists, with the added bonus of live musicians for a couple of the pieces,” said Thayer Jonutz, associate professor of dance at Oakland University and co-director of Take Root.

George Stoffan and Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell, professor of music at OU, and George Stoffan, associate professor of music, ran into each other on Nov. 22 while on sabbatical for the semester in Europe. Both were in Zagreb (the capital and largest city of Croatia) to see the Zagreb Philharmonic.

OU theatre alums Kai Stidham (BFA ‘18) and Tyler Bolda (BFA ‘19) performed with the Meadow Brook Theatre carolers from A Christmas Carol on Nov. 28. The performance was televised on WDIV-TV during the broadcast of America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit.

The Oakland University World Percussion Ensemble traveled to Indianapolis and performed at the Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC) on Nov. 14. Their program, entitled The Embaire Xylophone of Uganda, featured the renowned Ugandan musician Haruna Walusimbi and was presented together with percussion ensembles from Ohio University and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

OU music students Zach Musienko, Brek Moorey, Tristan Hughes and Colin Holstein performed on Nov. 14 at the Oath of Office Ceremony for the Mayor and City Council members for the City of Rochester Hills. OU brass students have performed for the past three ceremonies.

Saxophones at the Grosse Pointe performance

The Wick and Hummingbird Quartets from the OU Saxophone Studio performed Nov. 18 at the Grosse Pointe Chamber Music Series at The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

The School of Music, Theatre and Dance welcomed 150 high school students during back-to-back weekends for its annual Honors Band and Honors Orchestra. The students had the opportunity to work with guest clinicians, OU faculty, and performed on the Varner Recital Hall Stage.

SMTD faculty members Alta Boover and Josh Young performed “An Evening with Irving Berlin” on Nov. 9 at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, accompanying a presentation by author James Kaplan discussing “Irving Berlin: New York Genius,” his biography of the iconic songwriter.

Oakland University voice students performed at the statewide NATS (National Association of Teachers and Singing) student auditions at Hope College on Nov. 3. Gillian Tackett placed 2nd in Senior Women; Nicholas Nastally placed 3rd in Senior Men; Angela Bonello placed 2nd in Sophomore Women; Kevin Cornwell placed 1st in Sophomore Men; Seth Miller placed 3rd in Freshmen Men; Cassidie Singelyn placed 1st in Sophomore Women and she also won special recognition for her performance of "The Year's at the Spring" by Amy Beach. Because of her special recognition, Singelyn performed during the final awards presentation (one of only two collegiate level performers to sing.) In addition, exceptional performances were given by Kellan Dunlap, Olivia Langsdorf, Caleb Wayman, Kaitlyn Wiegand, and Jude Anderson.

Tyler Capa

Tyler Capa (BM ‘15) has been busy working with Antonio Cipriano, who made his debut on Nov. 3 on Broadway in Jagged Little Pill, a new musical inspired by the groundbreaking album by Alanis Morissette. Cipriano has also performed at La Jolla Playhouse, York Theatre Company, Second Stage Theatre, New York Stage and Film, and Michigan Opera Theatre. He won the 2017 Sutton Foster Ovation Award for Best High School Theater Actor and was a finalist in the 2017 NHSMTA- Jimmy Awards.

The SMTD welcomed Grammy nominated Imani Winds to Oakland University on Nov. 3. They were joined by pianist Tian, OU associate professor of music, on Francis Poulenc's Sextet for Piano and Winds. In addition, members of Imani Winds gave an open masterclass with OU students in Varner Recital Hall.

In November, OU Professor Jessica Payette presented a paper on the postwar Austrian reception of Alban Berg’s opera, Wozzeck, at the national meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston. While Wozzeck is now considered one of the operatic masterworks of the 20th century, performances in Germany and Austria were forbidden after the Nazi takeover due to the opera's Expressionistic content and use of atonality. Professor Payette's research explores the discourse and dramaturgical procedures surrounding the reintroduction of the opera to Austrian audiences at the 1951 Salzburg Festival and the 1955 reopening of the Vienna State Opera house.

Theatre technology and design alum Jeffery Block was recently promoted to technical director at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Block has been at Interlochen since 2014 as a technician in residence, production technician/designer, assistant technical director and now technical director.

Jacquelyn Wagner

OU alumna Jacquelyn Wagner made her role debut as Elsa in the premier of Roland Schwab’s new production of Lohengrin on Nov. 2 at the Felsenreitschule Salzburg in Austria. Reviewer Klaus Billand wrote that “Jaquelyn Wagner is a virtually perfect Elsa, boasting a soprano voice that reveals all facets of the role and empathetic acting skills.” Wagner is also a 2020 nominee for the International Classical Music Awards.

Bret Hoag, a special lecturer of classical and jazz guitar at Oakland University, played a spot with Jeffery Zook (DSO affiliate applied faculty, flute) on Oct. 21 on WRCJ.

Haruna Walusimbi, one of Uganda’s most celebrated artists, presented two concerts at Oakland University on Oct. 20 and Nov. 22 — and another at the Pontiac Creative Arts Center on Nov. 2 — as part of his residency at OU as a visiting international scholar. “It has been a great two months with Haruna Walusumbi as a visiting artist at Oakland University,” said Mark Stone, associate professor of world music and percussion. 

Karen Sheridan, professor of theatre, performed in Williamston Theatre’s production of “The Safe House, which ran Oct. 3-Nov. 3. The Lansing City Pulse said, "Sheridan is perfectly cast in this role, imbuing her character with charm and wit, with a deep sense of humor.”

Empires Fall

SMTD alum Mitchell Aiello (BFA ‘16) had the opportunity to direct a world premiere of a play at an equity theatre, Great Plains Theatre in Abilene, Kan. in October. The play was "Empires Fall," written by Marlin Fitzwater, who was the longest lasting press secretary in White House history. “Not only did I direct the world premiere of the fully staged version of the play, but I also adapted the script from a 30 page one-act to a 54 page full-length play about George H.W. Bush and his personal relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Aiello said. He was also able to cast two other OU alumni in the production: Joshua Steckelberg (BFA ‘16) and Billy Eric Robinson (BFA ‘17). “We rehearsed for 12 days and then played nine performances,” Aiello said. “We are very proud to have presented a new, historical piece. In November, Aiello began directing and choreographing another world premiere of a 25th anniversary review show. “I am also acting in it and co-wrote the script,” he said. “For this show, I have hired Brian Baylor (BFA ‘17) to join me. It should be an awesome adventure.” In addition, Aiello is now one of the artistic directors of Great Plains Theatre. “I am excited to take on this position having graduated less than three and a half years ago,” he said. “My responsibilities now include: choosing our season, hiring production staff, casting actors, publicity, managing all youth programs and shows, budgeting each season overall, and acting as the face of the company.”

The Oakland Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 2019-20 season on Oct. 6 with Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 21 by Felix Mendelssohn; The Yellow River Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by Xian Xinghai/Yin Chengzong with Tian Tian, piano; and Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

On Nov. 2, the OSO presented a concert on a Saturday evening in Varner Recital Hall for the first time in more than a decade. 
The program for the evening featured the exciting Le carnival romain, Op. 9 by Hector Berlioz, Rainbow Body by Christopher Theofanides, and concluded with a monumental performance of Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 by Dmitri Shostakovich. “Completed in the months following Stalin’s death in 1953, Shostakovich’s ‘Symphony No. 10’ stands as one of his most critically acclaimed and often performed symphonies,” said Dr. Gregory Cunningham, conductor. “Traversing a dark and brooding first movement, a cruel and almost inhuman scherzo, which Shostakovich later described as a musical depiction in Stalin himself, an enigmatic and biting third, to the rousing and memorable final movement, this 20th century tour de force symphony showcases the exceptional artistry of many of the principal players within the Oakland Symphony.”

Lynnae Lehfeldt, associate professor of theatre, played the "frisky loud American" character of Helen Hubbard in Meadow Brook Theatre’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express,” which ran through Oct. 27. “The character of Helen Hubbard is big,” wrote Angela Colombo of Encore Michigan. “Lehfeldt embodies it and lets us have it with snarky one liners, like when Hubbard talks about her husbands — past and present. Of the one who died young she scoffed in her midwestern accent, ‘he had no talent for longevity.’” The cast also included OU theatre lecturer Sara Catheryn Wolf, with costumes designed by theatre alumnus Corey Collins. Travis Walter, OU alum and artistic director of Meadow Brook Theatre, was the director of the production.

Jenefer Miller

OU alumna Jenefer Miller (Stickradt), a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Oakland University MaTilDa Award for Alumni Achievement in Dance, was commissioned as a tap dancer to interpret and perform Morton Gould’s Tap Dance Concerto with the MusicNova Orchestra. The piece was conducted by Warren Cohen and was played Oct. 20 at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Ariz.

Eisenhower Dance Detroit, one of OU’s professional dance companies in residence, performed Oct. 26-27 in Varner Recital Hall. The show, entitled Eye of the Beholder, included the premiere of a work by Chicago-based choreographer Christian Denice and Paradigm by BAIRA. “Because I have such a passion for the dance department of Oakland University, Eisenhower Dance Detroit is committed to give back in any way possible and strive to continue the longstanding relationship we share,” said Stephanie Pizzo, artistic director of Eisenhower Dance Detroit. “I would not be where I am — nor would Eisenhower Dance Detroit — without the dance department at Oakland University.”

"Playful Spaces" — an art installation co-created by Jeremy Barnett, associate professor of theatre and Jason Maracani, theatre alumnus — is up now at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts (SCA). It is over 420 feet long, 30 feet high and uses over 1200 sticks of wood to wind its way through the SCA. "Playful Spaces" is part of SCA's interactive exhibit "Luminescence,” which runs through Dec. 20. “To be a student of theatre is to be a student of human nature,” Barnett said. “It’s to navigate how we respond and to have a sense of human patterns.” Two OU theatre alums, Krystal Smoger (BFA ‘18) and Chris O’Meara (BFA ‘16) assisted with the installation. To learn more, visit

On Oct. 19, the Oakland University Brass Band celebrated its 10th anniversary with premieres of music by OU faculty member Terry Herald and alumnus Ian Lester. They were also joined by special guests Sarah Holman, mezzo soprano and Colin Holman, guest conductor.

Regina Carter

OU artist-in-residence Regina Carter was in town Oct. 14-18, working in the community with music students at Renaissance High School, Detroit School for the Arts, Duke Ellington Middle School, Community Music School-Detroit, and Rochester High School. She also spent some time at OU with the strings and jazz students.

Oakland University and the Michigan Dance Council (MDC) co-hosted the Michigan Dance Festival on Oct. 12 in Varner Hall. This year’s festival featured two free community classes — Afro-Jazz with Karen Prall, a lecturer of dance at Wayne State University, and Dance for Parkinson’s with Ali Woerner, an associate professor of dance at Oakland University and co-director/co-founder of the professional modern dance company, Take Root, one of two professional resident companies at OU. Take Root also presented Take Root: Deconstructed on Oct. 11-12 at Green Sky Detroit. This intimate event offered a closer look into Take Root's unique aesthetic, process and creations, with live performances and a Mix and Mingle at the end.

Come Dance with Me, an educational dance television show on TheMittTv hosted by Rebecca Crimmins, is celebrating its 40th episode and looking for dancers of all ages to appear on the show. OU students are welcome to be guest performers. Contact Crimmins at [email protected].

Beethoven performance - David DiChiera family

Oct. 13 was the first concert in "An Exploration of Beethoven's Music, Life and Legacy Through His 32 Piano Sonatas." OU Piano faculty — Tian Tian, I-Chen Yeh and Rebecca Happel — played representative works from each of Beethoven's three major periods. The second concert in the series, held on Nov. 12, was dedicated to the memory of Dr. David DiChiera, who died in September 2018. A foremost expert on opera, DiChiera brought the art form to Oakland University and Detroit, while fostering the careers of many talented performers.  Several of DiChiera’s family members attended the concert on Nov. 12, including his former wife, Karen Vanderkloot DiChiera; daughters, Lisa and Cristina; and grandson, Aiden James.

While on their recital tour in Minneapolis, Drake Dantzler and Victoria Shively ran into OU alumna Victoria Pace, who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with her Master of Music in Vocal Performance. “It was great to see her,” Dantzler said. The recital tour included stops in Texas and Louisiana last year, and Minnesota and Wisconsin this year. Theatre faculty members Karen Sheridan and Kelli Crump also ran into an OU alum. While seeing August Wilson's Jitney they ran into Jordan Taylor (BFA '19) at the Music Hall Center for Performing Arts in Detroit. Jordan is a new MFA student in the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Playhouse acting program.

Brazilian pianist Ronaldo Rolim, who studied with Flavio Varani, professor emeritus of music at Oakland University, and earned a Doctor of Music Arts degree from Yale University, recently released his new album — Szymanowski’s Wartime Triptychs — on Odradek Records. The album is devoted to the programmatic works the Polish composer wrote during World War I.

Choreographer and OU alumna Rachel Costantino (BFA ‘14) was recently named an assistant coach of the Michigan Dance Team at the University of Michigan. “It’s an honor to work with such a talented team,” Costantino said. “I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to encourage these dancers. I only hope to show them the same level of enthusiasm and knowledge that I was encouraged with.”

Coming up: The SMTD will present Facing Our Truth: 10-Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege from Dec 5-7 in the Varner Lab Theatre in Varner Hall. The collection of plays includes The Ballad of George Zimmerman by Dan O’Brien in collaboration with the musician Quetzal Flores; Colored by Winter Miller; Night Vision by Dominique Morisseau; Dressing by Mona Mansour and Tala Manassah; No More Monsters Here by Marcus Gardley; and Some Other Kid by A. Rey Pamatmat. From Jan. 16-19, the SMTD will present Dialogues of the Carmelites — Francis Poulenc’s moving tale of the martyrdom of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution — in Varner Recital Hall. The OU College of Arts and Sciences faculty will also host a discussion of the historical, social and musical circumstances surrounding Poulenc’s opera at 7 p.m. on Jan. 12, also in Varner Recital Hall. On Jan. 24, OU’s newest theatre faculty member, Josh Young, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his Broadway debut as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, will perform showtunes from the catalog of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

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