Chris Calderazzo, Musical Theatre student, and Ashley Mahone, Theatre Performance
student, rehearsing in the dance studio, which contain state-of-the-art flooring used
by dance professionals.
Musical Theatre, the youngest program in the College of Communication and Fine Arts,
is also the most rapidly growing. Currently, the only degree of its kind offered in
a state institution in Tennessee, it is at maximum capacity for the second straight
Musical Theatre was a departmental dream that was realized when Assistant Professor Jacob
Allen, 2009 MMus graduate of Eastman School of Music, was hired in 2010 to start the program.
He has worked throughout the Midwest and New England and is an advocate for American
Lyric Theatre, an opera company in New York that focuses on the development of new
work, and Art Song, poetry set to music.
“As director of the program, Jacob Allen’s artistic gifts and commitment to the education of
our students has led to the program’s vibrant growth,” said Department Chair Holly Lau.
“Under the tutelage of this extraordinary voice teacher and mentor, our musical theatre students
are reaching new heights of success.”
Under Allen’s direction, the program has added new faculty including adjunct Rachel
Black, voice and music theory teacher, and Tracey Bonner, visiting assistant professor
in Musical Theatre/Dance Movement. However, it is the growth in student population
that is most amazing. When the department began in 2011, it represented about 10 percent
of the total performance majors in the Department of Theatre and Dance. In 2012, it
had grown to represent 24 percent of the department. And now, it is at 32.4 percent.
“These numbers reflect a quickly evolving program, thanks mostly to the faculty that
have been primary in implementing and supporting this new program,” said Bonner, who
teaches dance and theatre movement.
The professional coursework in the Musical Theatre program includes intensive studies
in Dance (ballet, tap and musical theatre styles), Theatre (acting, history and technical
production), Music (voice, piano and theory) and Musical Theatre (performance and
The broad education in music, theatre and dance give students the necessary skills
to be successful in the popular and competitive professional musical theatre world.
Musical theatre students receive additional training to help them use skills in these
David Couter, a sophomore from Chattanooga, said that the success of the program should
be attributed to the experience and talent of his professors, who bring that real-world
professionalism to the classroom.
“Rachel Black, Tracey Bonner, Jacob Allen, Sarah Brown have connections and they share them
with us,” Couter said, listing professors who have greatly influenced him. “We are
able to meet people in the business.”
Couter said this is an important part of their educational and career growth. This
past fall, students were treated to a master class with Ashley Moniz who is currently
traveling with the Sister Act national tour as Sister Robert Ann. This spring, students
have the opportunity to attend master classes with Alvin Ailey dancers and performers
Junior Chris Calderazzo, who was originally from Las Cruzes, New Mexico, agreed that
professors in Department of Theatre and Dance are second to none.
“Jacob Allen is a great music teacher. Rachel Black is a great voice teacher. She
has changed the way I think about my own voice,” said Calderazzo about a couple of
Professors within the concentration have a lot of credibility with students. Not only
are they able to call upon a large amount of experience, but they also continue to
work in the business.
In the fall (Anita) Jo Lenhart, associate professor of Vocal Training/Performance
and equity actor, performed in Steel Magnolias at the Great Plains Theatre in Kansas.
Couter said, “she was working.
You can’t discount that along with good teaching. It’s great to have professors out
there doing what you want to do. Is that too much to ask?”
The effectiveness of the program was only increased with the addition of Bonner, who joined
the faculty in fall 2013. She received her BFA in Music Theatre and Acting from Shenandoah University
and an MFA in Dance and Choreography from the University of California, Irvine. A
member of the Actors Equity Association, she has performed all over the country as part
of touring companies for A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Fosse, and Show Boat.
She uses her vast professional experience in her role at the University as a teacher,
musical theatre choreographer and dance specialist. The students are grateful that
“She brought a new energy, a new aura. It’s making people only want to talk about
the program more,” Calderazzo added.
According to Couter and Calderazzo, music and acting were everything they could have expected.
The two disciplines were challenging and pushed them as performers. “I expected rigourous
training,” Couter said.
Calderrazo said the program will continue to grow because they keep it selective,
which keep the program elite, and the professors are committed to its progress.
“People want to be a part of it because it’s so fresh,” he said. “We have these brilliant
professors who are taking it somewhere new. Word of mouth is continuing to spread.
A friend in New York was talking about it.” Calderazzo, who most recently performed in
Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? plans to go to New York after graduation.
Couter, who starred in The Pillowman, has but one plan for life after college:
“I will do theatre.”
The Department of Theatre and Dance offers a BFA degree in Theatre with emphases in
performance, musical theatre and design/technical production and an MFA in Theatre
with emphasis in directing and design/technical production. For more information about
the department and Musical Theatre, contact the Department of Theatre and Dance at
901.678.2523 or go to memphis.edu/theatre.