By Kristin McKee
The freshmen students of the Chicago College of Performing Arts’ theatre conservatory (voice emphasis) performed select songs from E.Y. Harburg’s “American Songbook” earlier this month.
Under the direction of theatre lecturer Daniel Stetzel, the students paid tribute to a handful of Hollywood film and theatrical classics.
“American Songbook’ refers to the writers who wrote original American musical theatre,” Stetzel said. “I’ve been doing ‘American Songbook’ here at Roosevelt for about 15 years, and we see it as a really important educational tool because it gets to know these formative writers in musical theatre such as Harburg.”
Stetzel said Harburg was blacklisted from Hollywood because of his liberal views on social justice. “The other reason that I think is so important is that this particular project was very much taught against a framework of social justice which, of course, is very important at Roosevelt.”
The show opened with all the students performing “I Could Go on Singing” from the 1963 self-titled musical drama film.
Throughout the show, the students would perform songs in solos, duets, and even trios. To break the noise, all students would come together and perform as a company. Company numbers were choreographed by CCPA students Tess Martinez, Brooklynn Warner and Melanie Frewen. To the close the show, the students came together one last time and performed a 12-minute medley from the film “The Wizard of Oz.”
A great deal of time and work went into the preparation for the show, according to student Jordan Robey. “We had a five-week rehearsal process in which we rehearsed every Monday through Friday from 6:30pm to 10:00pm, which is standard for most CCPA productions,” Robey said.
“For the first two rehearsals, we basically had to ‘audition’ for Daniel so he could get to know our voices and start assigning us solos.”
The students had the opportunity to work under the musical direction of CCPA faculty member, George Howe. “George is an absolute genius and arranged all of these numbers,” Robey said. “It took a lot of hard work and focus to learn these arrangements, but we were all really devoted to learning the material and putting on a good show.”
“Working with the other freshman musical theatre students was fantastic,” student Grant Kilian said. “It’s a really creative and cool group of people who all take a different approach to the work, creating a really fun vibe and in turn, a really solid and polished production.”
“American Songbook” is the second show the freshman students of the theatre conservatory have been involved in. Last September, the students made their debut in their first showcase at the Studebaker Theater.
“Performing again at Roosevelt was a whole lot of fun,” Kilian said. “Now that we’ve really been given the chance to settle into the program, our finished product was far more grounded and we were able to work much more cohesively as an ensemble.”