February 20, 2015 at 9:30am

First-Hand Look

Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop is a program that provides theatre students unique collaboration opportunities to work with writers and build professional experience. During this year's workshop, held Jan. 16-18, students were coached and accompanied by guest artist Andrew Lippa, a Tony and Grammy Award-nominated composer and lyricist.
Lippa worked with 16 Millikin students on a variety of his own musical compositions. Throughout the workshop, Millikin students engaged in master classes and performed alongside Lippa during a cabaret performance in Kaeuper Hall on Jan. 18.
"The Andrew Lippa residency was Performance Learning at its finest," said Sean Morrissey, Millikin interim chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. "Over a three-day period, Millikin students not only learned from, but also collaborated and performed with a world-class artist in a retrospective presentation of his work. Through these types of collaborations, students begin building relationships that will be invaluable to them when transitioning into the professional marketplace."
Lippa wrote the Drama Desk Award-nominated music and lyrics for the musical "Big Fish" which recently played Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre. Lippa also wrote the Tony Award-nominated music and lyrics for the Broadway musical "The Addams Family" which has appeared on tour in the U.S. and is an international success. Millikin's Department of Theatre and Dance will be presenting "The Addams Family" as part of its 2015-2016 production season in November.
"It's great to see the students really reaching for something a little bit deeper when performing and to find the emotional truth in themselves," said Lippa. "It's a gratifying experience to see the students working hard at growing and learning how to be better human beings."
Lippa's songs have been recorded by such esteemed artists as Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Nathan Lane, Norbert Leo Butz, Julia Murney and Peter Cincotti. Lippa served as music director and conductor for Kristin Chenoweth's sold-out shows at the Metropolitan Opera House, Carnegie Hall (2004) and the Donmar Warehouse in London as well as with the San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras."
Lippa added, "I want the students to learn that being an artist is a lifelong job and that you have to keep asking questions, reinventing yourself, and pushing yourself to be better."
"Something that Andrew emphasized several times while he worked with us was the importance of allowing the music to serve the acting choices within a song," said Ryan Hickey, a junior theatre major from Galesburg, Ill. "He said that the music comes second to the story, and coming from a composer, that was quite surprising. He said that he writes his music with as much freedom for the performer as possible. This served as a tremendous reminder to treat each song as a marriage of the acting and the musicality, creating something that best tells the character's and my own story."
In reference to the cabaret performance, Hickey says the students gained invaluable insight into the music from which it was created.
"The cabaret was a wonderful presentation of the cannon of Andrew Lippa material," said Hickey. "I loved that the songs he gave us to work with and those that we chose on our own really represented a great portion of the last 20 years of his work. Getting to work with a composer on his own work was both a daunting and exciting experience. He constantly challenged us to dig deeper and to find new things to play with in not only his songs, but in any songs we choose to perform."
Andrew Lippa's appearance was made possible by a Millikin University Performance Learning Enhancement Grant (PLEG). Performance Learning Enhancement Grants were initiated by Millikin University during the 2012-2013 academic year as a means of supporting new initiatives to identify and enhance Performance Learning within academic programs.
Lexis Danca, a senior musical theatre major from Crystal Lake, Ill., added, "The New Musicals Workshop is an incredible program. The fact that we are able to learn from artists, like Andrew Lippa, makes the workshop important in terms of building experience and connections."