Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SONG AND DANCE More Students Want to Get in on the Act as Interest Climbs in College Musical Theater Programs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SONG AND DANCE More Students Want to Get in on the Act as Interest Climbs in College Musical Theater Programs

Article excerpt

Byline: Nancy McAlister, Times-Union staff writer

While Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre just opened on Broadway, her sister Emily's literary classic, Wuthering Heights, will make its debut in Jacksonville this weekend. Besides the kindred spirits of their authors, what's notable is that both new productions are musicals.

Wuthering Heights, the story of ill-fated lovers Catherine and Heathcliff set against the backdrop of the haunting moors of northern England, is an original production starring and produced by Jacksonville University students.

With words and music written by instructor Rachel Clifton, the two-act play is a showcase for a growing number of JU students interested in musical theater, a trend that colleges and universities -- including their own -- recog nize.

As more high school graduates express their intention to pursue a career in musical theater, programs are being added and expanded. While the 1997 Barron's Profiles of American Colleges listed 20 schools offering a musical theater major, its 2001 edition lists 40. The 2001 index of majors and graduate degrees by the College Board cites 101 colleges and universities. Top-ranked schools such as the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Carnegie Mellon and Florida State University have particularly competitive programs and attract increasingly talented students, said Lee Beger, chairman of the theater department at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Those applying are "triple threats" (students talented in singing, dancing and acting), which reflects her own school's applicant pool.

"The kids are coming in, and we have more triple threats than we have had before," she said. "That's growing. We've had some incredible actors. Now they can act, sing and dance, all three."

Northeast Florida students currently in one of the programs Beger singled out include Douglas Anderson graduates DeWitt Cooper III and Chris Gleim (both at FSU) and Terry Parker and Florida Community College at Jacksonville alum Aaron Staton (Carnegie Mellon). Ken McCulough, head of the theater performance program at FCCJ said Staton and Holly Riggs are examples of students who pursue their interest after working toward an unofficial musical theater minor during their two years at FCCJ. Riggs was recently accepted into what he called the University of Central Florida's "widely expanding" theater program.

With strong music, theater and dance departments already in place, JU is poised to enlarge its musical theater major beginning next year. D. Terence Netter, dean of the College of Fine Arts, projects possibly doubling enrollees in a few years from the current number of around 10.

"We intend to make it more popular. It's a demand among students," Netter said. "Musical theater in the United States has a new niche, partly because of the wonderful touring companies. It used to be that all of the musical theater as we know it was on Broadway. …

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