Wagner Theatre Alumni Lighting Up Broadway
When it comes to Wagner, theatre is a pretty big deal. Each year, Wagner College’s theatre program consistently places within the Top 5 on the Princeton Review’s Best College Theatre’s list. This year, Wagner’s dedication to theatre was furthered after Broadway veteran Michele Pawk joined the staff of the college. While Wagner students do hear of success of theatre department alumni, they don’t hear enough. Plenty of graduates go on to work in regional theatres, national tours and Off-Broadway productions. However, a handful of talented alumni are boasting Wagner’s name on Broadway as new productions sweep into New York for a new season.
Renee Marino graduated from Wagner College in 2004. She made her Broadway debut last May when she joined the cast of West Side Story. She joined the production after only 3 days of rehearsal and finished learning choreography the morning of her first performance. She worked on the show as a vacation swing covering 9 roles and then eventually took over the part of “Alicia”, a shark girl. She eventually moved up again to play “Rosalia” who sings “America” in the show with Anita. Renee will be working this season on Wonderland: A New Alice. A New Musical. The musical is a modern take on the classic Alice in Wonderland story. In the show, Renee will be working as a swing where she us conversing at least 6 ensemble roles. She first got with Wonderland after her agent got her an appointment to an “invited dance call” while she was still working on West Side Story. Renee was called back twice and then again a couple weeks later where she dance and sang for entire creative team of Wonderland. She says “I am so thankful and excited to be doing a brand new musical”. Wonderland will begin on March 21st, 2011 at The Marquis Theatre with an official opening set for April 17th, 2011.
While Matt Lenz might not be a recent graduate of Wagner College, his work has definitely created a name for him as he will be the Associate Director of Catch Me If You Can this upcoming season. Matt Lenz graduated from Wagner College in 1986. While Matt’s passion is performing, he discovered not to long after graduating where another true joy lies, in directing. Matt quickly got himself into the scene by becoming the Resident Director of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. He also worked this position for the national tours. He stayed with Disney Theatricals becoming the Assistant Director on the Elton John/Tim Rice musical, AIDA. He eventually found himself as the Associate Director of Hairspray on Broadway. While Matt didn’t know it at the time, but this connection is what would get him his “in” for Catch Me If You Can. Matt is with working with the same song writing team, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and Broadway director, Jack O’Brien, who brought Hairspray to Broadway. Jack O’Brien asked Matt to come on board for this production when they first started the process about 5 years ago. When talking to Matt, he told me the team he is working with truly understands how to tell a story ranging from the plot to characters to the time period. During our chat, not only did he mention that that he admires and respects everyone he is working with on his this production (He also said that doesn’t always happen), but also he stated the phrase several times of everyone who he is working with being “at the top if the game”. He talked about how interesting it was to take an action movie and turn it into a stage production where they go for more of the emotional side of the story that causes the action. “We can go deeper into the humanity and then into the story” he says. Catch Me If You Can is set to begin previews Marh 11th, 2011 at the Neil Simon Theatre with an official opening set for April 10th, 2011.
I also took the time when talking to these folks to ask what if they could give any advice or have any words for current Wagner theatre students, what would it be? Renee said “Advice I would give to the very TALENTED students of Wagner College is to first and foremost ALWAYS hold onto those dreams, and be willing to work as hard as you can to pursue them. You will always be a student in your career, and in life so keep taking classes, growing and honing all the skills you possess.” Matt mentioned several important items as well through out our conversation such as the points of “No matter where you are in your career, you can learn something” and that that “you will work with others no matter what part of this business you are in”
Another exciting thing to note is that while this article focuses on three Wagner alums on Broadway right now, they are not the only ones! There are at least 10 other people associated with Wagner working on Broadway including 3 staff members that work here that are still involved in Broadway showbiz. A sidebar of information contains the names of other Wagner related folks working on Broadway including when they graduated and what show they’re working on! So this season while all new shows come into New York, don’t only go out to support theatre and the arts but remember that Wagner alum are behind the workings of Broadway theatre. And you could find yourself there someday.
Here is a complete list of Wagner Alumni Currently on Broadway:
Monette McKay graduated from Wagner College in 2007. She is currently starring in Memphis in the ensemble.
Brian Sgambati graduated from Wagner College in 1997. He jsut finished up working on The Merchant of Venice in which he understudied various roles.
Scott Barnhardt graduated from Wagner College in 2001. He is currently starring as a mormon in The Book of Mormon on Broadway.
Christina DeCicco graduated from Wagner College in 2002. She is currently working on Sister Act. She is in the ensemble and is the understudy for Sister Mary Robert.
Katie O’Toole graduated from Wagner College in 2009. She is currently working on Jersey Boys where she is a swing/universal understudy for ever girl part.
Emilia Martin graduated from Wagner College in 2007. She just finished up working on La Bete where she was the Asst. Hair supervisor and makeup artist. Emilia also currently teaches Stage Make Up at Wagner College.
Michele Pawk is Wagner’s newest associate professor. She teachers Acting 5 and 6 and Directing. She has been on Broadway in Chicago, Cabaret, Seussical and Hollywood Arms. She won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Hollywood Arms.
Alan Smith is a professor at Wagner College and teaches Costume Design. He also works as the costume designer for various productions on the Main Stage each year. Alan currently also works with Mamma Mia on Broadway in the costume and wardrobe department there.
Arturo Porazzi is a adjunct professor at Wagner College and teaches Stage Management. Arturo is no stranger to Broadway as he is currently working as the Production Stage Manager of Memphis.