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Students Learn from Musical Theater Master

He was most recently seen as the high priest Caiaphas opposite singer John Legend in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert but on Friday, April 6, Broadway star Norm Lewis took on a new role – mentoring students from Saint Louis University and other area colleges and high school at a Musical Theater Master Class.

Norm Lewis (right) works with SLU student Ross Rubright during a Master Class on Friday, April 6.Norm Lewis (right) works with SLU student Ross Rubright during a Master Class on Friday, April 6.

The class, hosted by SLU’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts, was organized by the Cabaret Project of St. Louis, a theater nonprofit led by SLU alumnus Tim Schall (A&S ’84).

Lewis, a Tony-nominated actor, was the first African-American to play the lead in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s hit  The Phantom of the Opera. He most recently performed as part of the Cabaret Project’s season at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Saturday, April 7.

Students from SLU, Webster University, and the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, performed mock auditions with songs ranging from jazz ballads penned by Bing Crosby to “Stars” from Les Miserables. Lewis offered suggestions, drawing from his years of performance experience, and guided students from straight-forward presentations of their songs to thinking about how to embody the characters behind them.

The class, like others hosted recently by SLU, draw from the deep professional connections of faculty members in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts and from among SLU’s alumni. For example, a recent March master class, taught by Broadway actor Kyle Barisich, came about due to Barisich’s ties to assistant professor Stephanie Tennill. Barisich was the first actor of Latino descent to play Raoul in the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera and has appeared in South Pacific, Into the Woods, and Titanic, among other productions in his career.

The department has also been able to open up community stages to its students thanks to community partnerships with groups like the Cabaret Project and through an agreement with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. As part of that agreement, SLU theater productions have graced Grand Center stages owned by the foundation this season. SLU Theatre’s next production, the musical Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, will open later this month at the Grandel Theatre.