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Updated 8:30 AM June 1, 2004



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Regards from Broadway

When the curtain goes up on the 58th annual Tony Awards show next month, the list of nominees to receive theater’s top prize will include six former U-M students.

“I always thought when it happened I’d be screaming and jumping up and down,” says first-time nominee, Hunter Foster (’92), up for best actor in a musical for his portrayal of Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors.” “Instead I thought if I get too excited, maybe they will take it away, so I was subdued.”

Other nominees who attended U-M are Matthew Rego, Jeff Marx, Margo Martindale, Jack O’Brien and Jeffrey Seller.

Foster got his first real look at the world of Broadway during his undergraduate years in the Department of Musical Theatre in the School of Music. “We have an extensive knowledge of the business,” he says.

Skills the students learn include taking apart and analyzing classic and contemporary works, auditioning techniques, the ability to absorb material quickly, looking at roles creatively, and marketing themselves to agents and casting directors.

“It’s based on an entire curriculum, which tries to emphasize all aspects of performing,” says Brent Wagner, chair of the musical theatre department. “There are countless issues the general public wouldn’t even be aware of.”

For Rego (’92), these issues played a factor in shifting his attention from acting to producing. In 1997 he formed the production company the Araca Group with his brother Michael and friend Hank Unger. Since then, the Araca Group has been responsible for three nominated productions in as many years, including this year’s “Wicked,” up for best musical and nine other nominations.

“[Wagner’s] dedication to studying theater as both artistry and a business hugely influenced my understanding of theater as an industry and not just a place to express my creativity,” Rego says.

The nominations are evidence that the department is doing a good job preparing graduates for the future, Wagner says.

“They have been able to use their training and continue to have an impact on the profession,” he says. “It’s not an easy career path to follow, and the fact that these folks have followed it to elevated levels of success speaks highly of their skill and determination.”

As for the night of the awards show, Rego says the anticipation doesn’t get any easier after the first nomination.

“When we were nominated for ‘Urinetown,’ everyone thought of us as the little show that could, and we were on pins and needles every moment,” he says. “This year with ‘Wicked,’ many people have labeled us the front runner, but we are still extremely nervous and excited at the same time.”

It is the underdog status that has helped Foster stay calm throughout his first experience as a nominee. His main concern is not about whether or not he will win, but having fun and enjoying the moment.

“There is no pressure when Hugh Jackman is in your category,” he says. “It’s pretty exciting just to be mentioned in the same breath as him. You dream you’ll be there, but you never really think they will come true.”

Marx (’93) is another first-time nominee; he is up for best musical score for “Avenue Q.” Martindale, who attended U-M in the 1970s, is up for best featured actress in a play for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Her role is Big Mama, the same one the film and theater actress played when she was a 20-year-old U-M student.

O’Brien (’61) and Seller (’86) are no strangers to the Tonys. O’Brien is nominated for best director this year for his work with “Henry IV.” He received a nomination in 2001 for best director for “The Full Monty” and won the Tony in that category in 1996 for “Hairspray.”

Seller is a producer of “Avenue Q,” up for best musical alongside “Wicked.” Seller received a Tony in 1996 for his production of “Rent.”

At the Drama Desk awards presented May 16, “Wicked” won Outstanding Musical, an award received by the producers—Rego/the Araca Group. O’Brien won Outstanding Director of a Play for “Henry IV.”

The Tonys will air at 8 p.m. June 6 on CBS.

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