Setting the Stage

Humanities7 MIN READ

The musical review Project Broadway shows the promise of collaboration as Colby prepares to open the Gordon Center

Mary Zhang '25, left, and Isadora Wells '26 look at their prop book before taking the stage during their final dress rehearsal for Project Broadway, a collaboration between the Music Department and the Performance, Theater, and Dance Department.
By Claire SykesPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
February 14, 2023

When the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts opens this fall, the College’s departments of music, cinema studies, and performance, theater, and dance will be under one roof for the first time.

But why wait until then to collaborate?

The curtain at Strider Theater rose on Project Broadway on Feb. 3-4, featuring 12 popular show tunes from U.S. and British musicals over the decades. Students from the Jan Plan course Musical Theater Workshop: Project Broadway pooled their talents and skills as musicians, singers, dancers, set builders, and scenic, lighting, and costume designers for the 75-minute production.

With the Gordon Center designed as a creative incubator for interdisciplinary works, Project Broadway served as a pilot program for students, faculty, and staff to share ideas, resources, and logistics.

Students singing
The 14-member vocal ensemble sings “Seasons of Love” from Rent for its the finale of Project Broadway.

There’s a long history of collaboration between the departments, said Jim Thurston, associate professor of performance, theater, and dance. “But many of the faculty have retired and there’s new staff now, so we wanted to coproduce a smaller-scale work before we do something larger in the new space. The Gordon Center will allow us to broaden our definition of what performance can be,” he said.

Thurston and Wee Kiat Chia, music associate in voice and vocal director of Project Broadway, managed the production, which involved more than 50 students, staff, faculty, and professional guest artists.

Songs of love

Katie O’Brien ’23, who is double majoring in music and education, suggested the idea last spring during conversations with friends in Colby’s long-standing Broadway Musical Revue club. She and Kate Spence ’25 approached Yuri “Lily” Funihashi, associate professor of music and Department of Music co-chair, and Marjorie Gallant, production manager and associate chair of the Department of Performance, Theater, and Dance.

“I’ve been singing my whole life, and I’ve always loved the magic of musicals,” O’Brien said. “We thought a cabaret-style show would be a good way to get more students involved in musical theater and spark Colby to stage a full musical again in the future.”

Added Thurston, “Coming out of Covid, we also felt a need for students to sharpen their skills in music, character work, and movement onstage. And we wanted a show that offered principal-singer roles tailored to the students’ interests and talents.”

While working with students last fall to prepare for the show, Chia curated a selection of 12 songs that best suited their talents. These songs shared a common theme—love. “After 2020, what we missed most during the pandemic was human connection. Love is more than just romantic. It comes in a variety of feelings and forms,” he said.

Opening night, the ensemble took the stage confident and prepared, expressing love’s joys and heartaches through song and stagecraft. Students felt the love themselves, visible as they exchanged smiles and glances while crisscrossing the stage and uniting their voices in full-ensemble pieces such as “9 to 5” and “Seasons of Love” from Rent.

O’Brien belted out The Secret Garden’s “How Could I Ever Know?,” her main solo; and, with the production’s 14-member vocal ensemble, also sang “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, and “Coffee Break” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Project Broadway took O’Brien to new heights in her creative and performing interests. “Music is perfect for storytelling,” she said. “There’s something about it that takes you to a new place.”

Alex Schwartz '23
Alex Schwartz ’23 applies eye makeup in the dressing room before the start of final dress rehearsal. “I learned how to move my body during a performance like this,” they said. “It’s not hard to act and look interested while watching the other performers, but it’s interesting having to adjust and move positions, acting more slowly.”  

Alex Schwartz ’23, a classics major, began singing with the Colby College Chorale last fall. Project Broadway was their first musical-theater performance since high school. “It had been a while because my voice is changing as I’m doing masculinizing hormone therapy, and I’m adapting to that,” they said. “I wanted to get involved in theater again, especially in my last year of Colby, now that I’m done with the major requirements.”

The performers dressed in black, and soloists wore a partial costume on top that represented their character. Kyral Ogazi ’25 designed some of the costumes, with Meredith LaBounty, Colby’s costume shop manager. He also designed lighting for a few of the songs. “It was nice to apply my high school experience and also learn more about how lighting interacts with people onstage,” he said.

‘Best Jan Plan ever’

An orchestra of 12 accompanied the singers. “They learned a different type of music,” said Project Broadway conductor Jinwook Park, Colby’s orchestra director. “Usually for classical music, the string section carries the melody. But in musicals, it’s the wind instruments, which means the strings need to make a more colorful sound to support them. They learned how to listen, instead of lead.”

The performance showcased Jan Plan at its finest: the magic of students from across disciplines coming together for a month of concentrated, collaborative work. Spending all day every day in Strider Theater, they created something unique—a colorful, dynamic performance that brought the audience to its feet.

During a conversation with the cast after the performance, senior Vincent Li ’23 spoke for everyone. “I don’t want this to end,” he said as his classmates nodded in agreement. “It’s the best Jan Plan ever.” 

Associate Director of Communications Laura Meader contributed to this story.