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The Hillsdale Theatre Department needs to choose more popular titles, unlike Edwin Drood. | Courtesy Lilly Schmitz

Nearly one-third of Hillsdale’s campus is involved in the music program, but only a small number of people par­tic­ipate in the theatre department’s musicals each year, whether as a ded­i­cated cast member or sup­portive onlooker in the audience. The Theatre Department could encourage par­tic­i­pation and atten­dance by choosing popular, rel­evant pro­duc­tions that are uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized.

Musicals only spring up at Hillsdale every two years, but the long-awaited shows could attract a larger audience if the pro­duc­tions were more popular. Many of the shows Hillsdale pro­duces aren’t very well-known among its Hillsdale audience.

Sophomore Abbey Bohrer, who played the lead in Hillsdale’s most recent pro­duction, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” said that the show sold out a few of the nights because it was full of parents in town for parent’s weekend.

“I think more stu­dents would come if they knew the show,” Bohrer said. “I think if we did some­thing that was super well known like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ or some­thing it would be packed.”

When I first came to Hillsdale, I had an interest in musical theatre. So it was much to my chagrin that my school opted out of pro­ducing a musical every year, never mind every semester. But, hey, it’s a small school. I looked forward to my sophomore year when I’d get a shot at receiving one of the all-too-rare spots in a real col­le­giate musical.

Then I read the email announcement that the spring pro­duction was “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

After doing some research on the musical, it sounded intriguing. But I had never heard of the pro­duction before. I follow the theatre world closely; why should Hillsdale stu­dents, faculty, and locals who don’t, know and rec­ognize “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”?

When asked what goes into choosing the musical, Chairman and Pro­fessor of Theatre and Dance James Brandon listed three cri­teria.

“They need to be appro­priate for our audience,” he said. “They need to be within the skill range of our per­formers. They need to be appro­priate for the edu­ca­tional needs of music, theatre, and dance.”

In a 1994 edition of The Col­legian, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Theatre George W. Angell crit­i­cized those who didn’t appre­ciate the musicals chosen by claiming they don’t have the authority to dictate what’s good. Angell listed a series of ques­tions that determine what does make for a good musical, but most of them were unan­swerable to anyone but serious theatre stu­dents. One of his ques­tions was, “Name Andrew Lloyd Weber’s latest Broadway musical.” ”

Angell con­tinued, “‘Did you get 5 out of 6 [questions]?’…Oh, I get it. When you say we should be doing musicals you mean the handful of the most famous musicals that you, per­sonally, remember.”

Just because the majority of Hillsdale stu­dents can’t answer obscure ques­tions about the rel­e­vance of modern musical pro­duc­tions doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to weigh in on Hillsdale’s pro­duc­tions — of which they fill the audience. A suitable musical is what people know, enjoy, and want to come see: Isn’t that good?

Although Angell noted that prac­tical costs such as a access to a limited number of per­formers, specif­i­cally a limited number of dancers, are a factor, he said they are less important than the philo­sophical cost of choosing a show based off of what the audience is familiar with.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” has won five Tony Awards — an impressive feat that jus­tifies the quality of the show. But that’s not all that matters. “Hamilton” won eleven Tony awards, and it’s beloved by mil­lions, including many of Hillsdale’s stu­dents. “Beauty and the Beast” won eight Tony awards, and sig­nif­i­cantly more stu­dents are familiar with its famous “Be Our Guest” than Drood’s “The Garden Path to Hell.”

These musicals are popular for a reason. They’re familiar because they’re good, and the theatre department should take that into con­sid­er­ation when choosing the next musical pro­duction.

I might not be as artis­ti­cally inclined as a theatre major who stars as the lead in the musical and has been clas­si­cally trained, but the vast majority of campus isn’t either. The Theatre Department should be catering to the Hillsdale student body, not just the stu­dents in the program.

Hillsdale should encourage stu­dents of all back­grounds to grow by approaching the stage as a cast member or enjoying the show as an audience member, and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” just doesn’t cut it. Choosing uni­versal, familiar pro­duc­tions would foster a greater love for the theater on Hillsdale’s campus — a noble end worth pur­suing.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    Gross. Please don’t take this advice.