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ASU Music Theatre and Opera celebrates 60 years

Collage of artistic illustrations inspired by the 2023-24 ASU Music Theatre and Opera season.

The 2023–24 Music Theatre and Opera season commemorates 60 years of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s program at Arizona State University.

September 06, 2023

The 2023–24 Music Theatre and Opera season commemorates 60 years of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s program at Arizona State University.

“We are excited by the growth of our program in recent years, which regularly includes over 100 students from across ASU's multiple campuses working together on stage and behind the scenes,” said Brian DeMaris, professor and artistic director of Music Theatre and Opera. 

This year’s season celebrates six decades of producing a wide variety of new and old operas and musicals at ASU. 

“‘The Pirates of Penzance’ celebrates what we do best by combining training for performers in both opera and musical theater,” DeMaris said. “‘Miss You Like Hell’ marks our first production as a Hispanic Serving Institution, and we are excited that composer Erin McKeown will be joining us in residence. ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ will serve as our 60th birthday celebration, as it was the first opera ASU produced in 1964. We close our season with ‘Pippin,’ which offers flexible casting and opportunities for students to showcase their dance skills.”

DeMaris said the program also continues to support multiple student projects, including cabarets, showcases and this year’s student-led productions of “The Mad Ones” and “Theory of Relativity.” Half of this year's season selections are Arizona premieres.

This year brings the addition of two new professors to the program: David Radamés Toro, as assistant professor of opera and musical theater direction, and Toby Yatso, as a full-time clinical assistant professor of music theater. 

In addition to the regular performance season, ASU’s Music Theatre and Opera will host the National Opera Association’s annual conference in January 2024.

“We are most excited to host the National Opera Association annual conference in Tempe, which includes a collegiate premiere production of ‘Sanctuary and Storm’ by Tawnie Olson and Roberta Barker, and hosting of the Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Competition and Carolyn Bailey Argento Vocal Competition,” DeMaris said.

The Music Theatre and Opera program was originally established in 1964 as Lyric Opera Theatre (LOT) by Kenn Seipp, emeritus professor and program director from 1964–1991. With the opening of the music building in 1970, the program had its own theater, Evelyn Smith Music Theatre, modeled after Richard Wagner’s “Festspielhaus” in Bayreuth, Germany.

According to William Reber, emeritus professor and Seipp’s successor who served as program director from 1991–2015, Seipp developed both the production and the academic degree programs with music theater works presented alongside opera, which still continues to this day.

“I joined the program in 1991 because of the combined program in opera and musical theater,” Reber said. “Many music students are not exposed to opera, and many are not exposed to musicals, so having both options allowed students to explore both fields and determine which one fit the best, or even decide that they wanted to work in both.”  

The program’s principal support organization outside of ASU was the LOT Guild, developed by Seipp and still in existence today as one of the longest-running support organizations for an academic music theater and opera program. The guild is comprised mainly of season ticket holders who donate to scholarship programs, host outreach programs, assist with opening night receptions and provide a variety of help whenever students need assistance.  

When Reber retired in 2015, Dale Dreyfoos, emeritus professor, who retired in May 2023, served as interim director for 2014–15 in addition to his role as the resident stage director and associate artistic director. DeMaris became the program’s third artistic director in August 2015.

Since its inception, the program has had only had three directors and principal conductors, three principal stage directors, four resident set designers and three resident costume designers, including current costume coordinator Sharon Jones, who is the longest continuing staff member. 

As the program grew, degree offerings were refined, training in both acting and dance was increased, graduate performance degrees were expanded, and the conducting program also became one of the few places in the country to offer a Master of Music Direction for theater or a DMA in opera conducting. New works development with composers and librettists and cooperative training programs with The Phoenix Theatre Company and Arizona Opera have also added to the program’s regional and national impact.

In 2018, the program changed its name to Music Theatre and Opera.

"While we treasured the history associated with Lyric Opera Theatre, we chose to embrace Music Theatre and Opera as a title that more clearly identifies what has made our program unique since 1964,” DeMaris said. “We have always prepared and will continue to prepare students in both music theater and opera, as well as producing both music theater and opera, along with everything between and beyond, including innovative art forms not yet defined."

The program’s leadership has sought to create an inclusive, student-centered environment that enables students to discover who they are as individuals and artists, at their own pace, in their own unique way, and at the highest level, according to DeMaris.

In the 60 years since its creation, the Music Theatre and Opera program has performed approximately 300 productions, played an important role in the development of dozens of new works and produced numerous world premieres.

Tickets for this year’s season are available online in advance through the Herberger Institute Box Office. Ticket prices and venues vary.

2023–24 Music Theatre and Opera season

“The Pirates of Penzance”
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
7:30 p.m., Sept. 28, 29, 30
2 p.m., Oct. 1
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

“The Mad Ones”
By Kait Kerrigan and Bree Lowdermilk
7:30 p.m., Oct. 27, 28
2 p.m., Oct. 29    
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

“Miss You Like Hell”
Book and lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Music and lyrics by Erin McKeown
7:30 p.m., Nov. 17, 18
2 p.m., Nov. 19
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

“The Theory of Relativity”
Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram
Book by Brian Hill
7:30 p.m., Jan. 26 and 27, 2024
2 p.m., Jan. 28, 2024
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

Music Theatre Showcase in NYC
5 p.m., March 7, 2024
AMT Theatre (New York, NY)

“The Marriage of Figaro”
Music by W. A. Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
7:30 p.m., March 15 and 16, 2024
2 p.m., March 17, 2024
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
7:30 p.m., April 18,19, 20, 2024
2 p.m., April 21, 2024
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

Music Theatre Cabarets
7:30 p.m., April 29 and 30, 2024
Kerr Cultural Center

Music Theatre Showcase in Phoenix
7:30 p.m., April 3
Location to be announced

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