It’s a tale as old as time, and several current and former University of Southern Maine (USM) School of Music students were instrumental in bringing Maine State Music Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” to life this July.
Six of 10 musicians in the pit band for the stage adaptation of the Disney classic either were current or former USM students, playing alongside musicians from some of the nation’s most-acclaimed music and theater schools.
The band played through the entire two-and-a-half hour production, which ran from June 27 to July 14, with popular numbers “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston” and the show’s namesake piece serving as standouts. The show was even described as "all-out enchanting" by the Portland Press Herald.
For USM rising senior Ryan Lepage, who played trumpet in the band, the experience was nothing short of a dream come true. He credits Ed Reichert, USM lecturer in musical theatre, for helping to get his foot in the door.
“I’ve always been into musical theater and I just wanted to branch out and get my name out there,” said the music performance (jazz) student from Rollinsford, New Hampshire. “I started talking to (Reichert) and I explained to him that playing shows was something I was into, and he said he would keep my name in mind.”
Reichert said he's fortunate to work alongside USM musicians and give them the opportunity to pursue their passions.
"Through my teaching at USM and working with some of the finest young musicians there, I've been fortunate to provide many of them employment at professional theaters like MSMT, Portland Stage and other organizations," Reichert said.
Lepage, having just wrapped his second show with MSMT — he played during the 2017 season — said he’s now become comfortable playing underneath the main stage.
“There is just a workflow you get used to here,” he said.
Lepage and his colleagues certainly aren’t the first from the University to display their talent at the renowned summer theater. According to Curt Dale Clark, MSMT artistic director, USM’s quality talent and location have, and continue to be, a valuable resource for the theater.
“Having USM students as a resource is invaluable to MSMT,” Clark said. “(USM) students provide highly-skilled and professional options for us, and help us meld local and national talent and showcase it for our sold-out audiences all summer long.”
And it’s not just instrumental musicians USM provides, Clark said. Three USM students made the cut for stage roles this season: Ben Walker-Dubay, a junior musical theatre major, who had roles in Robin and Clark’s “Cinderella” and Michael Stewart’s “Bye Bye Birdie;” and musical theatre majors Andrew Carney, a senior, and Miles Obrey, a sophomore, who both had roles in “Cinderella,” as well as Irving Berlin’s “I Love A Piano” and in “Bye Bye Birdie.” Carney and Obrey will also be featured in “The Best of MSMT” concert on Aug. 13.
That’s no small feat given over 6,000 people auditioned for just 102 acting positions, with representatives from the top 10 musical theater schools in the country.
“It just goes to show that USM is a great school and it has a reputation,” said Jacob Forbes ‘14, who holds a degree in music performance (jazz). “It’s up to the individual regardless to do their work ... if you do your work and want to work in the music community, then you can.”
Forbes spoke to the rigor of USM’s music programs and how they prepare students for the fast-paced, competitive world of performance.
“With the program at USM, every single semester you have to play ensembles and you’re required to play in a variety of different playing situations ... it teaches you to listen and have your ears opening up to other instruments,” he said. “Musical theater playing is working on learning a lot of new music and being quick, accurate and professional.”
French hornist Sophie Flood ‘09, who also holds a degree music performance, agreed, and added the program taught her that it’s important to be amiable as a musician because — as evidenced at MSMT — players often work long hours in close quarters.
“Once you get into the professional playing world you need to have a good personality,” Flood explained. “I’m so happy I went (to USM) because it’s so important there to not just maintain being a good musician, but it’s also about having a great personality.
“We couldn’t have done it without the teachers for teaching that professional sense in all aspects,” she said.
Nicole Rawding, a flutist who studied both music performance and music education at USM, credits USM’s instructors for instilling those important professional skills from the get-go.
“It starts with being able to play in small groups and chamber ensembles and listening to each other,” Rawding said. “It’s not easy and it’s not a skill that every musician develops really well and we have some really great instructors at USM.”
School of Music Director Alan Kaschub lauded both the relationship between USM and the MSMT, as well as the efforts of Reichert to give students the chance to work in their fields prior to and after graduation.
“The USM School of Music has long been proud to see our students and alumni both onstage and in the orchestra pit at Maine State Music Theatre. MSMT has placed great value in the development of young talent and like many of the relationships we have with area arts organizations, the sum is greater than the parts,” Kashchub said. “There is a wonderful synergy that comes from the great work Ed Reichert does with our students to prepare them, the robust, professional experiences MSMT is able to provide them and the joy we all together bring to audiences.”
Reichert also sang his praises.
"I'm so proud of all of these current and former USM students. Their talent shines brightly both onstage and in the pit," he said. "They are a perfect example to the level of professional training available in the School of Music at USM."
USM Pit Band Members, MSMT "Beauty and the Beast 2018
- Sophie Flood '09, french horn
- Ryan Lepage '19, trumpet
- Victoria Hulburt '15, violin
- Shannon Allen '15, cello
- Jacob Forbes '14, percussion
- Nicole J. Rawding, flute
By Alan Bennett / Office of Public Affairs