My Destination Ann Arbor story about why you can sometimes see brand new musicals (like ‘Shel’) in Ann Arbor first

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A U-M student costume designer gives notes to the cast of “Shel” during a break in rehearsal. (Photo by Jenn McKee)

On one night in mid-February, I watched a production of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s song cycle “Edges” at Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House, then rushed over to the Power Center’s rehearsal room to observe a run-through of a U-M senior’s original musical, titled “Shel.”

I couldn’t shake the sense that the pairing was more than a coincidence.

Why? Because songwriting super-duo and U-M musical theater grads Pasek and Paul (’06) – who have recently won Oscars (“La La Land”), Tonys (“Dear Evan Hansen”), Golden Globes (“The Greatest Showman”), and Grammys (“Dear Evan Hansen”) – wrote and premiered “Edges,” their first major artistic collaboration, at KCH while they were students in Ann Arbor. Noah Kieserman’s “Shel: A Historically Fictionalized Musical,” meanwhile, staged as an independent production at the U-M’s Duderstadt Center on February 22-23, offered several lucky locals (who snapped up every ticket available) first crack at seeing yet another musical, also starring U-M students, being born.

Opportunities like this are unique to an area that’s both relatively small, compared to urban centers, and far removed from the theater world’s capitol, New York City. But they stem in large part from U-M’s musical theater department being consistently ranked among the top programs in the country, so that many of the most promising young theater talents out there find their way to U-M.

This is how Benj (from Pennsylvania) met Justin (from Connecticut). READ THE REST HERE

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