Veteran Broadway Team Endows Musical Theatre Program

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Lane, Comley envision versatile crop of triple-threat CFA grads

Boston University BU, alumni, Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, Tony Awards 2014, musical theatre, Best New Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Producers Stewart F. Lane (CFA’73) and Bonnie Comley, who have endowed a new musical theatre track at the College of Fine Arts, accepting the 2014 Tony Award for Best New Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Photo by Rob Rich

For nearly a quarter of a century, producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley have been the toast of Broadway, winning nine Tony Awards between them, including this year’s Tony for Best Musical for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. They’ve also been generous supporters of BU’s College of Fine Arts. Lane (CFA’73) cochairs the CFA Campaign and the Dean’s Advisory Board. The couple recently joined the ranks of $1 million–plus lifetime donors with the endowment of the Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley Musical Theatre Fund to launch a new musical theatre track within the School of Theatre. With the eventual development of a new curriculum, BU will be poised to become the “preeminent musical theatre school in the country,” says Lane.

In recent years, the School of Theatre has staged a musical every other academic year. The Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley Musical Theatre Fund now gives CFA the ability to produce a large-scale musical as part of the School of Theatre’s annual programming. In addition, CFA can now hire an additional adjunct faculty member and create specific courses designed to prepare students for musical theatre roles. The School of Theatre hopes to begin offering the  musical theatre track  to students in fall 2015.

“We are so proud of Stewart and Bonnie’s many accomplishments in the Broadway arena,” says Jim Petosa, director of the CFA School of Theatre and artistic director of the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown. “Their lifelong commitment to the musical theatre form is now extended to the training of future generations of theatre artists through their legacy gift to the Boston University School of Theatre. Our ability to educate has been exponentially enhanced by this generous gift.”

The new curriculum, to be endowed in perpetuity, dovetails nicely with Petosa’s role at the New Rep, says Lane. “One sure way of turning out Broadway-worthy performers is working with a professional theatre company, and Jim is now able to use students in musical productions at New Rep,” he says. “We have the arts department to design scenery, the music department” for orchestration, “why not put this all together?” adds Lane, a lifelong lover of the theatre who landed his first Tony Award in 1984 for the box office smash musical La Cage Aux Folles.

CFA is celebrating the gift and honoring Lane and Comley with a series of events throughout the coming academic year. The first in the series will coincide with a New Repertory Theatre production, opening October 4, of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, directed by Petosa. This production by New Rep, a member of the BU Professional Theatre Initiative, features BU alumni in its acting company and design team. Also, Petosa will host a symposium on the American musical theatre, an event that will be open to both students and the general public.

BU College of Fine Arts will continue the celebration with an event in December to coincide with the production of the BU School of Theatre’s first musical since it received the Lane-Comley gift. A revival of Galt MacDermot and William Dumaresq’s musical adaptation the classic William Saroyan novel The Human Comedy will be staged at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The celebration concludes in March 2015, when BU School of Theatre seniors will travel to New York City for Theatre Showcase. This annual event invites members of the professional theatre community to experience the work of the School of Theatre’s graduating MFA and BFA students and is funded in part by the previously announced Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley Fund for Theatre Artist Development.

“Bonnie and I have been championing the musical theatre track for five years, but it’s like turning around the Queen Elizabeth—it takes time,” says Lane, who believes the new program will open up many job possibilities for students trained to sing and dance as well as act—the proverbial triple threat that, when accompanied by stamina, allows performers to successfully do eight shows a week.

“You can be an amazing talent, but to be in musical theatre you really have to be trained and understand it’s a collaborative process,” says Comley, a veteran actor and former television reporter and writer. “So many pop singers love coming to Broadway, but they just don’t have the stamina for it,” she says. Lane notes that to make it on Broadway “it pays to have a good singing voice, it pays to have rhythm so you can dance, and a good sense of comedy helps too; if you can do comedy you can do high drama. There’s a fine line between the two.” While several other universities have musical theatre majors they are not, like Boston, “a stone’s throw from New York” and Broadway, says Lane, who envisions BU as a more widely recognized and respected feeder for Broadway casts, in which many of BU’s gifted graduates have appeared.

“I’m so happy CFA is progressing in this direction,” says Comley. “We couldn’t predict that musical theater would become so popular, that we’d have TV shows like Glee, or live broadcasts of The Sound of Music. To ignore this as a major component of the theatre department seems so handicapping to the students.”

Six-time Tony winner Lane and three-time Tony winner Comley have collectively produced more than 40 Broadway productions, including War Horse and Romeo and Juliet. Lane is the president of Theatre Venture, Inc., and president and founder of BroadwayHD. Lane and Comley received the 2013 Olivier Award (London’s version of a Tony) for Best Musical for Irving Berlin’s Top Hat. Lane is also the owner and operator of the Palace Theatre in New York City. In 2002 he was awarded the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

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