Although it’s part of the venerable University of North Carolina system, UNC School of the Arts marches to a different beat, and its 50th anniversary celebration is gearing up to have a little more flair than the average institution of higher learning.
Peter Hedges, a screenwriter and playwright who graduated from UNCSA School of Drama in 1984, announced at Monday night’s gala that the flagship event of UNCSA’s golden-anniversary season will be an all-school production of the musical play “Guys and Dolls” next April at the Stevens Center.
Kyle Habberstad, a UNCSA student, sang “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” a song from the show.
“Guys and Dolls” premiered on Broadway in 1950, ran for 1,200 performances and won the Tony award for best musical. It has had several Broadway and London revivals and was adapted for film in 1955. Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine starred in the movie version.
Based on several short stories by Damon Runyon, “Guys and Dolls” has music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.
“Guys and Dolls” was selected as the winner of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for drama, but because Burrows was being targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the trustees of Columbia University vetoed the selection. No Pulitzer for drama was awarded that year.
Recent all-school productions at UNCSA include “Brigadoon” (1995), “West Side Story” (2007) and “Oklahoma” (2011). All-school musicals draw talent from most of UNCSA’s departments: music, drama, dance, production and design. A UNC-TV crew shot “Oklahoma” for broadcast that year.
The all-school musicals are great teaching tools, moneymakers and community engagers — but they also sap a lot of the school’s energy and resources and take nearly a year to produce.
Katharine Laidlaw is UNCSA’s executive producer for the school’s larger public offerings such as the all-school musicals, the annual “Nutcracker” ballet and Monday night’s gala. She has been with the school since 2008.
“When we produce on a broader, bigger scale, it offers a wider range of experience for students,” Laidlaw said. “It allows you to have a stage manager from production and design who has an assistant, and then there’s a team of younger students assisting them.”
Since the musicals pull from all the departments, casting can be less conventional.
“One of the leads in ‘West Side Story’ was not a drama student; she was a dancer,” Laidlaw said. “It also allows us to bring guest artists to come in and work with students; students in sound design in ‘Oklahoma’ got to work with Scott Lehrer.” Lehrer received the first-ever Tony award for sound for his work on the 2008 revival of “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center Theater.
Notable alumni attended and participated in Monday night’s gala, “A School Is Born.” It was held on soundstages in the school’s film village, the ACE Cinema Complex.
Hedges was the master of ceremonies. Actress Rosemary Harris, best known as Tobey McGuire/Spider-Man’s aunt; writer John Ehle, Harris’ husband and a one of UNCSA's founders; and Trieste Kelly Dunn (Drama 2004), who is currently playing in the “Banshee” series on Cinemax, were among those participating.
The next event in the year-long celebration will be a Community Day at UNCSA in September.
A new chancellor M. Lindsay Bierman will take the helm August 1.