Latest COVID-19 Information

A Triple-Threat Endowment

Broadway team endows new Music Theatre Concentration

By Susan Seligson | Photo by Melissa Ostrow

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 the 2014 Tony for Best Musical for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. They’ve also been generous supporters of CFA; the couple recently endowed the Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley Musical Theatre Fund to launch a new Music Theatre Concentration within the School of Theatre starting fall 2015.

In recent years, the School of Theatre has staged a musical every other academic year. The $750K gift now gives CFA the ability to produce a large-scale musical as part of the School of Theatre’s annual programming, hire another adjunct faculty member, and create specific courses designed to empower students to reimagine and revolutionize music theater.

“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, Mass. “Their lifelong commitment to the musical theater form is now extended to the training of future generations of theater 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 (’73). “One sure way of turning out Broadway-worthy performers is working with a professional theater 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 theater who landed his first Tony Award in 1984 for the box office smash musical La Cage aux Folles.

CFA celebrated the gift and honored Lane and Comley with a series of events throughout the 2014–2015 academic year. The first coincided with a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, directed by Petosa. This production by New Rep, a member of the BU Professional Theatre Initiative, featured BU alumni in its acting company and design team. Petosa also hosted a symposium on the American musical theater.

The College continued the celebration with a winter event coinciding with the production of the School of Theatre’s first musical since it received the Lane-Comley gift: a revival of Galt MacDermot and William Dumaresq’s musical adaptation of the classic William Saroyan novel The Human Comedy, staged at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.

In March 2015, School of Theatre seniors traveled to New York City for Theatre Showcase. This annual event invites members of the professional theater community to experience the work of the School’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.

Lane 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 theater 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 theater 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 theater 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.

When combined with their previous gifts, this commitment moves Lane and Comley into the ranks of $1 million-plus lifetime donors of BU; in April 2015, the University welcomed them into the William Fairfield Warren Society, which recognizes the impact of major donors. Lane, co-chair of the College of Fine Arts Campaign and member of the College of Fine Arts Dean’s Advisory Board, was recently named a member of the University’s Board of Overseers. In 2002, he was awarded the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

A version of this article originally appeared on BU Today.

Post Your Comment