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Gavin Creel, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Hunter Foster, and More Put Maize & Blue on Broadway

Creel talks Ann Arbor, Midwest values, and the importance of giving back.

On Monday, May 16, a couple dozen Broadway stars will come together to celebrate one of their shared passions: the University of Michigan. "It's colloquially referred to as the Michigan Mafia," said Maize & Blue on Broadway co-organizer and She Loves Me star Gavin Creel of the huge Michigan-grown community of musical theater professionals in New York. "There's gonna be a never-ending parade of alumni gracing that stage."

Not only will the one-night event feature "rock-star" principal Broadway actors singing in ensemble numbers alongside new graduates, the evening will also boast original material from Michigan grads Andrew Lippa as well as writing team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. All of them will give their time and talents to support the newly established Ambassador Fund, an endowment created to advance the University of Michigan's Musical Theatre Department.

"It's funny to even talk about it like it's a thing because we made it up," said Creel about the Ambassador Fund and benefit concert. "It's just been a labor of love the whole time."

University of Michigan alums Celia Keenan-Bolger and Gavin Creel are set to perform at Maize & Blue on Broadway.
(© David Gordon)

How did the idea for Maize & Blue on Broadway come to you?
In around December of last year, Brent Wagner wrote an email announcing his retirement. So I called my friends Celia Keenan-Bolger and Todd Buonopane and I was like, "We should do something." We just sort of slowly formed a committee of people including Matthew Rego, and David Kirshenbaum, and Rachel Hoffman, the casting director — there's huge list of people. It's been the coolest reconnection of our incredible alumni from that department.

Tell me about the Ambassador Fund.
The Ambassador Fund will initially go to fund the Brent Wagner Speaker Series, which will bring people from the profession in once a year to talk to the students and do master classes to carry on his legacy. I'm a bit of, well, a hippy. And I sort of came to a realization in the last few years that the college education that I got wasn't just this magical thing that magically existed. It exists, those buildings exists, the programs exist, because the generation before me and the generation before them and the generation before them paid for it. They gave back. And I hope this is just a huge launch pad to inspire 1,200 people to give back to your organization, to your high school, to your college, to your church to whatever parts of your life have influenced you and made you better. Michigan and our musical theater department set so many of us on the path to our lives, and I wanted to be a leader just to inspire people to join us and become an ambassador.

What can people expect from the concert?
It is going to be an explosion of musical theater classics and favorites and also some contemporary hits. We're trying to span from the newest graduates all the way back. The woman who is directing and choreographing it, Linda Goodrich, she is from the first class of musical theater, way, way, way back. Half of the orchestra are University of Michigan alumni. It's just a fantastic group of people all coming together for the purpose of celebrating Brent and his amazing program and also giving back to help it sort of surge into the future.

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in Roundabout Theatre Company's current Broadway revival of She Loves Me.
(© Joan Marcus)

What made all these alumni want to participate?
It's not only Brent and his wonderful influence, but I also think it's who we are as human beings at that time in our lives. We go to college and we have this experience for the first time where we're leaving home. Some people love it more than others, but you can't deny that you change and you grow and you're surrounded by people, especially in the arts, who are searching and seeking. And Ann Arbor's just the greatest town. We have the most amazing facilities and restaurants and bars and stages and like-minded insane theater freaks. There are things I do now that I don't even think about that I'm sure I learned how to do at Michigan. And to think that my four years, which at the time seemed endless, are a memory I can fit on the backside of a nickel, it seems. I think we just cherish that time together. And to be able to get a glimpse of it back and to come together — not just my class of 20 people, but over 450 are coming back, it's a chance to see your friends and to meet new students and to see the legends. All these amazing people that I heard about before but I never got to go to school with, I'm gonna get to see them and toast not only our program and but each other.

So, honestly, the short answer is, I have no f**king idea. I have no idea why we bleed maize and blue, but we do. There's something about Michigan. Maybe it's that we're less jaded out there in the Midwest, I don't know, but it's a love of what we do and each other that brings us together. It's just a magic place. There's something about that town. I feel proud to have gone to that school and also especially proud to have been a part of that program.