Musical Theater Performance

The rules are the same for every audition. Enter the room when called. Hand your sheet music to the accompanist and hum a few bars to set the tempo. State your name. Sing.

Karen Olivo knows these rules inside and out. She is a bona fide Broadway star who won a 2009 Tony Award for playing Anita in West Side Story. In 2013, she left New York to join her then-fiancé (now husband) in Madison and began teaching musical theater performance classes at the UW. This spring she put nineteen students in her Theatre and Drama 440 course through the paces of putting on a show: auditioning, getting cast, and learning choreography and songs.

“When we start staging things, if you don’t know your lyrics, you are going to get killed,” Olivo warns during an intense mid-semester rehearsal lab, when the focus shifted to dance steps. “The moment you get nervous, you’re going to forget. You should know this in your sleep.”

It’s pure tough love.

The UW doesn’t offer a musical theater major, but the class teaches hard-earned lessons about how to be a consummate professional, on or off stage.

“She doesn’t baby us,” says Kaleigh Sullivan ’16, a kinesiology major. “She’s just putting us into this and saying, ‘If you went to Chicago or New York, this is what you’d be doing.’ ”

Olivo’s connections secured Sullivan and classmate Alyssa Beasley x’18 — a civil and environmental engineering major — the chance to audition for the twentieth-anniversary national tour of Rent. While doing so, Beasley says, they marveled, “Karen was so right. It’s the same thing. We’re just in New York.”

Published in the Summer 2016 issue

Tags: Arts, music, Students, Teaching and learning

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