UNC Greensboro has helped students reach the Broadway stage, but a partnership between the University and Well-Spring, A Life Plan Community, is bringing Broadway to Greensboro.
The “Broadway to Greensboro” program invites Broadway actors to Well-Spring for a performance and masterclass with UNCG students. UNCG first and third-year students then return the favor by performing for residents at Well-Spring’s Virginia Somerville Sutton Theatre. The program was founded in 2021 and is funded by the Sue and John Irvin Foundation. John Irvin’s mother was one of the first students to receive a bachelor of arts in music from the North Carolina College for Women, which later became UNCG.
“Our students benefit by being connected with people in the industry and being able to ask them questions,” says April Hill, a lecturer in the School of Theatre. “We wanted to give back by giving a performance experience to the students, but also being able to share that with the Well-Spring residents so they can be aware of the talent we have at UNCG.”
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
The masterclasses have included performers such as Tony Award winner Faith Prince and Winston-Salem native David Thomas Brown, who starred as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway. In Fall 2023, Tony award winner and UNCG alumna Beth Leavel ’80 MFA visited with students.
“It was a really amazing experience,” says Sanchi Pandey, a third-year studying for a bachelor of fine arts in drama with a concentration in musical theatre. “She was so kind, and incredibly engaged in all of us. We started with a Q&A where she gave us a lot of information and advice about the industry, and her own experiences. She was very interactive when we were singing and would improv with us as a scene partner which was super fun! It was so helpful, and she created a wonderful environment for us to play with our songs!”
Since coming to UNCG, first-year student Brandon Criswell has attended all the masterclasses but said Leavel’s was his favorite.
“Her personality really shone through,” says Criswell, a drama major with a concentration in musical theatre. “You could tell she’s been performing for many years and every time she touched the microphone, it was like getting a breath of fresh air.”
Both Criswell and Pandey will perform at the Well-Spring cabaret on February 9. Pandey is returning to the stage after performing as a first-year.
“I was nervous out of my mind for my first performance,” says Pandey. “We learn about cabaret performance in one of our first classes so it’s a cool culmination to that semester. When I think about the songs I’m choosing and the confidence I have now to perform there, it’s changed so much since the first time.”
In her first-year, Pandey performed “Morning Person” from “Shrek the Musical.” This year, she has chosen “If I Loved You” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel.”
“The song represents me well as a performer,” she says. “It’s also an older song so I think the audience at Well-Spring will be more familiar with it.”
Criswell will sing “My Funny Valentine” from the 1937 musical “Babes in Arms.” In the song, a character describes their lover in unflattering terms, but ultimately tells them not to change. For Criswell, the song is personal, reminding him of a moment in childhood when he chose to buy a Stitch doll from the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch,” but his mom thought the doll was ugly.
“I now have a Stitch tattoo on my ankle. I thought he was the cutest thing in the world, and I still think about the fact that I could care less if anybody thinks I’m ugly, I just need one person that loves me as I am,” says Criswell.
A UNIQUE PROGRAM
Criswell fell in love with musical theatre while in high school and says he loves to perform his work, so the Well-Spring performance is a great opportunity.
“It’s the culmination of what I’ve been building for the past 19 years of my life,” he says.
Being able to learn from the third-year students is something Criswell also enjoys about the musical theatre program and the Well-Spring partnership. When considering colleges, he ultimately chose UNCG because of its diversity.
“Everywhere I went and toured, I did not see a ton of people of color or people who looked like me in general,” says Criswell. “So then coming to a place where it’s an inviting space for all walks of life, no matter who you are or where you come from, it felt like home.”
Pandey says she had a lot of choices when looking for a university, but UNCG was the first audition where she felt like she was seen as a person and not just a performer: “they cared about who I was, not just what I could do.”
UNCG’s School of Theatre faculty also drew Pandey to the University and to the relatively new musical theatre program. This partnership with Well-Spring is an example of how UNCG faculty members create opportunities for students to gain experience in their chosen careers.
“We are so well prepared for the theatre industry and have good connections with the faculty,” she says. “They care so much about being here for the students, and we get specific, individualized training. It makes the program and us unique.”
Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Brandon Criswell, Sanchi Pandey, and Well-Spring
Additional photography by Martin W. Kane