Next Acts

‌Montclair State Musical Theatre students find success on Broadway
and beyond

Rob McClure - Chaplin

By Lindsay Kramer ‘12

Rob McClure, who just finished a run on Broadway in the title role of Chaplin, is the latest of many former Montclair State Musical Theatre students to make his way to the Great White Way.

McClure received great reviews for his performance, with The New York Times saying he played the role with “heartbreaking grace” and New York magazine calling him a “relative-unknown who won’t be for much longer.”

That came as no surprise to Dance Professor Clay James, the coordinator of the Musical Theatre program. McClure, he says, like most of the students who study in the highly competitive and selective program, was talented then as well as now.

“He was awe-inspiring as Charlie Chaplin, and many of our current musical theatre students got to witness his performance. He never failed to engage with them personally after the show and always shared thoughtful conversation and posed for photographs.”

Tara Tagliaferro '10The Musical Theatre program is so selective that only about 3 percent of first-year students who apply get in. A conservatory-derived performance program, talented and motivated students are guided by musical theater professionals.

Besides McClure, other former Musical Theatre students Allison Strong ’11, Tara Tagliaferro ’10 and Josh Dela Cruz ’10 are among many working on Broadway or touring with national companies.

Tagliaferro fondly recalls the influence of her professors. “I am grateful for having such gifted teachers as the backbone of my training,” she says. “I truly felt prepared to face the real world—a confidence I did not have upon entering the BFA Musical Theatre program.”

As an undergrad, she worked with James to hone her dancing skills. She has toured nationally with The Glass Menagerie and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “I came to Montclair State so raw and eager, and I left with the strong foundation I need for success.”

The campus’ close proximity to New York City allows students to immerse  themselves in the theater scene and to audition for roles. Classes consist of hands-on workshops where students can see their strengths and weaknesses in an objective setting and work to improve their skills.

Strong, who starred in Montclair State’s 2010 production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, made her Broadway debut the year before in a revival of Bye Bye Birdie. After her stint on Broadway, she returned to school to finish her BFA. She’s since gone on to appear in Mama Mia! “Even after Bye Bye Birdie, I couldn’t imagine completing my BFA anywhere else,” Strong says.

Josh Dela Cruz '10Dela Cruz, who toured nationally for more than a year with The King and I, also gives props to his alma mater. “The Musical Theatre program challenged me to grow as a performer, and more importantly, as a professional.”

While a student at the University, McClure starred in Fiddler on the Roof, Parade and The Skin of Our Teeth and was part of the crew on multiple shows.
“[Musical Theatre Department Chair and Professor] Eric Diamond’s passion for theater was truly infectious,” McClure says. “I am lucky to have spent time in Life Hall.”

Part of the program’s success derives from having so many faculty members who also work as professionals. “Knowing that our students are expertly trained and prepared to enter the professional workplace, even before they graduate, is very fulfilling,” says James. “Opening a Playbill and seeing them credit Montclair State University/BFA Musical Theatre for their education and training is about as good as it can get.”

Evan RuggerioBy Kristin Lau
A tap dancer since he was five, Evan Ruggiero has always aspired to perform on Broadway. His drive and talent led him to Montclair State and helped him land a role in Crazy For You in the fall of his freshman year, when first-year students are rarely allowed to perform in productions.  

Ruggiero’s dreams almost ended in November 2009, when he was just 19 years old. He suffered pain in his right leg and, after a biopsy, found out he had osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. His first reaction to the news was fear: “No one ever prepares you for being told you have cancer.”

In order to focus on treating the cancer, he took a leave of absence from school. He underwent eight different surgeries and yet, in May 2010, he was told that the cancer had recurred. The only way to remove it was to amputate his leg above the knee. Though shocked and upset, Ruggiero was determined to conquer the challenge. After a long conversation with his doctor, he said, “I promise you, I’ll tap dance again.”  

After the amputation, he started chemotherapy. “One way that I got through all of it is I started to go back to Montclair State.” With the help of devoted friends and supportive professors, he managed to continue his education and to return to a normal routine, he says. “I would set myself short goals for the week, and it would make me push a lot harder,” he says.

By December 2010, Ruggiero’s cancer was in remission and he was more determined than ever to keep dancing. Inspired by Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, a tap dancer who danced with a peg leg after an amputation, Ruggiero asked his doctor about getting one for himself. “Let me start tapping again and let’s see what happens,” he recalls saying. He began with basic steps, and before he knew it, he was tap dancing as frequently as he did before his diagnosis. He could still pursue his passion for performing.  

In the past two years, Ruggiero has performed with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, the St. Louis Tap Festival, the LA Tap Fest and the Jersey Tap Fest. Recently, he gained national attention for auditioning on the Fox Network’s American Idol where he sang, played guitar and shared his story with a national audience.  
Evan Ruggiero - American IdolAlthough he did not make it to the next round of American Idol, he has kept busy, performing with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, with which he has danced since he was 10 years old. He performs at schools in his hometown of Old Bridge, N.J., and talks to children at schools and hospitals, reminding them that “No matter what life throws at you, you can overcome anything.”  

He still attends Montclair State and has a role in an upcoming production of The Wild Party in May. In his spare time, he serves as the spokesperson for Cycle for Survival, an organization that raises money for cancer research. Ruggiero will graduate in December 2013 and plans to pursue a career in the arts. Despite his experiences, he stays positive and encourages others to “keep going, there’s so much out there in the world.”

“There’s nothing stopping you,” he says. “Everyone has the potential to achieve greatness and really reach for their dreams.”