Montclair State’s Musical Theatre Program Cited in 'U.S. News and World Report'

Photo by Mike Peters

Students in the Musical Theatre program perform in Crazy for You.

It’s a well-known fact that Montclair State’s musical-theater program is “a hit” on campus and among the surrounding communities. But, it’s always a great pat on the back when the kudos come from an unexpected source, especially in a widely-read magazine like U.S. News and World Report, which has been ranking colleges annually since 1987. In November, Montclair State was named in the magazine among seven other institutions for the quality of its musical-theater program.

Halley Shefler, former dean of admissions at the Boston Conservatory and director of admissions at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, cited Montclair State’s program in the article, entitled “6 College Admissions Tips for Artistic Students.”

“You don’t need to go to Juilliard, NYU or the Cincinnati Conservatory to make it in the arts,” Sheffler emphasized in the article. “Other wonderful schools in musical theater…include Syracuse University, University of the Arts, Elon University, Otterbein College, Point Park University, Millikin University, Montclair State University, and Florida State University.”

Shefler, now founder and CEO of The Arts Edge, LLC, which helps students interested in pursuing arts education, said she wanted students applying to musical-theater programs to be aware of all the options available to them, not just the more well-known--and pricier-- schools.

“Being in college admissions for years…and seeing how students applied to the same schools over and over and were denied admission, sent me on my path to find schools for students in the performing arts that were less ‘on the beaten path’ as were the Carnegie Mellons, NYUs, etcetera;…[s]chools that students might not know about, might not have thought about, and schools that were more affordable,” Shefler explained.  

Shefler said she heard of MSU’s program through word of mouth about Eric Diamond, chair of MSU’s Theatre and Dance department.

“I do a lot of consulting work in New Jersey and New York, and heard about Eric Diamond from many professionals -- and that this program was really happening,” Shefler said.  

Prof. Clay James, coordinator of Montclair State’s Musical Theatre program, said what’s noteworthy about being cited in the article is that, compared to the other schools, Montclair’s program is relatively new.

“I think the other programs have been established 15 to 20 years.  We were the youngest  program on that list in that we are only six years old,” James said.

However, James is quick to point out, despite the program’s “youth,” getting the program to where it is now didn’t happen by accident.

“It has taken a lot of work and continues to do so,” James said. “We have gotten a lot of support from the University’s faculty and administration and the College of the Arts (CART) in promoting the Musical Theatre program, as well as the Office of Development, which reached out and continues to bring a lot of focus to the program.”

And last, but by no means the least, James credits Montclair State’s students with boosting the reputation of the Musical Theatre program.

“The program would not be the success it has been without the students that have graduated in representing the strength of the program in the professional world,” James said. “These students are who have propelled our reputation. Montclair State is getting a very strong reputation among the theatrical industry for developing outstanding talent.”

Shefler is sold on Montclair State’s program.

“I now refer students all the time,” she said. “I like that Montclair State offers a BA and a BFA and that it offers technical theater. And I like the proximity to New York. Parents like this too -- to be near New York but not to live in New York just yet.”

James concurs that the proximity to New York’s famed theater district has been a boon for the program and its students.

Our proximity to New York and the support we've gotten from professionals has been an added bonus,” James notes. “The professionals have started contributing by actually guest teaching, or guest directing--that has been a tremendous benefit for students’ experience and their growth.”

Another big benefit to students of having the New York theater world so close at hand is the chance to actually work in a professional production while going to school. As an example, James cites two Montclair State students who were cast in a recent Broadway revival.

“We had students in Bye Bye Birdie last fall,” James said. “And we made accommodations for those students to continue going to school while performing."

In fact, James said Dr. Geoffrey Newman, dean of the College of the Arts, wants to ensure Montclair University’s students can do both.

“Dr. Newman is encouraging us to work classes around a student’s schedule while they are garnering professional experience.”

Follow this link to read the entire Sheffler article in U.S. News and World Report.