By Samara Caplan and Laura Gauthier. Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever).
After reviewing Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years last month at The Gladstone, we were excited to see that one of his earlier works, Songs for a New World, was being put on for two nights at Carleton University. But who was this company putting it on? We hadn’t heard of the Carleton University Musical Theatre Ensemble (CUMTE) and were curious to find out more.
We learned that the ensemble is an end of term production by Carleton University musical theatre students. CUMTE presented this show with 12 student singers, each taking songs or solos, as well as acting as an ensemble for many numbers. A simple set with a projected image and very basic props, accompanied by Musical Director Larry Tarof on piano, helped to set the scene for each song. Those familiar with the Ottawa theatre scene, such as us two musical nerds, will have recognized four or five of the members from other Ottawa area productions such as First Date: The Musical, Dogfight, Ragtime, Godspell and one of our favourite annual Ottawa traditions, Show Tune Showdown.
The ensemble is an end of term production by Carleton University musical theatre students.
Songs for a New World isn’t so much a musical as it is a collection of songs strung together with a theme—a moment of decision. It could be the decision of marrying someone who seemed stable and everything one could want, only to realize after many years the pursuit of dreams ended with that decision. Another song, sung and acted very well by Hilary Peck, has Mrs. Claus wishing for more freedom and possibly a divorce from Ol’ St. Nick. Amy Tran stood out from the ensemble as well, her beautiful voice ringing out through the Kailash Mital Theatre on Carleton University’s campus as she sang her solo song.
We spoke to the show’s Stage Direction and Ensemble Director, Susan Blyth-Schofield, ahead of the show to learn more about this unique ensemble. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: How long has the CUMTE been going? Has the course always culminated with a production?
Susan: The ensemble began as a student run workshop in the early 2010’s. Its first production was in the spring of 2013—a 20 minute excerpt from Assassins. I took it over in the fall of 2013, and we presented revue shows for the next two years—Fallies 1 and 2, Now Showing (a tribute to movie musicals) and Pop Goes the Musical (a tribute to pop and rock musicals). Our first full show—The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—was in the spring of 2016. In the winter of 2017 we presented another revue musical—this time I wrote the script for a revue that traced the history of Canada through Canadian musical theatre selections. Last spring we did You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
Other than being a show from a course, is there anything else that differentiates CUMTE from other theatre companies/productions in Ottawa?
Learning is a big component of the course. Time is given to go over to acting skills, stagecraft, learning to audition, healthy vocalism, and other related musical theatre skills. Also it isn’t a theatre company as such.
How does CUMTE choose their shows? Why did you choose Songs from a New World for this production?
I choose the shows in consultation with my boss, Jesse Stewart—head of ensembles at Carleton—and my musical director, Larry Tarof. I take into consideration what request the students have made, what is doable for the university and its budget, and what is available rights wise.
What’s next for CUMTE?
As for what is next, the university is changing how the ensemble happens and its content. Next term there will be an opera ensemble instead of a musical theatre one. After that, the plan is to have one term of opera ensemble (fall 2019) and one term of musical theatre ensemble (winter 2020).
CUMTE’s productions are only on for a couple of dates when the semester ends, so follow their Facebook page to stay tuned for next year’s opera and musical theatre ensembles.