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Sweet Charity at Columbia College Chicago - March 2018!




November 2017
Ashton once again helms the New Musical Theatre Showcase at Columbia College Chicago.




September 2017
Ashton is now Associate Chair and Academic Director of the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago.




June 2017
Ashton directs a reading of the new musical in Chicago, Model United Nations - written by Joe Meno and Paul Amandes.




May - June 2017
Ashton is directing Disney's Beauty and the Beast  at The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, IL. The show kicks off their 60th anniversary season and is choreographed by old CCM buddy, Lexie Dorsett Sharp.




April 2017
Ashton co-directed the Actors' Senior Showcase at Columbia College Chicago with Steve Scott (Associate Artistic Director of the Goodman Theatre).




January 2017
Ashton will now be serving as Interim Associate Chair for the Theatre Dept. at Columbia College Chicago. He continues in his role as an Associate Professor of Theatre and a Coordinator of the Musical Theatre Program.




November-December 2016
Columbia College Chicago presents Once On This Island Nov. 30-Dec. 10. Ashton Byrum directs this beautiful show – a lush Caribbean retelling of the little Mermaid tale with Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Music by Stephen Flaherty. The production raised $1100 for Hurricane Relief in Haiti.

Click here for more information




July 2016
Ashton directs Bye Bye Birdie at the beautiful Starlight Theatre in Wilmette, IL. The show runs July 14 – 23.

Chicago Tribune




June 2016
Ashton returns to The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, IL – this time as a director. His production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying runs June 14 – 25.

Journal Gazette & Times-Courier
Herald & Review




March 2016
Ashton has earned Tenure and is now an Associate Professor of Theatre and a Coordinator of the Musical Theatre Program at Columbia College Chicago.




January-February 2016
Ashton directs and choreographs [title of show] for Open Door Repertory Company in Oak Park. Great cast – and great reviews!

Oak Park
Chicagoland Musical Theatre
Promo Video




November 7, 2015
Ashton leads the second annual “Broadway in Oak Park” Benefit concert for Open Door Repertory Company. Some of the biggest names in Chicago theatre contribute their time and talent to this important fund-raising event.

Click here for more information.




October 2015
Ashton is inducted into the Blue Masque Hall of Fame at his undergrad alma mater – Catawba College, in Salisbury, NC. The Blue Masque is the Dramatic Society and Producing organization at Catawba.

Click here for more information.




August-September 2015
Director – Heart & Music – New Musical Theatre Student Showcase at Columbia College Chicago




June 2015
Ashton will represent the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, NE.




May 2015
Ashton creates a new blog: www.musicaltheatretraining.com

Writes a series of articles entitled, "The Broadway Series" – A Study of Environmental and Educational Advantages for Actors currently in Broadway Musicals.




April 2015
Ashton co-directs the Senior Showcase at Columbia College Chicago with Goodman Theatre Associate Producer – Steve Scott.




March 2015
Ashton directs Oklahoma! for Columbia College Chicago.




January - February 2015
Ashton directs and choreographs The Marvelous Wonderettes at Open Door Rep. in Oak Park, IL.

Click here for more information.




October 27, 2014
Ashton is invited to give an Audition Master Class at Walnut Hill School of the Arts in Natick, MA.




October 25, 2014
Ashton Produced, Directed and Sang in the Broadway in Oak Park Benefit Concert for Open Door Repertory Company.

Click here for more information.




September 2014
Ashton sings in the Inaugural Concert for the FWD Theatre Project. This organization was founded by Amber Mak and several other major players in the Chicago Theatre scene to foster the growth of new musicals in Chicago. The concert was at City Winery and featured Tony Winner Jessie Mueller and Broadway Veteran Karen Mason.

Click here for more information.




April-July 2014
Ashton directs Annie Get Your Gun at the Wilmette Center for the Arts’ Starlight Theatre.

Click here to watch promo clip.




January 10-12, 2014
Ashton attends the 15th annual MTEA conference in NYC! It was an amazing experience with 90 Musical Theatre educators from all over the world – so inspiring. Great to see old friends and new!




September-October 2013
Ashton directs "It's All Happening" - the 4th annual showcase for New Musical Theatre Students. New colleague Ilana Atkins serves as musical director.




Summer/Fall 2013
Ashton completes his 3rd year review dossier for his tenure track! Approved by everyone (faculty, Chair, Dean and Provost) – HALF WAY THERE! Year four as a college professor – GO.




June 24-29, 2013
Ashton will be representing the Columbia College Theatre department and attending the college auditions at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, NE. An amazing week, and a great way to meet some of the best high school theatre talent in the country.




April 12, 2013
Ashton directs Being Alive at the Second City 24-Hour Play Thang!




February 13-23, 2013
Ashton serves as Director for Victor/Victoria at Columbia College Chicago. Click here for highlights from this and other Main Stage musicals at Columbia.

Click here to watch a video clip.


January 2013
Ashton attends the 14th Annual Musical Theatre Educators' Alliance-International (MTEA) conference in St. Louis, MO.




September-October 2012
Ashton directs and co-choreographs “Seize the Day”, our 3rd annual New Musical Theatre Student Showcase at Columbia College Chicago. Performances are October 15-17, in the Getz Theatre.




July-August 2012
Ashton will be appearing onstage this summer at Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, IL. He's playing "Professor Harold Hill" in The Music Man (July 18-29) and "Joe" in 9 to 5 (August 1-12). Please visit www.thelittletheatre.org for tickets.




April 18-28, 2012
Ashton's directs RENT for Columbia College. The show is sold out – and is a huge hit for the school. Click here to see photo highlights.




February 2012
Ashton sings "New York State of Mind" accompanied by Chicago cabaret legend, Becky Menzie in "Journeys and New Beginnings" (the Betty Garrett Scholarship fundraiser cabaret at Columbia College Chicago).




Fall 2011
Ashton directs "Live in Living Color" – Columbia's second annual Showcase for New Musical Theatre Students – with a cast of 55! It ran for four performances including Parent's weekend.




June 2011
Ashton reunites with some of his "American Dream" cast that performed in China last summer for a Proctor & Gamble industrial in Nashville, TN!

Also in June, Ashton and colleague Amy Uhl attend the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, NE. It's the first recruiting trip attended by Columbia's Musical Theatre faculty.




Spring 2011
Ashton creates and directs the first ever Freshmen Musical Theatre Showcase "Raise the Roof" for Columbia College – it's a huge hit!




Fall 2010
Ashton joins the theatre faculty at Columbia College Chicago as Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Musical Theatre Program.




July 2010
This summer, Ashton will be performing in the American Music Showcase at the World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China.

In August, he joins the theatre faculty at Columbia College Chicago as Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Musical Theatre Program.




Fall / Winter 2009-10
Tennessee William's Orpheus Descending for CCM Drama, November 5-7. (WINNER!! Cincinnati Acclaim Awards for Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Scenic Design (Justin Barisonek).

ORPHEUS DESCENDING
By Rick Pender
Theatre Critic for CityBeat, November 6, 2009

There's some very interesting theater onstage this weekend, from Cincinnati Shakespeare to the Cincinnati Playhouse, but I'm goi point you at productions on two local university stages, in part because they have short runs and will be over in the next few days.

Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros is an absurdist work from 1959. It's a script that epitomizes "theater of the absurd," works that adva bizarre premises to make their point. In this case, people in a small town are turning into rhinoceroses. The metamorphosis is a metaphor for giving in to conformity. At Northern Kentucky University, professor Daryl Harris has put together a visually arrestin staging of this work that I found entertaining although perhaps a bit busy. Very stylized sets and costumes (especially cartoonish in primary colors on every character) make it intriguing to watch, as well as six actors called "mechanicals" who function as a kin chorus, although then never speak. Rather, they mirror and mimic action onstage. Performances continue through Sunday afternoo NKU's Robert and Rosemary Stauss black box theater. Call 895­572­5464 for tickets ($8­$12).

If you prefer more realistic theater, I can warmly recommend the production of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending at UC's College­Conservatory of Music. Set in a small Southern town, it's a story of temptation and repression, a woman in a loveless mar who is tempted into an affair with a drifting musician. But there's much more going in, symbolically and literally, as the play is populated with intriguing characters who are wonderfully brought to life by student actors in CCM's drama program, directed wit clear purpose by Ashton Byrum, a graduate student in directing. I was especially taken by the script's poetic language which enha the characters' humanity and emotion in the most affecting way. Performances run through Saturday evening in the Cohen Family Studio Theater. Call 513­556­4183 for free tickets.

Both plays are a half­century old, but I had never seen either one. Don't miss a chance to catch one of these rarities.

 

Anything Goes - CCM Musical Theatre Winter Mainstage Production: February 25 - March 6, 2010.

ANYTHING GOES
Presented February 25 ­ March 7, 2010 at CCM

"Front and center in CCM's production are five graduating seniors, and all turn in praiseworthy performances. Beau Landry, Jr., is solid singer, a smooth dancer, and is an endearing male lead as Billy. As Reno, Lexie Dorsett has a commanding presence and dis strong vocal pipes throughout. Lauren Sprague gives depth to the thinly written role of Hope, thanks to a nuanced portrayal, and si and dances skillfully. Matt Densky (Moonface) demonstrates deft comic abilities and is deservedly an audience favorite. As Sir Ev Christopher Timson shows off great timing and solid overall talent. These five are part of an outgoing senior class at CCM that is of the strongest in recent years. Juniors Julie Kavanagh (a fine comedienne who expertly leads several dance numbers as Bonnie), James Gregory Tate (fun as the always annoyed Elijah Whitney) and Carlyn Connolly (a big­voiced Mrs. Harcourt) do well in supporting roles. The ensemble maintains a high energy level and turn in fine portrayals from top to bottom.

"Director Ashton Byrum provides fluid staging and wisely ensures that the comedic moments work well.

"Anything Goes is mindless fun, and it showcases a brilliant score by Cole Porter. CCM continues to produce students ready for professional careers in theater, which is evident in both their graduating seniors and their younger cast mates in this well performe effectively staged production."

­ Scott Cain, T​alkin' Broadway ​3/1/10

"If you're seeking a good investment for your entertainment dollar, when it comes to musicals, you can't go wrong with the Unive of Cincinnati's College­Conservatory of Music (CCM). The convergence of talent that sets sail this week in Cole Porter's Anythin Goes makes an especially attractive production, a singing­and­dancing spectacle that was a megahit from the moment it debuted o Broadway in 1934. Today the tale of love affairs and intrigue aboard a cruise ship feels campy, but it's still a popular musical that revived regularly.

"Assembling this production are director Ashton Byrum and music director Roger Grodsky. Byrum, master's degree candidate in directing, has masterminded several memorable shows during his CCM studies: an inventive Godspell, the CEA­nominated Urinet (2009) and last fall's powerful staging of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending; I look forward to his take on a big, classic show."

­ Rick Pender, ​CityBeat ​2/23/10

"Some contemporary theatergoers bemoan today's lack of tuneful musicals. That's because of shows like Cole Porter's 1934 hit, Anything Goes, currently at UC's College­Conservatory of Music (CCM). Roughly 30 performers (few Broadway musicals today could afford a cast that large) perform tunes that have been standards for decades: 'You're the Top,' 'It's De­Lovely,' 'I Get a Kick of You,' 'Let's Misbehave' and 'Blow, Gabriel, Blow' will be stuck in your head for days if you go.

"CCM is a rare university to pull off a production like this. The multi­level ocean­liner set, designed by Brian Ruggaber, and the p costumes by grad student Dominique Rhea Glaros perfectly conjure the era of trans­Atlantic crossings. Glaros has used a muted p that's just right for the posh folks (and wannabes) aboard the S.S. American. For those who love dancing, choreographer Patti Jam keeps the ensemble sashaying and tapping from start to finish and director Ashton Byrum assembles great stage pictures for the implausible tales of comic intrigue featuring clownish rich folks, officious crew, laughable crooks and secret loves.

"The cast is led by Lexie Dorsett as nightclub singer Reno Sweeney; her earthy, expressive voice is perfect for the role. Beau Land brings a fresh­faced cleverness as Billy Crocker, an opportunistic fellow trying to win the heart of young socialite Hope Harcourt, played with a blend of innocence and morality by Lauren Sprague. Matt Densky is a comic sparkplug as Public Enemy No. 13, Moonface Martin, and Julie Kavanaugh is Bonnie, his saucy accomplice. Carlyn Connolly is Hope's starchy mother, and Chris Ti plays the prissy British fiancé, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Most roles are stereotypes, but that's part of the fun."

­ Rick Pender, ​CityBeat ​3/1/10

"Director Ashton Byrum gives the musical some nice flourishes ­ he uses the overture to introduce the audience to the characters a they board the liner, all of them letting us know where they fit in the action."

­ Jackie Demaline, ​Cincinnati Enquirer ​2/27/10




Summer 2009
Ashton is teaching 3 scene study classes for the CCM Preparatory Department's Acting/Musical Theatre intensive.

Ashton's production of Urinetown is nominated for two 2009 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEA) for "Best Musical" and "Best Ensemble."




Spring 2009
Ashton writes the book and directs Case of a Lifetime with composer Andre Catrini at CCM. The original musical is based on a memoir of the same title by Abbe Smith and is presented in workshop form.




October 2008
Ashton is directing Urinetown at CCM. The show runs October 23-25, 2008.

URINETOWN: THE REVIEW
By Rick Pender
Theatre Critic for CityBeat, October 27, 2008

Nine years after the smart-ass, post-modern musical Urinetown turned heads at the New York Fringe Festival, seven years following its successful voyage to Broadway and three Tony Awards, it finally arrived at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. It's a fascinating piece of musical theater that makes fun of the foundations of musical theater. Actor Daniel Marcus, who played Officer Barrel on Broadway, once said in an interview, "I call it a love letter to the American musical — in the form of a grenade."

How could a show about a water shortage that made possible an unholy marriage between rampant capitalism and corrupt government become an entertaining piece of theater? Much of the show's success is due to its willingness to satirize its own theatrical conventions and not take itself seriously: The official slogan of the original production, after all, was "An appalling idea, fully realized."

CCM's production was an apt reminder that this show is not only a fine opportunity for creative theatrical energy, it's an encyclopedic reminder of what's made for great musical theater over the past half-century — with built-in safety valves in the form of ironically detached remarks from the narrator Officer Lockstock and his naïve but knowing foil, Little Sally.

So let me begin simply by saying, "Hello there. And welcome to Urinetown — the Review."

Director Ashton Byrum faced the daunting task of taking a highly conceived and stylized show and trying to create a production that would be more than simply imitative of the successful original. With Chelsea Barker's energetic choreography and a free-wheeling approach that accommodated the interpolation of contemporary humor — wholly in keeping, I should add, with Urinetown's original spirit — I believe he succeeded.

While the show does not need a realistic set, it does require an ambience that's in keeping with the bare-bones nature of the story: Clifton Chadick's industrial strength scenic design and Benjamin Spencer's dramatically exaggerated lighting provided exactly the right backdrop for a show that's fueled by the way it targets the icons and traditions of drama and musical theater. From the get-go, we know that this is a tongue-in-cheek piece — an absurd topic that's sung seriously. The actors move from being strewn about the stage during the opening number to a coherent ensemble that challenges the audience with their faces garishly lit by footlights as they come as close as possible to the front row of attendees.

Targeting theatrical monuments begins early and continues fast and furious throughout Urinetown. As Pa Strong is hauled off to his demise by Officers Lockstock and Barrel, he cries out to his son Bobby, "Remember me!" — the very words that Hamlet's father uses to urge him to acts of vengeance in Shakespeare's classic tragedy. But Pa is no king — he's a man who's just peed on the wall, violating an ordinance prohibiting public urination. That's a quick example of how Urinetown both pokes fun at and rides on the crest of theatrical rules.

We're constantly reminded that we're watching "the musical" — not the real place. The straight-faced explication of obvious rules musicals (focus on one big thing, rather than a lot of little things) reminds us of the show's wicked sense of humor. The patronizing conversations between Officer Lockstock and Little Sally distill these moments to a comic art form. Patrick Martin's know-it-all Lockstock, with a witty spit curl just beneath his policeman's cap, and the precocious Sally, played by Halle Morse, with a cynical sense of the obvious but yearning for the traditional — their back-and-forth lays a foundation for the ironic humor that is Urinetown's lifeblood.

The biggest theatrical convention that is poked fun at, of course, is the convention of true love and emotional openness that pervades most traditional musicals. In Urinetown — the musical — each song takes a big swing at some sacred cow. Love songs are especially vulnerable: Lisa Weiner's Hope Cladwell, the ultimate distillation of the ingénue, is performed with marvelous, wide-eyed wonder.

The rebellious, idealistic (dare I say traditional?) musical theater hero, Bobby Strong, is interpreted with verve and a sense of arch self-knowledge by Alex Aguilar. When he and Hope sing "Follow Your Heart", the number quickly dissolves into graphic, clinical biology. (I loved the roll-around ladder when Hope snapped the brake to punctuate her interest in Bobby. It's another moment when the stage conventions are used in an overt way to satirize and build on the conventions. Hope is not, in fact, quite as modest as she seems.) When dead Bobby's last words, "Tell Her I Love Her," are reported to Hope — he stands on a platform above with soap bubbles wafting around him — the vapid sentimentality of such numbers in more traditional works is obvious.

Similarly, the convention of upbeat inspirational numbers like "Run, Freedom, Run!" are turned on their ear — in the "actual hotness of battle." The song's manic energy elevates to a tightly performed but completely hokey choral section. And as the tale draws to a close, "I See A River" offers blatantly obvious imagery of flowing water and freedom, extended to a ridiculous extreme. The CCM cast jumped into this river with both feet and bathed in the comic results.

Urinetown also offers great opportunities for performers to show their diversity, since many of them need to play multiple roles. I especially appreciated Blakely Slaybaugh as the hapless Old Man Strong and the crazed Hot Blades Harry; with Megan Campanile as Little Becky Two Shoes and Chelsea Barker's energetic choreography (more exciting than I recall in any Urinetown I've seen: the clipboards extolling C-A-L-D-W-E-L-L were a clever touch, for instance), they made the opening scenes of the second act especially fun to watch.

Ryan Ruge's Caldwell B. Cladwell at first troubled me because he looked too young — grey temples aren't enough, although the cutaway coat and silk vest were nice costume touches. But by the time he sang "Don't Be the Bunny," I was totally in his avaricious grasp. The UGC scenes provided good showcases for the cast's versatility, especially with Barker as a Sarah Palin look-alike (the "maverick" line was priceless!). Marisa Douenias took the one-note Ma Strong role and gave it some dimension, and Chris Timson did the same with Senator Fipp.

The evening's most thrilling vocal moments came from Mia Gentile as Penelope Pennywise. From her powerful rendition of the mock anthem, "It's a Privilege to Pee," to her contribution to "Why Did I Listen To That Man?" (a number that reminds me of the "Tonight" quintet from West Side Story), she was completely in charge of her character, her music and her scenes. She had a full sense of her caricatured role and played it consistently and grandly from start to finish.

Urinetown is one of my favorite pieces of musical theater, even if the title is awful. "But the music is so happy!" CCM's production reminded me why I enjoy it so much!

 




Fall 2008
Ashton is entering his second year of Graduate School - pursuing an MFA in Directing at CCM. He is studying with Michael Haney - Associate Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.




July 2008
Ashton is Assistant Director on The Producers at Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine.




Spring 2008
Ashton is finishing his first year in Graduate School. He is currently Directing and Choreographing Godspell (May 15-17) at CCM. In June, he will be directing Giving Up Later by Adam Wagner at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. This summer he is heading back to the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine to Assistant Direct The Producers working with Director, Bill Burns.

GODSPELL AT UC'S COLLEGE­CONSERATORY OF MUSIC
By Rick Pender
Theatre Critic for CityBeat, May 17, 2008

A personal story, part of which you already know, I suspect: GODSPELL was conceived by John-Michael Tebelak, a Cleveland native who wrote the script as his master's thesis at Carnegie-Mellon University around 1970. After a two-week, 10-performance run at Café La Mama in NYC in February 1971, it opened Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in May of that year as a musical with new melodies by a young composer, Stephen Schwartz. (It was just a year after Jesus Christ Superstar had more or less defined the concept of "rock musical," although that work was as pretentious as GODSPELL was good-hearted and down-to-earth.) The Off-Broadway production moved to the Promenade Theatre on August 10, 1971, where it became one of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows of all time. (It moved to Broadway in June 1976 and ran for another 15 months, until September 1977 – more than 2,600 total performances in New York.)

Here's where I come in: I graduated from college in 1971. For several years I had subscribed to the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, presented in the Lakewood Civic Auditorium, on Cleveland's West Side. John Michael Tebelak's CMU adviser, Lawrence Carra, was GLSF's artistic director. On August 11, 1971, the day after GODSPELL moved to its Off-Broadway theater, I went to see the opening night of the first non-Shakespearean work ever presented by the 10-year-old Shakespeare Festival. It was GODSPELL. So I actually had the opportunity to see it almost simultaneously to its Off-Broadway opening! Here's part of a review from a Cleveland newspaper.

  • The Cleveland Press — August 12, 1971, review by TONY MASTROIANNI

    Blessed are the joyous entertainers for they shall have fun, profit and applause. Blessed is "Godspell" for it will fill Lakewood Civic Auditorium to overflowing. Blessed is John Michael Tebelak for making the gospel according to St. Matthew as catchy as it must have been almost 2,000 years ago.

    ''Godspell'' which opened last night as the fourth production of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, is a religious rock musical which should have been enough to turn me off going in. If there is one thing I figured I didn't need it was a religious rock musical. Right? Well, wrong. I not only enjoyed it, I came away feeling just the thing I happened to need right now was a religious rock musical.

    "Godspell" is irreverent without being either sacrilegious or blasphemous. It is cheerfully irreverent, high spirited, joyous. It says, in effect: "Hey, if you don't dig what St. Matthew scribbled, listen to it this way." This way happens to be in the form of a circus, a stage filled with young clowns in crazy clothes and painted faces.

As you might imagine, I bring some personal baggage and interest to seeing the same show again, almost 37 years later at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. I've probably witnessed a half-dozen productions of GODSPELL over the years, including a staging of it at CCM's Hot Summer Nights program in 1988. The original production — and the one I saw in Cleveland — had the 10-member cast made up as "God's fools," wearing clown makeup and attire. After three decades, that approach seems a little shopworn, although it's certainly consistent with Tebelak's inventive story-telling approach to the Gospel of Matthew and its many parables.

For its recent CCM production, director Ashton Byrum took a different approach — they were young people arriving in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, finding themselves in a ruined public library, now functioning as a volunteer center for Habitat for Humanity. The space had a few random library tables and chairs, in addition to boxes of stuff that become handy props — and, conveniently, a still functional grand piano draped in plastic. (Well, we have to suspend our disbelief a little, right?)

I should quickly note that Byrum's staging of GODSPELL is what CCM calls an "unsupported" production. What that really means is that director and cast are pretty much on their own — minimal lighting and tech support, no scenic designer, costumes and props scavenged from wherever. The truth of the matter is that New Orleans is similarly "unsupported," so the parallels between what CCM could provide and what would be found in Louisiana were useful — and the sense of a city being resurrected offered a context for the Biblical tales that felt more resonant with contemporary events.

More contemporary threads were added to this production with improvised remarks by the cast members and occasional interpolations of current musical references. Rather than intrusive, such elements seemed quite natural. The only place where the analogy breaks down — as it does in every production of GODSPELL, I believe — is the latter half of the second act with the recreation of Christ's betrayal and crucifixion, story elements that take us back more literally and specifically to Matthew's Gospel. The conceptual overlay gets wobbly at this point, unless you construe Jesus and New Orleans as both suffering and anticipating resurrection. Nonetheless, for most of this production, the parallels worked just fine.

That's thanks to a particularly coherent ensemble of performers, led by Erik Altemus as a heartfelt and vulnerable Jesus who is also a firm teacher and leader. Andrew Chappelle was especially ebullient as John the Baptist (and his evil twin, Judas). Following the "Tower of Babble" prologue — which worked especially well in a ruined library full of books — Altemus' resonant voice singing "Prepare Ye" assembled the players. He baptized them with a rag and a large container of fresh water, something likely to be in short supply in New Orleans. That song set an energetic tone for the entire production, especially with Byrum's inventive choreography and the cast's vibrant dancing.. I especially appreciated the fact that this production — "unsupported" through and through — was presented without a sound system. The singers voices were completely audible in the Cohen Family Studio Theater, and they were never over-powered by David Gardos' piano accompaniment. It made for one of the best, most natural sounding performances I've heard at CCM, and offered a further demonstration of the young singers' voices.

One of the best things about GODSPELL for training program like CCM is that it provides many opportunities for ensemble members to step forward and be showcased. Ashley Patricia Burns rendered the show's best known song, "Day By Day," with feeling; her devilish comic presence and contagious laugh was an added enhancement throughout the production. Petite Halle Morse is a fine dancer, and her singing skills were came to the fore during her rendition of "Learn Your Lessons Well." Mia Gentile, a freshman, showed tons of acting and singing presence, both in her featured number, "O, Bless the Lord, My Soul," and in numerous comic vignettes. Liberty Cogan did a great job of vamping up "Turn Back, O Man," making a foray into the audience to entice a few of the men with aisle seats; she also had the audience laughing with her timely finger-cymbal punctuation of salient points in Jesus' parables.

Garret Hawe's cherubic presence was especially appropriate for the heartfelt, hymn-like "All Good Gifts." Beau Landry Jr.'s "We Beseech Thee" was both heartfelt and humorous (perhaps his New Orleans roots made this number and production all the more personal for him). Blakely Slaybaugh showed off his dancing skills on numerous occasions, but his singing and acting earned laughs and poignant reactions at various moments, too, from "Light of the World" to "On the Willows." Alaina Mills contributed lovely vocals to "Light of the World," and she and Gentile provided a rendition of "By My Side" that was as lovely as any I can recall.

Having made all these observations about individuals, however, I want to close with comments about the ensemble. GODSPELL is about working together, especially in the parable re-creations. The cast handled Byrum's imaginative staging confidently, responding to each challenge with vocal variety and physical cleverness. (I presume some of these came through improvisation in the rehearsal process.) Using the props at hand, they kept the stories moving — I've seen productions where these elements become tedious, but not at CCM — and engaging. To a performer, the cast executed the energetic choreography with vigor, precision and good-natured enjoyment. In fact, that's an essential quality of making GODSPELL a success, it seems to me: The audience needs to feel the performers' joy and commitment to the material. That happened with this production.

To wrap up, I want to observe that this "unsupported" production of GODSPELL demonstrated the essence of good theater: It used invention and committed performers, with no reliance on anything but talent, to present a performance that connected totally with its audience. Good work!



August 2007
Ashton and Gina participated in Backers Presentations for Berlin, the Musical and Children of Eden at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC. Ashton sang the role of "Cain" for Children of Eden and composer Stephen Schwartz narrated (and sang as well). The cast included Kristy Cates and Marie-France Arcilla. Producers Erik Orton and Karen Walter Goodwin hope to eventually bring both pieces to Broadway. (click here to see group photo)




Spring 2007
Good News! Ashton has been accepted into the Graduate Directing program at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. Ashton will be pursuing an MFA in Directing with an emphasis in Musical Theatre beginning in September of 2007. The program is very competitive and the school accepts 3 directing students every other year to fulfill three areas of emphasis (Musical Theatre, Opera, and Drama). Gina, Ashton, and their dog Fuji, are looking forward to this new adventure and moving to (and registering to vote in) Ohio.




February - April 2007
Ashton is one of four Directors in The Barrow Group Theatre Company's Directing Workshop. The class is taught by TBG Artistic Director and Founder, Seth Barrish.




August - September 2006
Ashton plays "Sheriff Joe Sutter" in "The Spitfire Grill" for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. The production is directed by Drew Barr and musically directed by the show's Composer and Co-book writer, James Valcq. The cast also includes Lynn Allison, Sara M. Bruner, Darren Mathias, Beverly Ward, and Carole Whiteleather.

The performance dates are September 8-30.

Please visit: www.idahoshakespeare.org




June 2, 2006
"New Lies for Old"
industry presentation

Frederick Lowe Room,
Dramatist Guild

Along with Ashton, the cast includes Marcus Neville (The Full Monty), Amy Silverman (School House Rock LIVE) and Jamison Stern (By Jeeves).




April 2006
Ashton is the featured vocalist for the New Jersey "Yom HaShoah" service (Holocaust Rememberance) at the state capitol in Trenton.

Ashton records the demo for the new musical comedy "The Geeks" by William G. Fisher and Kenneth Heaton.




March 22-23, 2006
Ashton will be taking part in a Backer's Presentation/Industry Reading of the new show,
"New Lies for Old."

"New Lies for Old is a new gloves-off revue that skewers the bait-and-switch tactics of our elected officials, the self-congratulatory spin of the media, and the unabashed hypocrisy of the religious right -- among other fun subjects. If you're madder than hell and you'd rather be laughing, join us on the barricades."

Sketches and Lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow (Chekhov in Yalta, Scrambled Feet)
Music by Bob Christianson (Sex in the City)
Directed by Dennis Deal (Night Club Confidential)

Along with Ashton, the show features:
Marcus Neville (The Full Monty)
Ed Staudenmayer (Forbidden Broadway SVU)
Amy Silverman (Schoolhouse Rock Live)




January 2006
Ashton Byrum Online is officially created - Welcome!