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From Broadway, Vienna, London to Utah, new U. musical theater director adds to 'real-world' experience

Published: Saturday, Aug. 11 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Denny Berry has been hired as director of the University of Utah’s newly created musical theater program.

Spencer Sandstrom

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Denny Berry’s career in musical theater has taken her from Broadway to Los Angeles and to all the major European capitals — Vienna, Zurich, London, Stockholm, Berlin — and to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

Yet she has decided to join the University of Utah’s theater department and to direct its newly created musical theater program.

Why Utah? Two reasons: the excellence of the U.’s actor-training program and because it’s in Utah.

“The biggest draw for me was the conservatory approach to musical theater education offered at the University of Utah,” Berry says. During her visits to the university, she found faculty and young actors “so incredibly open and accessible and eager.

“What that meant for me is that I could hit the ground running with a group of colleagues and students who were ready for the ride.”

The state itself was the second major attraction. Berry had visited Utah several times and realized that Salt Lake City “is nestled in the mountains,” and she can see in the Wasatch mountains a comparison to her beloved Swiss Alps.

“Early on in my career, I lived and worked in Switzerland for four years and came to love looking at the Alps everyday. So the geography, funnily enough, was a draw as were the wide open spaces and friendly people.”

Berry’s qualifications for the position are included in a letter of recommendation from a director-producer with a record 21 Tony Awards.

“I can assure you that she has considerable talent, fortified by an insistence on quality and an eye for detail which is quite extraordinary,” reads the letter from Hal Prince. “Her enthusiasm is only equaled by her diplomacy, and I believe her students would be lucky to study with someone so knowledgeable, creative and practical.”

“We could not be more pleased to have Denny join us,” says Gage Williams, chairman of the theater department. “The program just got a lot better, and that’s great for the students and all of us who love and support the department of theater at the U. of U.”

Williams adds, “I do not believe any theater program in this state or region can match the professional experience the faculty brings to our department.”

Berry’s background includes credits as director, choreographer, educator and writer. Her Broadway career began in the original New York City staging of “The Phantom of the Opera,” as a performer and dance captain, and she ultimately cast and coached 12 worldwide productions of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Hal Prince smash hit. Her last Broadway credit was associate choreographer for the Really Useful Theater Group’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” production, which became a blueprint for future international stagings.

With an “Olympic training schedule,” students at the university can be prepared to make a professional contribution to theater, Williams says. “I give us an A+ for faculty with ‘real-world’ experience.”

“The program that had been put in place has a huge emphasis on doing,” Berry says. “There is no replacement for the practice of the craft. I hope to accomplish in four years what a musical theater performer might take twice that amount of time in ‘the real world’ to figure out.”

Her goal is to “graduate students who will work. That will make the program nationally known and bring new students to us wishing to gain the insight and skills it takes to actually work and make a contribution to musical theater.

“It is my hope that by honing marketable skills; by understanding that each of us has a very specific instrument; by investigating exactly what the details of that instrument are and learning to play it to its fullest, our students will graduate with self-confidence that resonates and with abilities that will make them useful to musical theater,” Berry says.

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