Rowan students benefit from sharing the stage with Kristin Chenoweth, other guest artists

Rowan students benefit from sharing the stage with Kristin Chenoweth, other guest artists


Barely more than a week before Emmy and Tony Award winning singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth was set to appear at Rowan University on December 9, some exciting news was announced. A select group of 12 Rowan theatre students were going to have a chance to sing with the iconic Broadway songstress during her concert.

Eight days and three official rehearsals later, the group was brought on stage by Chenoweth to share the spotlight for the penultimate musical moment of the night. They joined the star for the last two songs before her encore: the dramatic hymn "Upon This Rock" and the inspirational "Reasons For Hope" written by the evening’s accompanist, musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

“I’m so proud of our students and thankful for such a special opportunity,” said Dr. Christopher Roche, assistant professor and coordinator of the Musical Theatre track.

Those students were Caitlin Ablaza, Nathan Benson, Nicole Cusmano, Abbie Gardner, Karleigh Hubble, Ashley Lennick, Angela Longo, Ellorah Mead, Darby Pumphrey, Matthew Vesely, Miranda Vidro, and Ryan Washington.

Casually chatting with them before and between songs, Chenoweth joked and bantered, while also complimenting their ability, encouraging their goals as theatre artists, and praising Roche (and all teachers) for his work guiding these young artists.

“When Kristin gave me a shout-out during the concert for being a great teacher, I pretty much melted,” Roche recalled. He returned the favor by expressing gratitude for the way Chenoweth and Campbell worked with the students and shared their talent and spirit throughout the day.

The students found inspiration from the experience both on stage and in rehearsal, as well, and the ability to learn first-hand from a seasoned professional in the field they are studying.

“Performing with such a legend reminded me that I’m on the right path in life,” noted Vesely, a junior.

Chenoweth, the original Glinda in the landmark musical Wicked, has released six solo CDs; played recurring roles on such TV series as Glee and The West Wing; appeared in a variety of special television programming, from the recent 50th anniversary tribute to The Carol Burnett Show to last year’s Hairspray Live; and provided voices for American Dad, Rio 2, The Peanuts Movie, and the recent animated feature, The Star, among others.

“It’s amazing to know that such an artist cares so deeply about the performance she gives, whether it’s Carnegie Hall or Rowan University,” said Gardner, a senior.

This kind of engagement with students – and the opportunity to work as colleagues on stage with accomplished professional artists - is now a hallmark of the events offered as part of the College of Performing Arts’ Marie Rader Presenting Series, which this year included Chenoweth’s concert.

Butterscotch, the jazz/soul/hip hop/R&B/beatbox artist hailed as a one-woman vocal symphony, kicked off the series in November with more than just a concert. She shared her approach and experience with students and members of the broader community during three days in Glassboro. Her dedication to outreach, education and social issues was evidenced through a series of conversations and sessions for students in the Music Industry program and the Dance & Theatre Workshop, in addition to visiting students at Glassboro High School and participating in an event hosted by the university’s Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution. The creative spontaneity evident in these interactions led to an out-of-the-blue invitation for Rowan dance students to join Butterscotch during her concert for an improvised performance combining movement and music in the moment.

The Rader series continued with a unique endeavor: bringing internationally-renowned Brazilian dancer/choreographer/musician/singer Christiane Matallo to campus for a seven-week residency, also aided by a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. This project culminated in a collaboratively-devised new work entitled House of Murals. Working closely with faculty members Leslie Elkins and Corinne Karon, as well as Rowan students and musicians, the resulting production created a human mosaic exploring the ideas of home, freedom, and migration. Moving beyond campus, ideas and elements were gathered through programs with schools, community groups, social service centers, senior communities to bring them into the creative process and reflect multiple constituencies, whether in Glassboro, Camden or further afield.

As an example of the ripple effects these types of partnerships can create, Matallo’s appreciation for the spirit of what was created here will continue to be shared with Rowan students even after she’s concluded her stay here. It was recently announced that she is providing three scholarships for students from the House of Murals cast to participate in her annual Brasilian Tap Festival in her own country.

Supported through a fund established in 2008 by friends of the late arts advocate Marie Rader, the series seeks to offer programming that further enriches the cultural life of the university community and beyond. Donations and proceeds from events benefit efforts to bring world-renowned artists to campus, while nurturing these types of learning opportunities as well as faculty and student performances.

For information about contributing to the Marie F. Rader Memorial Fund, contact the Rowan University Foundation at 856-256-4095.

Learn more about programs and performances through the College of Performing Arts, visit, connect with us at, email, or call the box office at 856-256-4545.