Theatre professor leads alumni cast in new comedy

by David Dixon, Staff Writer

ENTERTAINMENT_staffstory_Lori-LumSparkPhotoThe majority of students and staff involved in the performing arts at San Diego State probably know of Dr. Terry O’Donnell. He is a founding faculty member of the Master of Fine Arts Musical Theatre program, professor emeritus of music and theatre, and has been involved with many musical productions on campus. O’Donnell is currently the musical director of the Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s version of the hilarious musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” now playing at San Marcos High School through March 15.

The comedy focuses on several socially awkward middle-school students, played by adults, competing against each other for first prize. The production features several SDSU alumni in the cast and crew. Some of the performers such as Nancy Snow Carr and Omri Schein have received their M.F.A. in musical theatre at SDSU.

“Working on a show that has so many SDSU alumni is a lot of fun,” O’Donnell said. “We have spent so many years together working in different academic and theatrical relationships. In some ways, it is like a reunion. The great thing about this entire cast is that they are all extremely professional, very competent and quick.”

The show’s band is only comprised of O’Donnell and percussionist Daniel Doerfler.

“This production works particularly well with what we have in the space that we are in, because it is intimate,” O’Donnell said. “William Finn’s music sounds really simple, but it is actually very hard. It has some unique rhythmic and melodic challenges for the singers, although it sounds really child-like. In reality, the compositions are very mature and unique.”

O’Donnell seems to always have a job in the works. He already has plans once “Putnam County Spelling Bee” closes. He will be a guest artist, musical director and conductor for “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” a rendition by the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons, playing in May.

“That will require a lot of driving on my part, but I think it should be a fun experience,” he said. “I have been involved with an interpretation of ‘Legally Blonde’ before at Moonlight Amphitheatre, and this will be a fully staged production with a complete orchestration. I am looking forward to that.”

During the summer, O’Donnell will be part of the Cygnet Theatre’s staging of the musical “Dogfight,” directed by SDSU alumnus and artistic director Sean Murray.

“That orchestration, typical of a lot of new musicals, will be comprised of six musicians,” O’Donnell said. “It will be beautiful in that theatre. Last spring, I was the musical director of ‘Spring Awakening,’ which also had an orchestra of six. That was perfect for the size of the space.”

O’Donnell’s advice for students pursuing the arts is “get your act together regarding the essence of your discipline.”

“Get your foundation in your soul that you can express as an artist in a mature kind of way,” he said. “In the arts, there are many ways to focus your skills and your interests.”