Meet Denny Berry, newly appointed Head of the Musical Theatre Program.


Denny Berry, new Head of Musical Theatre Program

Read about Denny Berry in the Deseret News.

The University of Utah’s Department of Theatre is pleased to welcome esteemed director, choreographer, educator and writer, Denny Berry as the newest member of the teaching faculty and Head of the newly formed Musical Theatre Program.

Ms. Berry brings a combined wealth of knowledge and professional experience that will be invaluable to the students of the Department of Theatre. She has been Associate Choreographer, Production Dance Supervisor and the original Broadway Dance Captain of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Hal Prince The Phantom of the Opera. Most recently, she has been responsible for casting, coaching and setting 12 worldwide productions of Phantom, as well as the Las Vegas Spectacular.

At home in opera, operetta, musicals and ballet, Ms. Berry has created work from Vienna to Zurich to London. Career highlights include assistant to Anthony Van Laast on the 2000 Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar; Pink Plasma for the Westchester Ballet; Herr Der Ringe, the original theatrical incarnation of the JRR Tolkien musical conceived to be presented in a tent with acrobats and actors in Berlin, composed and directed by Bernd Stromberger; A Christmas Carol (Kevin Moriarity, Trinity Rep); Street Scene (Francesca Zambello, Houston Grand Opera); 110 in the Shade (Live Oak Theatre, Austin, TX); Tango in Ebony and Only a Prelude (Friends of Vienna State Opera).

She wrote, directed and choreographed A Soul Wailing in Darkness for Austin Contemporary Ballet, and is currently at work on a musical theatre version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, for which she is book and lyric co-writer.

Certified by the NY Botanical Garden in Landscape Design, Ms. Berry is a member of the Associate of Professional Landscape Designers and founded her own floral and garden design company, DB Blooms.

Ms. Berry is a graduate of the University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance where, together with her late husband Steve Barton, she has been honored with an endowed Presidential Scholarship.

In a recent interview Ms. Berry discussed her excitement for her upcoming teaching and leadership position, and her future in Utah.

Why did you apply for this position, and what drew you to Utah?

At this point in my life, I felt that it was time to force change and embrace a new challenge. Helping to build a nationally recognized Musical Theater Program seemed the perfect task to undertake.

I had been to Salt Lake City several times with several different tours of The Phantom of the Opera, so I had a good sense of the look of downtown and how the city sits on the land. Geography is very important to me−to my peace of mind, and to my sense of belonging. For more than 5 years, I lived in Switzerland looking up at the Alps every day. So when the opportunity to live and work in Utah arose, the allure of these mountains was like coming home after 25 years in the ubiquitous asphalt jungle. And I find the people in Utah are as open as are the streets!

What was your initial impression of the Musical Theatre Program when you visited?

I had been told that the program was only 2 years old. When I came to visit, I was expecting a less developed course plan−perhaps more emphasis on studying than “doing.”  I’m a big one for doing. One has to practice to get better. Martha Graham said it takes 10 years to make a dancer. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. David Schmidt, the professor who initially shaped the program, has made the program all about doing. So for me, it was a perfect fit.

Also, the Musical Theatre Program is still new, and it is early enough in its life to encourage and shape it with some real world insights. I think that’s something that I bring to the Department and the MTP, which makes leading the program an enticing prospect. It is exhilarating to be in on the ground floor of building something remarkable. And I’m very excited about helping to build the program with the amazing support of a very fine faculty, staff and student body.

What was your experience with the students and faculty like when you first came to visit the campus?

From the first person I met at the airport, to the classes where I met the students, and the teas and meetings I had with faculty, everyone was so welcoming−so warm and inviting. I was knocked a bit off balance. Coming from the world I “live” in, ideas and change are more often met with reticence than enthusiasm. But here, there was a glowing light of anticipation and openness behind the eyes of everyone I met. And that kind of energy fuels creation. When Department Chair Gage Williams called to offer me the job of Head of the Musical Theatre Program, he said it was with the “full support” of the faculty and students! That is an amazing feeling, that one is coming into a new situation fully supported in one’s effort. Awesome.

 What strengths do you bring to the program?

First and for most is my on-going association with the New York theater world. My work on The Phantom of the Opera and with many other New York projects will continue. So, through me, the students have a direct association and connection to the world of working Broadway theater. I can bring to them the same kind of standards, work habits, and professional ethics that they will encounter in the working world. And I hope this will help give our talented graduates a “leg up,” so to speak, when they head out to make a career for themselves. I am also hoping to entice some of my Broadway colleagues here to give our students some personal insight.

How do you hope to build and strengthen the MTP program?

Together with the other members of the teaching faculty and the Department Chair, I’d like to evaluate the course of study, and the projects we undertake to give students more opportunity to hone the skills and build a practice routine that will be unshaken in the daunting face of the first years of trying to break into the business. I don’t want them to encounter much of anything in the “real world” that they haven’t faced first in our program. I’d like to make connections for them that are helpful to them. I want the students who graduate from the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Utah to be one step ahead of everybody else on the street!

You are also an avid gardner and landscape designer. Any plans for horticultural pursuits in Utah?

Yes! Emphatically, yes. It is so exciting to explore a new geography and climate. The plant possibilities are so different and combinations in plantings unique to this particular locale. In Salt Lake City, there is the desert topography and sandy soil that I have experienced in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but it “enjoys” far harsher winters than either of those two places. This both widens and limits the plant possibilities from the Northeastern varieties that look like home to me now. I am really excited to get to know these differences and then to use them in designs. High on my “to do” list is a tour of the nurseries.

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