Though movie musicals are once again on Hollywood’s radar thanks to “La La Land,” the next great example of the genre might come from a student, not the studios. Since 2012, the New York Film Academy has been producing original musicals through its two-year Conservatory program, which allows students to create original stories and music in collaboration with its musical theater department faculty — such as chair Mark Olsen, creative director Kristy Cates, instructors Carl Danielson and Jay Russell, as well as actress Charlotte d’Amboise. These projects have received festival acclaim — “The Ghosts of Ethan Dean” captured the prize for musical short at the 2017 Garden State Film Festival — and interest from the industry itself.
The attention and praise is a point of pride for NYFA senior executive vice president David Klein and president Michael Young, who have seen their dream of a musical theater program that drew on both Broadway talent and the history of movie musicals come to impressive fruition.
“We have the right people teaching the students, and telling them what they will experience as soon as they step into the actual musical theater marketplace,” says Klein.
Both Klein and Young are also pleased by how the success of “La La Land,” and prior to that, “Glee,” which featured two Academy students, Chord Overstreet and Naya Rivera, in its cast has brought long-overdue attention to the musical.
“We’re not sure what kind of impact [they] will have on our program,” Klein says. “But young people are being exposed to movie musicals due to [their] success, so maybe they are attracted to it and they find us.”
But the NYFA administration and faculty isn’t waiting for any post- “La La” bump. They are forging forward with long-term plans, including the creation of a feature-length musical project with the students, and expansion of the musical theater program to NYFA campuses in L.A. and Miami. There are also plans to deepen creative collaborations with musical theater students in Brazil, China and India.
“The musical form is something that has great currency overseas,” Young says. “There is an opportunity to develop these programs and bring them around the world.”
Prospects like these, as well as its award-winning domestic product, have NYFA poised to produce a major musical production with impact.
“We’re so excited by this program because of the quality of what the students experience in the classroom, and the quality of what they put on film,” says Klein. “There is so much opportunity for them.”