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School of Communication alumni noted by Tony Award nominations

The Tony Award nominations are out, and—as is becoming a tradition—there are some familiar Northwestern University faces attached to them.

School of Communication alumnus Bruce Norris (C82)’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park is up for best play, best direction, best actor, and best scenic design—”the latter nomination going to none other than SoC faculty member Daniel Ostling. Alumna Lydia Diamond (C92)’s Stick Fly garnered a nomination for best actress in a featured role. Spencer Kayden (C90) is nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her work in Don’t Dress for Dinner. And Peter and the Starcatcher, a Broadway hit with a good number of Northwestern alumni attached, received a head-turning nine nominations, including best play and best original score.

A musical prequel to Peter Pan, the New York Times called Peter and the Starcatcher “the most enthralling shipwreck since James Cameron sent the Titanic to her watery grave.” The show is based on the best-selling Disney-Hyperion novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and a dozen actors (eleven men and one woman) play more than 100 characters. The School of Communication alums who are part of the production are Betsy Hogg (C10), an understudy for the female lead, and Zachary Baer (C10) and Tom Casserly (C11), who both served as above-the-title producers—an auspicious accomplishment for two very recent grads.

An above-the-title producer is one whose contributions—including fundraising efforts—have been substantial enough to merit the appearance of his or her name above the show’s title in the Playbill.

“When I first met Zack Baer he was a sophomore at Northwestern,” said Greg Schaffert, one of Peter and the Starcatcher’s lead producers, who also helps develop new work for the School of Communication’s American Music Theatre Project (AMTP). “We had coffee and talked. I came back to rehearsal and told David Bell—the Donald G. Robertson Director of Music Theatre—‘I’m going to be working for this kid someday.’”

Schaffert was equally impressed by Casserly, with whom he worked on an AMTP production and later invited to intern at 321 Theatrical Management. When the Starcatcher production was in its early infancy, Schaffert said, “Tom mentioned that maybe he and Zack could help raise some money. Little did we know.”

Casserly and Baer were joined by their colleague, Nathan Vernon, with whom they run the Three Producers production company. Both Northwestern grads credit their hands-on experience with campus productions like the Dolphin Show and Waa-Mu for helping them get their footing in New York.

David Rossmer, Adam Chanler-Berat, Carson Elrod, and the cast of Peter and the Starcatcher ©O&M Co.
David Rossmer, Adam Chanler-Berat, Carson Elrod, and the cast of Peter and the Starcatcher ©O&M Co.

“Raising money for a Broadway show is definitely a different experience,” said Casserly, “but we’ve found that so many of the things we learned from our extracurricular experiences at school have transferred here.”

The Starcatcher experience, Baer said, “has been incredibly collaborative. We’ve been honored to sit at the table with some of Broadway’s greatest minds and kindest hearts.”

Of the nine Tony nods? Casserly called it an “unexpected and very humbling surprise.” Baer added, “The Peter team boasts a bevy of Northwestern Wildcats”—from the School of Communication, as well as the Bienen School of Music and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences—“so we’ll be celebrating at the Tony Awards with purple pride.”