Alec Baldwin coming to Ann Arbor for a collaboration on "Death of a Salesman"
It’s not unusual for well-known performers to speak to students at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Just last year, Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons both stopped at the school.
Alec Baldwin’s visit this week is a little extra special, however: He’ll take part in a full reading of Death of a Salesman that involves students, faculty, and members of the community, presented by the University Musical Society along with the SMTD.
UMS President Matthew VanBesien came to town from the New York Philharmonic, which has worked with Baldwin in the past. Word got around that Baldwin was interested in working with students, he heard that Salesman author Arthur Miller was a U-M graduate, and everything fell into place.
“We wanted to use a combination of faculty, students, and guest artists,” said Daniel Cantor, an associate professor of theater and drama who is directing the play. “All those things came together in this reading.”
The play won’t have a full set, though. Cantor said the audience could expect something “a little more robust” than a simple reading. The cast will remain on stage throughout, with individual actors entering and exiting a central area of action. Chairs, platforms, and music stands will provide the set; some basic stage lighting is also planned.
The reading will realize the vision of collaboration among the university, the community, and guest artists. Baldwin, of course, will play Willy Loman, the title character; regional actor Tommy Gomez is doing the role in rehearsals. Priscilla Lindsay, chair of the U-M Department of Theatre & Drama, plays Linda, Willy’s wife, a role she previously played in Indiana. Professor Leigh Woods plays Charlie, while local actor Alex Leydenfrost plays Uncle Ben. Another well-known local actor, Eva Rosenwald, will read stage directions.
Students will play all the younger characters, including sons Biff and Happy, neighbor Bernard, Willy’s mistress, and others. Students are also serving as assistant director, dramaturge, stage manager, and assistant stage manager. Baldwin is expected to meet with U-M students for a private question-and-answer session during his visit.
Cantor is thrilled both to be working with Baldwin, “a great actor,” and directing Arthur Miller -- a 1938 graduate of U-M and namesake of a theater on North Campus -- for the first time. Cantor noted that the play, from 1948, is often considered extremely realistic, but its echoes of memories move beyond that simple characterization.
“Miller was anticipating the kinds of writing to come later in the century,” Cantor said. “I just really like to do good material. Arthur Miller is an iconic writer for a reason.”
Cantor hopes that this event provides a template for similar collaborative ventures in the future between UMS, the university, the community, and professional guests. “I’m hoping to synthesize the professional and academic pursuits,” he said. “I would love it if this were the beginning of a model.”
Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.