UM reacts to Gavin Creel’s praise at Tony Awards

In accepting his Tony on Sunday, Gavin Creel praised the UM Musical Theatre Department on national TV

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Gavin Creel attends the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday in New York City.

Correction: This story has been updated to correctly name the award won by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Anyone connected to the UM Musical Theatre Department likely has an extra spring in his or her step today, thanks to the shout-out Gavin Creel gave the program on national TV at Sunday night’s Tony Awards.

Creel, 41, won best featured actor in a musical for his role in “Hello Dolly!”

A bit breathless at the mic, he said, “I want to dedicate this — Oh my goodness! — to the Musical Theatre Department at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance.”

The 1998 graduate, who’s also starred in “Book of Mormon” in London, for which he won an Olivier Award, and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on Broadway, added: “My education there as young person changed my life forever.”

Then, staring straight at his be-tuxed and be-jeweled audience, Creel said: “If you’re out there and you have money —and I know some people in this room have a lot of it — start a scholarship fund. Change someone’s life.”

In Ann Arbor, musical theatre department chair Vincent J. Cardinal called the remarks “truly amazing.”

“I was so impressed that at a peak moment in his life, Gavin had the generosity of spirit to acknowledge his alma mater and the people who support young artists.”

All in all, it was a very good night at the Tonys for Michigan graduates.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (both musical theater 2006), won for best original score (music and/or lyrics) written for the theater for "Dear Evan Hansen." Earlier this year, the duo also won an Oscar for best original song, “City of Stars,” from the film “La La Land.”

And James Earl Jones, who graduated with a fine arts degree in 1955, was awarded the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award.

But on Monday, everyone seemed to be talking about Creel.

“I was elated that Gavin would use such a rare opportunity to give our department the kind of recognition it deserves,” wrote 2014 grad Conor Ryan in an email from a rehearsal in New York.

Gavin Creel accepts the Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical for "Hello, Dolly!" on Sunday.

“He is the real deal!”

Isabel Stein, a junior from New Jersey who chose Michigan over Harvard, met Creel when he was back at the university for six weeks last fall.

“When Gavin gave his speech and said the thing about Michigan,” she said, “I just fell on the floor. How amazing to give back to the school you went to.”

Rachel Hoffman, now a casting director on Broadway, shared a house with Creel one summer, circa 1996, when they were both musical theatre undergrads.

“Gavin’s just one of those people you can’t help but like being around,” she said. “His graciousness and willingness to give back and be an advocate for others match his undeniable and unbelievable talent.”

Calling from Los Angeles International Airport, former department chair Brent Wagner — who retired a year ago — called Creel’s remarks “as special an event as I can remember.”

“We’re in the education business,” Wagner added, “so when we’re remembered by the graduates, it’s enormously touching.”


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