When you think of Summer Lyric, Tulane’s 48-year-old musical theater performance organization, “avant-garde theater” doesn’t come to mind. But new director Michael McKelvey, a longtime musical theater educator who was last at Pittsburgh’s Point Park University, is trying to shake things up a little bit while keeping the best parts of the institution, which consistently produces high-quality shows. The season debuted last month with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and continues with Thoroughly Modern Millie (July 7-10) and Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (July 28-31). McKelvey talked to us about how he’s working to infuse youthful energy into the organization.

What is it like putting up shows so quickly? I’ve been doing it for 12-15 years, so it’s kind of all I know how to do now, put a show up in a two or three weeks. I’m so used to working as diligently and as quickly and as organized as I can. You just come in as prepared as possible and if someone throws you a curve, you deal with it.

Are there things you wanted to change about the organization, or did you want to keep things the same because they’ve worked for so long? When I came in, I think a lot of people associated with Summer Lyric have the attitude of “it’s not broke, so you don’t have to fix anything.” But also there were people telling me that Summer Lyric needs to get younger, we need a younger audience base. I’m a really big educator, so I’m always trying to find ways to broaden the education base of the theater company. I wanted us to get younger in all ways: workshops we do during the summer, the outreach program we’re doing during the year where we’re taking Tulane musical theater students and having them perform in the community to kids in the 7th and 9th Wards. We have a great responsibility as one of the older theater organizations in the city to represent New Orleans to the best of our ability – and that means all of New Orleans, not just Uptown.

Is there a theme for the shows this season? I tried to find a common thread among the three shows, and that’s adventure. Millie is about a small town girl in New York, Big River is the adventures of Huck Finn, and same thing with Joseph and all the episodic adventures he’s involved in. The whole theme is youth and adventure.

Will the typical Summer Lyric-goer notice anything different? I think from the outside we’ll look a little different, but when they come to the theater they’re still going to see fantastic sets, a big orchestra – we’re one of the only theater companies that uses a full orchestra for all of the shows. But we’ve done some rebranding, marketing-wise, just so we can reach beyond Uptown and the Garden District.

For more information on Tulane Summer Lyric, visit SummerLyric.tulane.edu.