He was just 18 when he first experienced the “thrilling and terrifying” rush of performing with a live orchestra. It was while singing in the chorus of “The Merry Widow” that Michael McKelvey first felt the lure of opera, and it changed his life.
Now, McKelvey hopes to help other young people discover the exhilaration of live vocal performance as he tackles his new role as artistic director of Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane University.
In his view, the beauty of musical theater is that it relies on pure vocal power, without the enhancement of amplification. “It’s all about the voice, not the mic,” he says.
McKelvey, who is a professor of practice in the Newcomb Department of Music, arrived at Tulane just ahead of the fall semester. Like his predecessor, B. Michael Howard, he has a love of vocal teaching.
McKelvey was born in Van Nuys, Calif., and began seriously pursuing music at Notre Dame High School as a bassoonist, vocalist and drum major.
He sang in various rock and rhythm-and-blues groups, along with doing musical theatre.
“Instead of taking the double-reed path, I continued my training in the voice and choral programs,” he says.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in music at Cal State University Northridge and a master’s degree at Southern Methodist University.
The Ph.D. program at University of Texas at Austin led him into a career as a stage and music director.
McKelvey previously was the head of voice and an associate professor of musical theater at the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Part University in Pittsburgh. He was also the coordinator of music and an associate professor of music and musical theater at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.
He has served as musical or vocal director for more than 80 different shows.
As a stage and music director, McKelvey has worked with organizations such as Austin Musical Theatre, the State Theatre, Austin Playhouse, Austin Shakespeare, Austin Playhouse, Penfold Theatre and the Mary Moody Northern Theatre.
He is producing artistic director for Doctuh Mistuh Productions and the co-founder of Summer Stock Austin.
“I feel that I am one of those blessed individuals who gets to make their living doing what they actually love to do,” McKelvey says.
“My career has always straddled the line between music and theatre, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As the 50th anniversary of Summer Lyric Theatre approaches in 2017, McKelvey says he is planning to do something special — perhaps staging a show from the company’s first season.
“I also would like to infuse titles that SLT hasn’t done yet,” he says.
In addition to developing service-learning opportunities for Tulane students, McKelvey says he would like to launch initiatives to bring more families and young people to SLT, to “initiate the next round of theater goers.”
This summer, he will complete a transition year in his new role, overseeing the 2016 lineup of shows for Summer Lyric Theatre.
Three Broadway “biggies” are on tap, starting with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” in June. Described as one of the most enduring shows of all time, the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about the trials and triumphs of Joseph, Israel’s favorite son, is a family favorite.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” will follow, in early July, bringing to the Tulane stage the story of a young Midwesterner who goes to New York in search of a new and exciting life. Instead, she finds challenges and wisdom-producing experiences, and her story sparks plenty of dancing and singing along the way.
The season will wrap up with “Big River” on the last weekend in July, and it will bring a story that anyone living near the Mississippi River can appreciate, as Mark Twain’s story of Huck Finn and his companion, a slave named Jim, is told in musical fashion.
Check summerlyric.tulane.edu for details on the productions and updated information on the schedule.