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Penn State Centre Stage to Perform New Musical Co-Written by Mike Reid

by on June 05, 2019 5:00 AM


In 2017, the Penn State musical theater department launched a new program that pairs students with Broadway-caliber writers to create a new work from scratch, taking a musical from conception to production. Creating a work of art is hardly a quick process, though, and State College is just now getting a full glimpse of the second musical to come out of this program, “The Last Day,” which debuts at June 12 at Penn State Downtown Theatre.

The musical was co-written by Penn State alumnus Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger, and is directed by the department’s head, John Simpkins.

Reid is the Nittany Lion football great turned musical theater composer and Grammy-winning songwriter. Schlesinger is chair of the graduate musical theatre writing program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Together, they’ve co-written five other productions.

Last year, a class of seniors gave a concert reading of “The Last Day” at the Downtown Theatre, but for the upcoming full production, the show gets a whole new cast, as well as some major changes.

“The idea with this whole project is that it begins for a very specific group of people and they take that piece all the way to what I’ll call a really great first draft,” Simpkins said. “They get a chance to help it come to life and perform two moments of it, at a concert reading in New York and a full and complete staged reading in State College. Then those students for whom the musical was crafted graduate and go away. We’re now working with a brand new group of students who have never encountered this piece specifically…”

Jake Pedersen and Becca Suskauer during rehearsal for 'The Last Day.' Photo by Ariana Notartomaso

Since the first iteration of the musical, Simpkins says that characters have been cut, songs replaced and narratives overhauled, but that this type of revision is typical in musical theater.

The heart of “The Last Day” is still the same, however. It focuses on a group of university students in a musical theater program, one of whom has a “tormenting” secret. Themes revolve around hope, community, camaraderie and friendship.

Dan Teixeira during rehearsal for 'The Last Day.' Photo by Ariana Notartomaso

Reid and Simpkins both note that musical theater, while once purely a form of entertainment, now is allowed the luxury of unpacking heavier topics and themes, which “The Last Day” does. This doesn’t take away from the show’s entertainment factor, though.

The hour-and-20-minute production, according to Reid and Simpkins, delivers whatever the individual audience member comes to the theater seeking. Despite the heavier themes, neither is looking to push a particular message through the piece, with Reid quipping a quote attributed to film producer Sam Goldwyn: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”

“The most you can do is put a story on the stage that you believe in, and hope that there is sufficient resonance with whoever the audience might be,” Reid said. “I would like people to walk out of the theater and say, ‘boy, I’m really glad I saw that,’ and then make of it what they will.

“It’s a story worth telling and it will be worth your time to see it,” he adds.

The Last Day runs June 12–15 and June 19–22, 8 p.m., at the Penn State Downtown Theatre. Tickets are $25 and available at 800-ARTS-TIX or online at

Amina Faye during rehearsal for 'The Last Day.' Photo by Ariana Notartomaso

Timmy Lewis during rehearsal for 'The Last Day.' Photo by Ariana Notartomaso

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, lifestyle and entertainment writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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