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You’re Nuts: Who is your favorite Michigan Musical Theatre graduate?

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Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Who is your favorite Michigan Musical Theatre graduate?

Jami’s Take: Celia Keenan-Bolger

She might not be a household name outside of musical theatre circles (yet), but there’s only one Michigan graduate I would commit light vandalism for (and, in fact, have), and that’s Tony Award Winner Celia Keenan-Bolger.

If you’ve had the great fortune of seeing four-time Tony Award nominee CKB perform live, you know she is both a person with immense star power AND tremendous range.

She has the emotional maturity and groundedness of someone wise beyond her years. She moves with the playful innocence of a small child who hasn’t yet figured out what to do with their limbs. She can make you laugh. She can break your heart. She can sing. She can blow you away with a monologue. The list goes on…

The beloved Broadway and television actress received a Tony Award nomination for her Broadway debut as Olive Ostrovsky in the 2005 William Finn musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

From there, CKB has showcased her consistent excellence in a number of Broadway shows, performing in both plays and musicals and receiving Tony nominations for her roles in “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “The Glass Menagerie.”

In 2019, Keenan-Bolger won her first Tony Award for her performance as Scout in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” In a year that was stacked with star turns, Keenan-Bolger was the talk of the town. She blew audiences and critics away with her ability to convincingly play a child. She nailed not only the emotional innocence, empathy, and curiosity of Scout but also the physical mannerisms of children that are often so hard for adults to replicate (once you learn limb control, it’s hard to go back).

The thing about Keenan-Bolger that sets her apart in her work is that she is excellent in everything she does, regardless of the quality of the material. She can elevate even the most mediocre material, and she takes good material and makes it unforgettable.

And if you’ve missed her theatrical performances, not to worry — you can catch her on HBO’s “The Gilded Age,” as Mrs. Bruce, a role she will return to in Season 2 as a series regular.

But more than her superpowers onstage, it is who she is offstage that really sets Keenan-Bolger apart.

Keenan-Bolger is a tireless advocate for kindness, for leaving the world better than you found it, and for starting open and honest conversation about challenges both in the industry and in existing as humans on this planet.

Her podcast “Sunday Pancakes” is ripe with wisdom, insight, and honesty on topics such as perfectionism, social disruption, resilience, and how to have hard conversations with the people we love. Her warmth is palpable. She feels like an old friend. And she is a prime example of what it means to truly be present and listen to the people around you. She is a generous host and one you feel you can relate to in spite of her impressive resume and stack of accolades.

“Our honor defend” might be an Ohio State catchphrase, but for both who she is onstage and off, there’s no one whose honor I’m more readily prepared to defend than that of former Wolverine Celia Keenan-Bolger.

Matt Take: David Alan Grier

I’m going to be honest with you, had I gotten to pick first on this one, I would have gone with Celia Keenan-Bolger as well. She is not only my favorite Michigan musical theatre grad, but also one of my favorite performers. In fact, for the past seven-ish years, every time I get a text message, Celia says “Hi, Matt Tamanini,” thanks to a mutual friend who knew how much I loved her.

But, since Jami claimed my pick, I am going to broaden my scope to musical theatre folks who graduated from Michigan, regardless of program. While there are some great non-musical theatre stars I could have gone with, like James Earl Jones, Gilda Radner, Arthur Miller, Margo Martindale, and more, I wanted to stay as close to the original prompt as possible.

So, I went with four-time Tony nominee — including a win in 2021 for “A Soldier’s Play” — David Alan Grier. While most people know Grier as an incredible comedic actor in film and television, he actually got his first big break playing Jackie Robinson in a musical of the baseball barrier breaker in 1981 called ”The First.” The show was a flop, running only a total of 64 performances, but it did net three Tony nominations, including one for Grier.

He went on to replace in the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls,” and continued to do theatre (musical, modern, and classic) before really breaking through in 1990 as a member of the iconic sketch comedy show “In Living Color.”

While Grier has starred in countless sitcoms and movies since then, he has also kept a foot in the theatre, including the musical variety. He replaced Whoopi Goldberg (who replaced Nathan Lane) in the mid-1990s revival of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” was nominated for a Tony for his work in David Mamet’s play “Race,” and was nominated again two years later in 2012 for playing Sportin’ Life in the revival of “Porgy and Bess.”

Grier will be merging his musical and film talents in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of the musical adaptation of “The Color Purple.” It is currently scheduled to be released on Christmas Day, but various strikes could push it back.

If all you know Grier from is “In Living Color,” “Martin,” Life with Bonnie,” “The Carmichael Show,” or any of his movies, you know that he is incredibly funny, but you might not know what a sensational, classically trained actor he is. After graduating from that school up north, he got a Masters of Fine Arts from Yale and did numerous Shakespearean productions early in his career. Those skills were again on display in the Broadway production of “A Soldier’s Play,” a show that he appeared in during the original Off-Broadway run in 1982 and then in the film version in 1984.

David Alan Grier has been one of the most consistent performers on both stage and screen for over four decades. He has proven is talent in comedies, dramas, and musicals, and hopefully will continue to do so for many more years to come.


Who has the right answer to today’s question?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Jami: Celia Keenan-Bolger
    (1 vote)
  • 80%
    Matt: David Alan Grier
    (4 votes)
5 votes total Vote Now