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Musical Theater Training Project reflects Taipei’s commitment to the arts

By Leo Maliksi

 Darren Cohen is a musical direcor and conductor musical theater shows.

A high-quality performance depends on hard work by its performers, directors, and an entire crew, many of whom remain unseen backstage. Twelve hours a day, six days a week for four weeks, a team of highly qualified teachers and trainers sought to transform 40 Taiwanese students into musical theater performers.

“These are serious students who have made a commitment,” said Darren Cohen, a professional musical director and vocal coach from New York City with over 20 years’ experience. “What happens after? I hope they continue training and have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.”

A hundred and forty students auditioned for the theater training: forty were chosen and split into two groups.

 Song Lee performed the song Giants in the Sky from the Into the Woods.

Cohen trained and directed one group of twenty, while Rusty Ferracane trained the other. “They come here (the Taipei Performing Arts Center) and for the entire day they take classes in movement, dance, vocal training, and musical theater,” said Ferracane, an entertainer whose professional career spans four decades, performing with theatre companies across the U.S., including the American premier of the Off-Broadway musical Enter the Guardsman.

At the beginning of October, students began memorizing the lyrics to songs from famous musicals such as West Side Story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, My Fair Lady, and Hairspray.

Rusty Ferracane is an entertainer whose professional career spans four decades.

But can these aspiring young Taiwanese actors ever reach the standards of U.S. shows?

“Some of them may have great voices like performers in New York,” said Cohen. “But they don’t have the seasoning yet. Musical stage performances are very new in this city. For us it’s less about talent than where each student is at each moment. Can they grow from where they started?”

“In any training program, you deal with the level they’re at, and then they have to improve,” said Ferracane.

Song Lee was one of the students. He currently works doing voice overs. “I realized that I still have to improve some of my skills so I registered for this class,” said Song. “I see myself as a musical theater performer, and I’ve learned to sing and dance on this course.”

The first of Taipei City's Musical Theater Training Project at the Taipei Performing Arts Center

“If the program ran for a whole year, you would see wonderful results,” said Cohen.