Singer, Actor, Juggler
ichael Cressman does not remember a time when music was not a significant part of his life. He was born into a musical family. The 30-year-old Elora resident currently enjoys a thriving career in musical theatre and is among an elite group of singers that is classically trained. Although getting rich is not on his list of things to do, this young baritone, whose lyrical voice is as memorable as his commanding stage presence, is earning an international reputation as a multi-talented performer.
Growing up in the Cressman household was a musical experience. Michael’s mother Janice plays piano and encouraged her youngest son to study the instrument; he took lessons until he was 17. His father Cal (also a baritone) sang in the Glad Tidings Quartet. Michael remembers when the group practiced at his home. Being a member of a contemporary Mennonite family, it was natural to sing and play in the St. Jacob’s Mennonite Church. When he turned 18, Michael began to study voice seriously with June Mellenbacher. In high school, he took drama classes and his teenage years were filled with musical theatre productions. By the time he graduated it was obvious that there was only one path for this singer.
Michael attended Wilfrid Laurier University from 1991-1996 studying in the voice performance program. Here, he had the benefit of classical music training with an emphasis on serious technical study. His teacher, Dr. David Falk, was an enormous influence on the young baritone. Students of the famous vocal pedagogue not only learn about music, they get a thorough grounding in vocal physiology and career-lasting technique. Although Michael loves all genres of vocal music, his interest was opera. He pursued post-graduate studies in opera at Laurier and began subtly to make the transition to his first love – musical theatre.
Upon graduation, Michael gave himself five years to “make it.” He performed the part of Papagano in “The Magic Flute”, and was in a production of “West Side Story” at the Centre in the Square. At this point, he was not an equity member and had no representation. A lucky break got him an audition at the Shaw Festival and his performance in “Chocolate Soldier” caught the attention of Bruce Dean of The Talent House (a management company out of Toronto and New York City). This talent agency represents artists whose strengths lie in musical theatre, TV commercial and film acting. Michael considers himself fortunate to have this professional connection. Tenacious hard work combined with a rich, resonant voice, and arresting stage presence has catapulted him onto the international stage. He has never looked back.
Michael was part of the US Broadway touring cast of “Les Miserables”. This four-month job took him to a new city every week and was vocally and physically exhausting. Although it was a great addition to his resume, he declined the opportunity to continue and sought out a more relaxed setting: cruise ships! For eight and nine months at a time, he has, together with other singers and dancers, provided entertainment for cruise line passengers. The flashy Las Vegas style show is a lot of fun and he loves the traveling. “I didn’t mind being a big fish in a little pond in a big ocean!” Once his duties even included acting as assistant cruise director –a role that he embraced with artistic flare.
When asked about the connection between opera and musical theatre, Michael says that if you can sing opera you are prepared to sing anything. He appreciates his classical training because it enables him to learn music quickly and to recognize the signs of vocal fatigue. At university, he studied “Acting for Singers” and says it helped rid him of the stiffness that is characteristic of many concert singers. Although he has done some straight dramatic roles, he prefers to combine his talents. He is the first to admit that dancing is not his greatest strength, but has worked hard to add this dimension to his artistic abilities. He enjoys working with choreographers to create believable characters that come alive on stage. His current role in “The Magic of Mozart”, at the Port Dover Lighthouse Festival Theatre, demands that he juggle. “I’ve never juggled before, but what the heck, you do what it takes!”
Tenacious hard work combined with a rich, resonant voice, and arresting stage presence has catapulted him onto the international stage.
Michael loves living in Elora. “It’s a great artistic community with a small-town feel to it.” His future includes more of the same. There are musical opportunities at Stratford and Shaw and ultimately Broadway. Although living in New York is not something he considers a long-term option, he would embrace the challenge of working at the top of his field. In his spare time, he enjoys playing piano, cooking, knitting, reading and going to concerts. He is fascinated with dance and has an interest in fine art.
Michael’s advice to young singers is to stay in school and earn a degree. The professional music world needs well-rounded performers who will not burn out. “Also, you should audition everywhere and learn how to juggle!”
by Patricia Reimer, Summer 2001
UPDATE – 2005
Michael Cressman no longer lives in Elora. Hopefully he is singing in some glamourous setting, and enjoying it with his usual verve and vitality.