A triple-threat

Vicky Bussert • Director

By Bob Abelman

A “true triple-threat” is a musical theater term reserved for elite performers who can sing, dance and act with equal and astounding acumen.

Vicky Bussert, who has served as head of the music theater program at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea since 1996 and is a resident director of Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, is a different kind of triple-threat: director, educator and difference maker.

Great directors know what they want and how to get it. Bussert knew what she wanted at 8 years old, when she began directing her own shows with kids from her neighborhood in Munster, Ind. And she knew that attending Barat College, an all-women’s school in Lake Forest, Ill., was how she would get to be a female director in a male-dominated profession. 

“An all-women’s college wouldn’t be able to tell me I couldn’t direct,” she says.  

She graduated in 1980 with a degree in theater and dance, and went on to earn a master’s degree in theater from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and was the first woman to receive, in 1984, a Master of Fine Arts in directing. 

Fast-forward and Bussert’s résumé reads like a tome.  

It boasts New York directing credits that include “The Gig” at Manhattan Theatre Club, “Dust and Dreams” at the York Theatre and concert stagings at New World Stages. Regionally, her work has been seen at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn.; The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis; Cincinnati Playhouse; Portland Stage in Maine; Dallas Theatre Center; Firebrand Theatre and Pegasus Players, both in Chicago; and Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise, among others. And she has directed national tours of “Into the Woods,” “Barnum,” “Once on This Island,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Secret Garden” and “The Who’s Tommy.” International credits include the Danish premieres of “Avenue Q” and “[title of show]” along with the Danish and London premieres of “Lizzie,” a musical about the life and times of suspected murderer Lizzie Borden.  

Vicky Bussert at a Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival rehearsal. / Courtesy of Vicky Bussert

The Berea resident put in 17 years as artistic director at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights before assuming her current post at Baldwin Wallace University, along with facilitating a partnership with BW and the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood. For the past eight years, Beck Center’s annual production schedule includes one musical infused with BW’s young talent under Bussert’s direction. “This partnership gives us a greater opportunity to seek out those shows that have appeal to younger audiences and require a cast of younger actors,” says the theater’s artistic director, Scott Spence. 

“The 20-minute drive from Berea to Lakewood gives my students’ brains time to shift into ‘I’m leaving as a student and arriving as a professional,’” Bussert says. “And their experience at Beck – the shorter rehearsal time on stage and the longer production schedule, the working with professionals who do not operate the same way their teachers do, the audiences who are paying customers and not just supportive colleagues – offers valuable insight into the life of a working professional actor.”

And professionals they will become.    

BW’s program, which auditions approximately 800 students each year and accepts 20, has been consistently recognized as one of the top musical theater programs in the country. And, for the past several years running, every senior showcase ends with every graduating student receiving professional agent or manager representation. Many have gone on to perform in Broadway shows such as “Aladdin,” “Anastasia,” “Les Misérables,” “Kinky Boots” and “Book of Mormon.” Just one month after graduating from BW this past May, Warren Egypt Franklin was cast to take over as Lafayette/Jefferson in the “Hamilton” national tour.

As director, educator and difference maker, Bussert firmly believes “in the transformative power of the four-year college experience.” It has most certainly worked for her students. And, it seems it has worked for her. Bussert was awarded $10,000 as a recipient of this year’s Cleveland Arts Prize, which is given by the Women’s City Club for artistic excellence and in recognition of those who help regional arts flourish. CV

On stage

  • Bussert will direct “The Music Man” from Sept. 27 to Nov. 3 at Great Lakes Theater, 2067 E. 14th St., Cleveland.
  • She will direct the academic premiere of “Kinky Boots,” Nov. 12-24 at Baldwin Wallace University’s Kleist Center for Art & Drama, 95 E. Bagley Road, Berea.

Lead image: Courtesy of Vicky Bussert

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