Before Auto-Tune and an odd sense of fashion became enough to push anyone to the Billboard Top 100, producers held the power to transform raw talent into legendary careers.
Jane Fonda and Richard Perry Q&A
Today at 4:30 p.m.
In the 1970s, University alum Richard Perry was a name associated with that power. Perry will return to campus today for a question-and-answer session with partner and Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda. The pair will speak at Rackham Auditorium from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Perry, who has produced albums and singles for legends such as Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Ringo Starr, began his 46-year career a few months after graduating from what was then known as the University’s School of Music in 1964.
“The University instilled a high level of musicianship,” Perry said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “Plus, I had the opportunity to study almost all of the major instruments well enough to teach them. It was very handy to be able to be comfortable with any of the instruments that I would encounter.”
Though Perry took vocal and instrumental music classes, his experiences with acting, musical theater and the Men’s Glee Club were among his favorites.
“I was originally majoring in music, but then I wound up falling in love with theater,” Perry said. “I played most of the lead roles in the MUSKET productions every year, and that was probably my most memorable and fun experience at Michigan. I just love the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.”
Perry returned to the musical theater scene more than 40 years after taking his last bow as a member of MUSKET — he was recently the consulting producer for the Broadway musical “Baby It’s You.” The show, which details the careers of producer Florence Greenberg and ’60s girl group The Shirelles, features well-known pop songs of the era.
“We started in a 25-seat theater in Los Angeles, so watching us grow and take it from a 25-seat theater to a 100-seat theater was really amazing,” Perry said.
Though “Baby It’s You” has closed, Perry said seeing his audiences fall in love with the show was the best part of returning to the world of musical theater.
“We never failed to get a standing ovation every single night,” he said. “So the audiences loved it, and that was, in one word, rewarding.”
Perry’s visit to the University will bring him face-to-face with a different school than the one he left — the campus and the music department have changed drastically since his time here.
“When I was (at the University), North Campus had just been created,” Perry said. “I didn’t really spend much time there. The music classes were still divided all over campus and took place in various buildings, but it was all on Central Campus.
“But I’m sure North Campus is completely different now. I wish that I was there now that the music, theater and dance programs are under one umbrella.”
Though Perry plans to visit Rackham Auditorium and North Campus, he has one other University destination on his mind.
“I’m actually really looking forward to just taking a quick peek inside of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre,” he said. “I just want to take a big, deep breath of nostalgia.”