Local conductor leads cast in ‘Titanic, the Musical’

By Observer Upload May 15, 2012 02:46 pm

Michael Frasier as Captain Edward Smith. EOU THEATER photo
Michael Frasier as Captain Edward Smith. EOU THEATER photo

When Michael Frasier first stepped in to the choir room at La Grande High School, the world was commemorating the 60th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

On Thursday, when Frasier steps onto the stage of the Eastern Oregon University’s McKenzie Theatre, he will be leading the cast and crew in “Titanic, the Musical,” the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of this famous ship. 

Frasier’s latest project, “Titanic, the Musical,” opens on Thursday and runs through Saturday with 7 p.m. performances. There will also be a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. 

Tickets are available by calling 541-962-3757 or theater-goers can purchase them on the Internet at www.ticketpeak.com/theater. Tickets are $15 per seat. Or when buying more than 10 tickets, there is a group discount making it $10 per seat.

In the 40 years between when Frasier started at LHS and when he appears in “Titanic, the Musical,” Frasier has brought music and theater to the Grande Ronde Valley.

Frasier first walked into the La Grande High School choir room in 1973, having just received his degree in music from Central Washington University. His plan at the time was to “spend a couple of years here and then move on to something bigger and better.” But he quickly grew to appreciate the support of the community, the students and their parents as he began to grow his program.

“This is a community that supports you and allows you to grow and create the program that you have imagined,” he said. “Why would one want to leave?”

While there had been a music program at the high school for years, Frasier took on a new challenge when, in his second year, he decided to present the musical “Brigadoon.”

This was a major undertaking for a small musical program, but Frasier, who had fallen in love with theater in high school, wanted to give the same opportunity to his students.

The production began several decades of successful musical theater performances.

Looking back, Frasier has several favorites, including “Into the Woods,” “Guys and Dolls” and “West Side Story.” But perhaps the show that brings him his fondest memories was a late 1970s production of “Godspell.”

“This was the first show I did with students who had started out as freshmen in my program,” Frasier said. “They were seniors now, and I looked upon them as my first class. ‘Godspell’ was an amazing production, one where everything went as I wanted it to. It was most satisfying.”

In 1974, Michael Frasier also began participating in the musicals that were being presented by Eastern Oregon State College. His first role was as Motel, the tailor in the EOSC production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Since then, he has performed in more than 16 musicals with the university taking on such roles as John Adams in “1776,” Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Archibald Craven in “The Secret Garden” and most recently as Charles Guiteau in last year’s production of “Assassins.”

Throughout the years, Frasier’s choirs have competed successfully in regional and state competitions.

“When I first started, La Grande High School was included with all of the larger high schools in the Portland and Salem area,” Frasier said. “It’s very hard for a small school like ours to compete with much bigger programs. I felt that we did very well, but when we started competing with schools our own size, then we really excelled.”

In fact, the last three years before Frasier retired as choir conductor of LHS, his choir won the state competition.

In 2003, after nearly 30 years as LHS choir conductor, Frasier retired. But what does a music teacher do with his time when he has music teaching in the blood? Soon, Frasier was working part-time at Eastern Oregon University. He began by conducting the EOU Children’s Choir and then when a need arose for a women’s choir, Frasier took on that responsibility as well.

Today, because of his many ties with area high school conductors, he also helps with recruitment for the music program, And of course he still loves to appear onstage in the EOU musicals.

When Michael Heather and Peter Wordelman announced the production of “Titanic, the  Musical,” Frasier felt that there could be a part for him in the show.

“I’m getting to the point where I only audition if there is a mature role or two in the show,” Fraser said. “I thought that playing the captain of the Titanic would be an interesting challenge. I also like working with students and trying to show them an example of professionalism on stage.”

Fraiser wants as many people as possible to come and see “Titanic, the Musical.”

“These kids have worked very hard and are very talented,” he said. “They have put together an exciting and touching show for the entire family. Come and support the EOU theater and music program, by attending this amazing production.”