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Homecoming Musical 'Wonderful Town' taps into alumni, student talent

Get ready for a wonderful three-day experience beginning Oct. 12 as ACU Theatre presents a heart-warming Homecoming Musical, Wonderful Town.
The show features the music of Leonard Bernstein, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 25 of this year. Bernstein died in 1990, but his music – made famous in Broadway hits like West Side Story and Candide – will live forever.
Bringing Bernstein’s music to life will be 39 players in the Civic Orchestra of Abilene, made up of local university students and faculty and directed by Steven Ward (’92), director of orchestra and bands at ACU. The orchestra will be one of the largest in ACU Homecoming Musical history.
Wonderful Town will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12-13, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Abilene Civic Center. Tickets are available at
The 1953 musical tells the story of two sisters from Ohio who go to New York to chase their dreams. It will be directed by theatre professor Adam Hester (’77).
Along with a stage full of student actors, a couple of alumni and a new faculty member are assisting in producing a show that is sure to leave people shouting “Wonderful!” as they leave the Civic Center.
Guest guest artist Lily Balogh began teaching a new musical theatre dance track at ACU this fall. She will be choreographer for Wonderful Town. Balogh trained with the American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet and Ballet Flanders in Belgium.
A couple of familiar faces around the ACU campus also are adding their talents to the massive production. Jeannette (Scruggs ’50) Lipford will be assisting with her 46th Homecoming Musical, and David Utley (’99), is taking time from his New York City gigs to serve as scenic designer for the musical.
Lipford’s association with ACU dates way back. She is 89, and her father, Guy Scruggs (’27), taught at ACU. As a student, Lipford met her future husband, Harold Lipford (’50) on campus.
“So, here we are,” she said with a laugh. This year will mark the 46th time for Lipford to be vocals director for the musical. She was a vocal coach for 10 other performances.
Lipford’s first musical to assist at ACU was Fiddler on the Roof in 1976. Each show, with its new students, brings a new joy to Lipford. But it would be hard for her to name a favorite in all her years helping students get the most out of their voices.
“My favorite one is always the one I’m working on,” she said.
Utley earned a master’s degree in scenic design at the University of Texas after graduating from ACU. After spending some time in Los Angeles, he settled in New York, where he now works as an independent contractor for movies, television shows and live theater. He just finished working on the set of the pilot for NBC’s “Enemy Within.”
Utley earned a degree in theatre from ACU with a focus on acting/directing and design/technical. He settled on design for a career and has excelled. Utley is a member of the United Scenic Artists union in Los Angeles and New York, and that affiliation keeps him on top of new job opportunities.
“I’ve been very blessed to not have too many dry patches,” he said.
As a student, Utley performed in three Homecoming Musicals and was involved with designing the set his senior year. This year will be his fourth time to return to ACU to design the set since graduating. Utley greatly benefitted from the experience as a student and now is happy to have students working under his direction for a production as lavish as an ACU Homecoming Musical.
“They’re the heartbeat of all of this,” he said. “It’s really a good educational opportunity for them.”
Every time Utley returns to ACU, he is amazed at the growth of the campus and the theatre department. When he was a student, performances were held in Sewell Auditorium, which now serves as a workshop for the department. It was replaced in 2003 by the sparkling new Williams Performing Arts Center. And Utley is just a tad envious.
“These new students are totally spoiled,” he joked.

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