Southeast Musical ‘An American Hero’ Selected to Prestigious New York Musical Festival


“An American Hero,” a musical co-written by 2017 Southeast Missouri State University graduate Cody Cole of O’Fallon, Missouri, and Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson, Chair of Southeast’s Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, has been selected to be performed in this summer’s New York Musical Festival (NYMF).

The New York Musical Festival nurtures the creation, production, and public presentation of stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse new musicals to ensure the future vitality of musical theater.

Now in its 15th year, the Festival is the premier musical theater event in the world. The preeminent site for launching new musicals and discovering new talent, the Festival provides an affordable platform for artists to mount professional productions that reach their peers, industry leaders, and musical theater fans. More than 90 Festival shows have gone on to productions on and Off-Broadway, in regional theaters in all 50 states, and in more than 24 countries worldwide. Festival alumni have received a wide array of awards including the Tony Award® and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, NYMF received a special Drama Desk Award in recognition of its work “creating and nurturing new musical theater, ensuring the future of this essential art form.”

“As part of the NYMF, we are given the opportunity to put the show in front of the top industry professionals,” Cole explained. “It puts us a step closer to getting the show fully produced in New York’s finest theaters and ultimately published and produced across the country.”

For Cole, learning the musical had been selected was a culmination of both excitement and determination.

“One thought ran through my mind,” he said. “This is the start of my career.”

Stilson compares the musical’s selection to the NYMF to films being chosen for the Sundance Film Festival and to college football teams being invited to compete in Bowl games.

“We are thrilled beyond words, honored, and nervous, but in a good way,” said Stilson. “There are a lot of musical festivals around the world, but this is the top one for us.”

The dramatic musical centers on an optimistic Irish immigrant, who joins the United States Army, falls in love with and marries a spirited American woman, before being sent to fight in World War II, where he becomes the reluctant recipient of the Medal of Honor. Along the way, he learns the depths of his love of family, the sacrifices of heroes and the true meaning of becoming an American.

Cole started developing the songs and story as a student at Southeast. He approached Stilson to collaborate on the script and story. After more than two years, 75 drafts and two readings, the musical was selected by the Gallery Players, an Off-Off Broadway company, to participate in their “Overtures” Staged Reading Series in Brooklyn, New York, in December 2016.

The staged reading helped Cole and Stilson fine tune the story, songs and characters. It also gave the Southeast students involved with the production opportunities to work with professionals and add New York and Off-Off Broadway credits to their resumes.

“An American Hero” had its academic premiere on Southeast’s River Campus in the fall of 2017. Around that same time, Stilson began the process of submitting the musical to the New York Musical Festival. This required submission of a synopsis, the script, the score, character break-downs, audio recordings and several other production-related items.

With the selection, certain aspects of the musical will have to be “re-imagined” in relation to the size of the performance space. Time constraints will also play a part in the design of the sets and lighting, as the musical will be performed in a rotating repertory format.

“We will mount a smaller version of the fall production,” Stilson explained. “New York theatres are not as big as the Bedell (Performance Hall at the River Campus), so the set will be smaller, and the company will be reduced from 27 to 21.”

The company consists of current Southeast conservatory students and professional alumni, faculty and staff. Michael McIntosh, assistant professor of musical theatre, directing and acting, will continue as the director. Joshua Harvey, instructor of musical theatre, will continue as the musical director. For a listing of the full company, please see below.*

Stilson says this type of recognition boosts the prestige of The Conservatory and Southeast. It will benefit recruitment and retention in the long-term, he said.

“This is rare. I’m not aware of other undergraduate programs that have done this,” he said. “This will benefit us for a very long time.”

It will also be a valuable experience for students and alumni in the company, he said.

“Our students will have a New York credit on their resumes. It gives them street credentials. Also, they will get exposure on the New York scene. Casting directors, producers, agents and many other professionals attend the Festival,” Stilson said.

“To think that the music that was in Cody’s head will be produced in New York – the heart and soul of theatre – is beyond belief,” said Stilson. “We always hope things like this happen.”

Cole says he is looking forward to the success of “An American Hero” and is currently developing another musical.

“Once this show takes off, I can fully commit to writing and creating more shows,” he said.

NYMF is the flagship program of National Music Theater Network, Inc., a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization. 2018 NYMF is sponsored by The City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, PRG, TheaterMania, Clear Channel Outdoor and the Village Voice, and is supported, in part, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

The 2018 New York Musical Festival will take place July 9-Aug. 5. For more information, please visit:

*Full List of Company:


Kenneth L. Stilson (Book), chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance

Cody Cole (Music and Lyrics), 2017 Southeast graduate

Steve Sensenig (Orchestrations), professional orchestrator and musician

Michael McIntosh (Director), assistant professor of musical theatre, directing and acting

Josh Harvey (Musical Director/Conductor), instructor of musical theatre

Amber Marisa Cook (Scenic Designer), assistant professor of theatre – costume design

Phil Nacy (Sound Designer), associate professor of theatre – theatre history and sound design

James M. Miller (Costume Designer), assistant professor of science design

Deana Luetkenhaus (Costume Designer), costume shop supervisor for The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance

Christopher Haug (Technical Director), technical director and lighting designer for The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance

Thomas Gilman (Stage Manager), senior theatre major of Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Bart Williams (Fight Director), assistant professor of theatre

Jenna Lee Moore (Vocal Coach), assistant professor of theatre – voice

Tonya Wells (Southeast Marketing/Graphics), director of University Marketing

Krista Mayfield (Southeast Marketing/Graphics), graphic arts specialist with University Marketing

MacKenzie Hamilton (Crew), junior musical theatre major of Valley Springs, California

Andrew Feigenbaum (Crew), freshman musical theatre major of O’Fallon, Missouri

The Conservatory of Theatre & Dance (Executive Producer)

Southeast Missouri State University (Executive Producer)

Southeast Missouri University Foundation (Executive Producer)

The Holland School of Visual & Performing Arts (Executive Producer)

Kathy Mangels (Producer), vice president for finance and administration

Rhonda Weller-Stilson (Producer), director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts

Kenneth L. Stilson (Producer), chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance

Angela Wilson (Producer), director of development with the Southeast Missouri University Foundation



Adam Schween (Thomas), sophomore musical theatre major of Germantown, Tennessee

Jose Alpizar (Paddy), senior musical theatre major of Collierville, Tennessee

Josslyn Shaw (Mary), freshman musical theatre major of Mount Carmel, Illinois

Julia Slomski (Rosie), junior musical theatre major of Woodstock, Illinois

Ellen Carr (Nancy/Dorlores), senior theatre major with an acting option of Collierville, Tennessee

Kamron Underwood (Finn/Newman), freshman musical theatre major of Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Rowan Van Horn (Baker), freshman theatre major with an acting option of Webster Groves, Missouri

Ries Lundstrom (McGarity), sophomore musical theatre major of Granite City, Illinois

Andrew Freeland (Basilone), freshman musical theatre major of Pikeville, Kentucky

Mason Ramsey (Jacob/Knappenberger), junior musical theatre major of Festus, Missouri

Nick Kuchem (Peters), sophomore musical theatre major of Washington, Missouri

Joe Schimsa (Mr. Park/Anderson), junior musical theatre major of Pacific, Missouri

Phillip Meinecke (Krauss), freshman musical theatre major of Marengo, Illinois

April Bassett (Betty), junior double major in musical theatre and theatre design/technology of Rockaway Beach, Missouri

Abigail Becker (Peggy), junior musical theatre major of Independence, Missouri

Hollynn St. Clair (Phyllis), freshman musical theatre major of Wentzville, Missouri

Madison Jackson (Charlie), freshman musical theatre major of O’Fallon, Missouri

MacKenzie Hamilton (Ensemble), junior musical theatre major of Valley Springs, California

Andrew Feigenbaum (Ensemble), freshman musical theatre major of O’Fallon, Missouri

John Pletka (Ensemble), senior musical theatre major of Yorkville, Illinois

Bart Williams (Ensemble), assistant professor of theatre