When Schuyler Thornton ’14 returns to Wisconsin as a member of the Les Misérables Broadway tour, with multi-day stops at both Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts and Appleton’s Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, it will be a “full circle moment” for the talented flutist.
“I saw the previous Les Misérables tour at the Fox Cities PAC in fall of 2011 while I was a Lawrence student,” Thornton said. “I think I went five times. So, to be part of bringing the ‘barricade’ back to Appleton is incredibly thrilling.”
Thornton will be in the tour’s pit orchestra for performances in Madison Feb. 14-18 and in Appleton Feb. 20-25. Pre-performance gatherings for Lawrence alumni are planned Feb. 18 at the Overture Center and Feb. 23 at the Fox Cities PAC.
It’s a much-anticipated homecoming for the Lawrentian. A member of the tour since September 2022, Thornton said she dreamed of such an opportunity while studying music in Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music.
“It truly has been the most incredible and rewarding—and challenging—experience of my life,” Thornton said. “I like to say that ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and it came true. Les Misérables is the first show I remember listening to as a child. … I’ve always had a love for travel and Broadway, so being part of the Les Misérables tour has been a tremendous privilege and opportunity.”
When the show opens its run in Appleton, it will be Thornton’s 40th city with the tour. She’ll also mark her 400th performance that week. She expects to see familiar faces at the alumni gatherings and in the audience, including mentors from the Conservatory faculty.
“I knew coming into Lawrence that I loved flute, musical theater, teaching, and performing in pit orchestras, but I wasn’t sure what kind of careers were available to me that incorporated all of these wide-ranging passions,” Thornton said. “I wasn’t dead-set on a classical symphony orchestra job, and Lawrence was incredibly supportive of non-traditional careers in music.”
A double-degree student majoring in both music performance (flute) and government, she regularly took in the Broadway tours that came to the Fox Cities PAC, furthering her love of musical theater. And she wanted to explore—academically, musically, and globally. She found all of that not only doable but encouraged at Lawrence.
“A lot of schools make it nearly impossible to study abroad as a music student, but Lawrence made it so easy,” Thornton said. “It ignited my love for travel and gave me the confidence and independence to travel solo, something I frequently do on tour while sightseeing.”
She used Lawrence connections to secure work with the College Light Opera Company in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
“That program and the networking opportunities it provided me were a huge catalyst for my pit orchestra career,” Thornton said.
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She also credits her Lawrence experience with teaching her skills well beyond the stage.
“I was a double-degree student at Lawrence and was involved in many different ensembles and clubs,” she said. “The time management skills and ability to wear multiple hats that I learned at Lawrence have been critical for me on tour—life doesn’t stop just because you’re on the road.”
After graduating from Lawrence, Thornton went to graduate school, earning a Master of Music degree from James Madison University in Virginia and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“During summers off from school, I played in the orchestras at the College Light Opera Company and Ohio Light Opera to hone my skills as a pit musician,” she said. “Those programs gave me a ton of connections in New York City, and when I moved to the area for my doctorate, I was able to jump into the NYC freelancing scene relatively quickly, and even got to perform Off-Broadway while still in school. After finishing my doctorate in May 2021, I freelanced and taught in New York City for a year, and then joined both the faculty at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and the Les Misérables orchestra in Fall 2022.”
As she prepares to return to Appleton—and visits the Lawrence campus—Thornton ponders the advice she would give to current and future Conservatory students.
“Network, network, network,” she said. “Always have videos of your playing and an up-to-date resume ready to go. Respond to emails quickly. And be kind to people—there’s a million talented players, and the talented and kind players are the ones who get invited back.”