UW-Eau Claire alumni success stories

Theatre arts grad achieves dream, makes
place for himself in entertainment world

Michael Andrew '87

Michael Andrew '87 performed music by Tony Bennett during UW-Eau Claire's Big Band Era Concert in October.

By Caitlin Walbrun
Student writer
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau

Oct. 16, 2006

"This is the type of music that won't offend people, so we'll book you."

That was the less than encouraging start for Michael Andrew Mechelke's now flourishing career in the entertainment business.

Sporting his blue and gold suit, Michael Andrew, as he is best known in the world of entertainment, wooed the audience with the music of Tony Bennett at this year's Big Band Era Concert with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensembles I and II.

Andrew, having a small window of opportunity between projects, returned to his alma mater in October to share his experiences and talents with students, staff and the community at large. While visiting, Andrew made the most of his time, speaking to classes and individual students, performing with Jazz I and II and even performing at a local restaurant with UW-Eau Claire jazz students.

Andrew graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1987 and has since been chasing his childhood dream of being a performer. Andrew's first break came shortly after graduation, when he was booked as an entertainer with Carnival Cruise Lines. After only a year on the job, Andrew became Carnival's number one act. This eventually landed him gigs as bandleader of the Rainbow Room in Times Square and headliner of Merv Griffin's Coconut Club in Beverly Hills.

"I like to think of them as footholds," Andrew said of his first big gigs. "You are climbing a mountain and it's all fun, and then you see that foothold."

With his latest project, Andrew said it's like "there is the peak of the mountain and someone is throwing me a rope."

For Andrew, the mountain is Broadway and the man with the rope is his childhood hero, Jerry Lewis. Andrew and Lewis are creating a musical based on the original 1963 film "The Nutty Professor," which starred Lewis.

The show, three years in the making, is now in the writing process and will star Andrew as the lead with Lewis producing.

"Jerry doesn't want to do anything unless it's going to be the biggest and the best Broadway show ever," Andrew said.

Andrew, who graduated with a theatre arts major and a topical minor in promotion, said he thought it was a smart choice for him to get a liberal arts degree.

Discussing his minor, he recalled how he took classes that had "anything to do with how to promote a product. .That helped me as much as anything."

Andrew said the biggest influence from his college career was the opportunity to participate in stage shows. He noted that he draws on the knowledge from that experience almost daily.

Looking back, Andrew recognized mistakes he has made along the way but said he wouldn't have changed anything. "I made mistakes, but would I have learned the lessons as effectively?"

Andrew stressed the importance of "putting yourself out there" and advised current students not to be afraid to ask questions. He also stated his belief that "you can't get better by reading a book."

Andrew, who has worked with world-class musicians, said, "You see people that want to do something with their talent and those who don't. .It's fun to see people who will see how far their talent will go."

Self-taught as a musician, Andrew said of his talent, "I never thought of myself as a singer. I thought of myself as a performer who sang."

Now with his move toward Broadway, he hopes to do just that.

"Nutty Professor" audience members can expect good family fun and kitschy, Austin Powers-type humor, Andrew said.

"I think what's really going to help us with the 'The Nutty Professor' is that everyone can see it."

"The Nutty Professor" is tentatively scheduled to open in November 2008.

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