Revisiting the American Dream

University of Michigan students to perform Arthur Miller’s work with Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin will be reading Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Death of a Salesman” with the  U-M Musical Society. // Photograph by Theo Wargo via Getty Images

Throughout his life as a playwright, Arthur Miller fondly recalled the influence his time as a student at the University of Michigan had on his great ability to create some of the 20th century’s most celebrated works.

Nearly 70 years after Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman, the University Musical Society is welcoming actor Alec Baldwin to its stage. Baldwin will perform a reading of the 1949 play beside U-M Department of Theatre & Drama students and faculty.

Arthur Miller // Photograph Courtesy of U-M

The timeless story chronicles a chain of events for Willy Loman, the 63-year-old traveling worker who romanticizes the American Dream despite its blatant shortcomings.

“While Salesman was chosen on artistic and educational grounds, and especially given Arthur Miller’s history here, there is certainly an interesting moment and opportunity to view the Willy Loman character in a new way,” UMS President Matthew VanBesien says. He notes that Baldwin, who has been involved with the Arthur Miller Foundation, will read the main role. “We knew that Alec would enjoy doing Death of a Salesman and feel very strongly about making sure Michigan students [have] a great experience.”

As part of the creative collaboration, the actor will participate in a few days of rehearsal prior to the Sept. 29 performance, which will benefit UMS programs. VanBesien says the performance is due in part to his personal connection with Baldwin — the two previously served on the board of the New York Philharmonic together — as well as the relevance Miller’s piece continues to have in today’s society.

“In this ‘perception-is-everything’ moment, accusations of fake news, and what has been at least a partial erosion of the certitude of fact in our society, Loman’s own lack of truthfulness, delusional behavior, and denial feel particularly timely,” he says. “Great works illuminate the time in which they were written but also the present.”

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