Simpkins appointed new head of Penn State's Musical Theatre program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- John Simpkins, master teacher of music theater at New York University Steinhardt, has been named the next Nagle Family Endowed Chair in Musical Theatre and Head of the Penn State School of Theatre’s Musical Theatre program. He will join the faculty in August and take the place of Cary Libkin, longtime head of Penn State’s Musical Theatre program and first holder of the endowed chair, upon Libkin’s retirement in December.

"I am deeply honored to continue the tradition of excellence in musical theater at Penn State. I look forward to working with the dynamic faculty and students to sustain and grow what has quickly become one of the elite training programs in the country," said Simpkins.

Libkin said he is honored to pass the leadership of Penn State’s Musical Theatre program to Simpkins. ”In discussions with him it is clear that he has great respect for our history and traditions, and at the same time his own vision for the amazing potential of the musical theater program and indeed, the art form.”

“After an exhaustive search for someone worthy to replace Cary, we couldn't be happier that John will be joining us and are confident he will ensure that the program's leadership continues to be strong as we move forward,” said Dan Carter, director of the School of Theatre. 

During his tenure at New York University Steinhardt, Simpkins directed "Sweet Smell of Success," "Floyd Collins," "A Man of No Importance," "The Fix," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Violet," "Urinetown," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Parade," "Fiorello!" and "A New Brain." His production of "Parade" was preserved and is on reserve at Lincoln Center’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. He holds a bachelor of music degree from Miami University and a master of arts degree from NYU. 

Simpkins is a stage director who has worked in New York City and across the country. He is also artistic director at Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut. His most recent directing work includes the three-time Drama Desk-nominated Off-Broadway production of "Bloodsong of Love: The Rock and Roll Spaghetti Western" at Ars Nova. He also directed Iconis’ "The Black Suits" at Center Theatre Group (Kirk Douglas Theatre). New York credits include the Off-Broadway productions of "The Bus" (59E59 Theatre); "ReWrite" (Urban Stages); "The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks" (Theatreworks USA, Lucille Lortel Theatre); "Things to Ruin" (which he co-conceived and directed productions of at Second Stage, Le Poisson Rouge, Zipper Factory, Joe’s Pub, Ars Nova and NYMF); and "The Black Suits" (SPF at the Public Theatre, starring Annie Golden, Jason Tam and Krysta Rodriguez).

Simpkins’ work includes developing new musicals as both a director and artistic director, and he has directed workshops and readings with award-winning writers at theaters nationwide. He is also an active member in the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT), where he serves on the reading committee to select the eight most promising new musicals each year. His work at NYU includes a program where young and emerging writers can develop and workshop their material with student performers in the Program in Vocal Performance.  

For more on Simpkins, visit

John Simpkins is the new Nagle Family Endowed Chair in Musical Theatre and Head of the Penn State School of Theatre’s Musical Theatre program. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated March 06, 2015