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Posted on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

U-M prof Cynthia Kortman Westphal shares her view of Sandy from New York

By Jenn McKee

University of Michigan musical theater professor Cynthia Kortman Westphal is in New York City this month to help U-M alum songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul take Broadway by storm - but Superstorm Sandy has lately pushed back, stalling preparations for the Nov. 5 opening of Pasek and Paul’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”

Westphal is the show’s associate music director.

“We got out (of rehearsals) early on Sunday, because the subways were going to shut down at 7,” said Westphal, who’s staying with her husband and two kids on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “We were supposed to rehearse until 8, but they let us out at 6. They canceled everything yesterday (Monday), they canceled everything today (Tuesday), and we’re waiting to hear about tomorrow.”

Westphal’s family has gotten through the storm without even losing power (“It flickered a few times, so we were ready, but we did not lose it”), and Westphal estimates that her family is “a mile and a half to two miles north of the worst flooding. There are a lot of downed trees and branches, and we can see that crane —the one they keep showing on TV—we can see that through our window. … It’s been weird to look out the window and see it on CNN at the same time.”

Westphal and her husband previously lived in New York City, and she believes her past experience has helped her remain calm in the midst of the storm.

“We were here through 9/11, and we were here through the giant blackout a few years after that, so we didn’t have the additional fear of being in an unfamiliar place, where you’re not sure how to navigate transportation and things like that,” said Westphal. “I think we knew what to listen to, what to avoid. And when we’d hear about different neighborhoods, we’d think, ‘OK, that’s 2 miles away,’ whereas if you were in strange city that you didn’t know, wouldn’t have that sense of how far away a place is. So we felt pretty good about that. But when the wind started blowing, it was still pretty scary.”

Westphal’s two children, meanwhile, have taken the whole experience in stride.

“They’ve been great,” said Westphal. “They just think it’s cool. They don’t really have the sense of it being a dangerous situation. We went for a walk today (Tuesday), and they just thought it was cool to see all these branches down.”

So Westphal will likely remember Superstorm Sandy as little more than an extra bit of adventure during her time away from Ann Arbor. And no matter how “A Christmas Story” fares on Broadway, she and her family will be back when the next U-M semester starts in January.

“I’m just here in New York for this semester,” said Westphal. “The beauty of this show is, it’s a holiday show. It closes on December 30. I’ll be back after that.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 1:24 a.m.

Nice story. Thanks.


Tue, Oct 30, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

is that the planning commissioners wife? thats how we got this story. good reach Ann Arbor News!, good reach!