Amanda Gray | January 8, 2018
Patrick Vassel ’07 is no stranger to plays about precocious immigrants with big dreams. He’s the associate and supervising director of Hamilton: An American Musical for the blockbuster’s Broadway, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles productions.
But when Jim Small, Notre Dame’s associate vice president of storytelling and engagement, contacted him in July 2016 to ask him to direct Sorin: A Notre Dame Story, Vassel thought it “seemed like a pretty crazy idea.”
He took the call at New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, Hamilton’s Broadway home, and his first impression faded as the conversation continued.
“As we uncovered the story, the similarities between Hamilton and Sorin grew,” Vassel says. “It’s a name people know, but a person they don’t know. There are parallels between these immigrant stories.”
Small also recruited New York playwright Christina Telesca Gorman ’91 to write the script. The challenge, she says, was bringing humanity to a myth.
“How do you marry telling a true story with telling an entertaining story?” Gorman remembers asking herself.
Her solution? Treat it as Sorin remembering his life, talking to the audience as he recalls the journey to America, to Vincennes and to South Bend. Actor Matthew Goodrich ’09, who puts on the mantle of Notre Dame’s founder, offers an intimate performance: Sorin chats with the audience, makes jokes, gives color commentary. Hesitant to discuss the worst of his experiences, he grows emotional at the hard parts.