Debra Barsha Brings Broadway to ASIJ

Brent Huber (Musical Director), Mariko Yokosuka (Japan Center co-Director) and Kyoko Takano (Japan Center co-Director) share details on a special visit from singer, songwriter, actress, composer and pianist, Debra Barsha.

Broadway came to ASIJ last week when Debra Barsha held a musical theater audition workshop for our high school students and met with middle school actors and composers. The vibrant Ms. Barsha is currently the Associate Conductor of Broadway’s Tony Award winning musical Jersey Boys in New York City and was in Tokyo to attend opening night of the first Japanese production of her show Radiant Baby, a rock musical on the life of artist Keith Haring.


During our high school activity period, she offered students the opportunity to hear her story—how she found her passion in music and entertainment. She knew musical theater was her goal as a child and focused her boundless energy to make that goal a reality. One of the keys to her success was learning to stay positive in a collaborative art. She says there are better piano players than her but she knows how to bring out the best in people she works with.

During the second part of the session, Naomi Okada (Class of ’16) and Ryo Kamibayashi (Grade 10) sang mock auditions for Debra with an audience of fifty interested young actors and singers. She bounced around the room from piano to stage as she offered specific advise to the leads of our spring musical, High School Musical. “You have sixteen bars to make an impression. Make it real and fresh every time. Tell the song’s story. Casting directors make a decision about you in the first few seconds, don’t waste them. You will be rejected at least a hundred times to maybe get that one gig. You must be passionate about your art.”

Naomi commented, “Ms. Barsha exuded so much energy and passion for musical theater, and it was such an amazing experience working with her. Even though we worked together for a short period of time, I learned way more than I expected. She was succinct, direct and thorough with her advice and direction, and it felt unreal to have someone who is so successful in the musical theater business listen and critique my singing and acting. It was a privilege being able to meet and interact with her and to listen to her experience.”

Following the activity period session, Debra worked directly with a combined class of Brent Huber’s middle school music studio students and David Neale’s (Digital Film/ Tech Theater Design) middle school drama students. This in-class workshop covered various topics as Debra spoke on the power of music in a show, broadway and how she develops the idea of a show and how she composes music.

Debra introduced a fun acting exercise where an individual is given a random emotion and a random object unrelated to each other, which they are to combine and act out. A “sad chair” situation, for example, prompted one student to sob about an invisible chair as he attempted to portray the object and feeling without using the actual words. The group tries to identify the emotion and object based on his acting skills, resulting mostly in laughter and tears.


Even with just a quick visit, Debra left us dreaming of Broadway. We have made a good friend in the world of musical theater and look forward to working with her again. Radiant Baby is playing in Tokyo until June 22 before it continues to tour Japan. If you would like to know more, check out their website