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Reading of musical about legendary coach Knute Rockne comes to University

| Friday, November 18, 2016

A dramatic reading of “ROCKNE,” a musical based on the story of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, will be performed at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Sunday.

The show is based on the book “Knute Rockne, All-American” and television mini-series written by Buddy Farmer. Under artistic director David Bell, producers Greg Shaffert and Jack Girardi and music and lyrical composers Michael Mahler and David Bell, the musical is making a comeback following a short run in 2008.

“It’s a universal story about a man choosing his career over his family; he doesn’t realize until that moment that everything is coming apart,” Shaffert said.

Employing dramatic license but staying true to real events, the production will tell of Knute’s success as a Notre Dame player and coach, as well as his personal life, as he struggles to keep everything in balance.  It opens with Rockne and the team on a train traveling home after a loss at USC. Through flashbacks, the show narrates the story of his Notre Dame career, told from the perspective of Rockne’s wife, Bonnie Skiles.

Schaffert, a commercial producer known for his work as lead producer of Broadway show “Peter and the Starcatcher,” has been involved with the show for about two years. He was won over to the project by Bell, who told him that “ROCKNE” was “one of the shows that never got its due.”

Rockne is considered to be one of the most famous college football coaches in history. At Notre Dame he studied chemistry and gained fame playing end for the football team. A few years later, after a stint with professional football, Rockne took over as head coach of Notre Dame football, which he coached for 13 years. He led the Irish to 105 victories and three national championships, making him the most successful college football coach by winning percentage — a record that has yet to be broken. His death at age 43 was called a “national tragedy” by President Herbert Hoover.

“He’s a historical figure,” Shaffert said. “He’s still the most famous college football coach in America. He created Notre Dame from a little sleepy college to a major sports powerhouse. He has a terrific story.”

Bell is also head of musical theater department at Northwestern University, where he is involved with the American Music Theater Project, a program that works on developing productions in their early stages using Northwestern students and facilities; “ROCKNE” is their current project. Northwestern students from the program and six professional actors from Chicago are involved in the production.

The production is set to have a warm reception from the Notre Dame community, having sold out days in advance.

“We are incredibly excited,” Schaffert said. “Coming to Notre Dame is something that I thought was the perfect move for the show. It’s the right theater to do a great presentation in and make it fantastic. It’s going to be quite the production. It’s going to be beautiful and very professional. We are very excited.”

After this performance, the team has plans to move the show to a regional theater, and test the waters of a paying audience.

“Fans of Rockne, of Notre Dame, of football, are all over the country — that’s one of the main things that’s neat about the show,” Shaffert said.

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