Jim Christian is a Playwright, Lyricist, Director, Choreographer, Actor/Singer/Dancer, and a teacher of thousands of successful students. He is the recently retired Director of Musical Theatre Studies at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. He has produced/directed/choreographed over 50 shows for that department. Plus he founded Chameleons, Utah’s original Murder Mystery group and wrote 18 productions for them to tour with. He has also written the scripts and lyrics for the musicals “Pirated!” (A whacky version of The Pirates of Penzance, set in the era of the emergence of sound pictures, debuted at the ACTF), “Sleepy Hollow” (Winner of the Kennedy Center’s ACTF Musical Theatre Playwrighting Award, with music by Tom Edward Clark), “The Plain Princess“, and two short Christmas shows, “Five Carols for Christmas“, and “JingleJacks“.
When his students reminisce, what they recall are Christian’s high expectations and thoroughness. Christian’s students are scattered across the United States, some dazzling audiences on Broadway stages and beyond, others instructing and encouraging students to pursue their own potentials. Jim earned the student-nominated Rodney H. Brady Master Teacher Award at Weber State University. He is also a recipient of the faculty-nominated Presidential Distinguished Professor award, the highest honor bestowed on faculty at WSU.
Short and thin, shy and creative, academic and not built for athletics is how Christian describes himself as a kid. Growing up in Murray, Utah, his home was filled with music. His mother, a former singer in the Centennial Opera Company, taught voice lessons at home. Classical music and show tunes streamed from the record player. At six, Christian was playing the piano — a skill that still serves him well in teaching voice lessons.
Although he was president of Murray High School’s Thespian Club, his plan in college was to pursue a “sensible” degree, like telecommunications. That was a fine plan until his friends pursuing theater degrees started asking him to play the piano for their auditions, sometimes pulling him in as an extra actor when needed. Before long Christian started taking a few theater classes, just for fun.
While playing piano for a friend’s audition at the Lagoon Opera House, the director suggested Christian stand up and give it a try. “Go ahead, just sing something,” he yelled up at 18-year-old Christian. After a moment of hesitation, Christian belted out his own version of a song from the musical Oklahoma! “I’m just a boy who can’t say no…”. It got him a role in the Lagoon productions for the next two summers.
Not long afterward Christian hung up his hat on telecommunications and opted for a labor of love. He earned a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Illinois State University and taught at Eastern Kentucky University and San Diego State University before coming to Weber State.
Christian is one of the busiest directors in Utah, averaging six productions a year. While serving as the artistic director for 10 years at Utah Musical Theatre (1988-1998), the audience base quadrupled and the budget tripled. He also has guest directed with the Pioneer Theatre Company, the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Utah Opera, The Grand Theatre, The Good Theatre Company, Centerpoint Legacy Theatre, and Utah Symphony. Stints in television and film included roles in the well-known series, Touched By an Angel.
After playing more than 100 roles over the years, his favorite is an ongoing role lasting 25 years now — “dad,” a part that intensified when he had to take on the role of “mom,” too. When his daughter, Jessica, was nine, his wife, Jerrilyn, died of cancer. He recalls funneling the same energy he uses for acting into keeping life as positive as possible for his daughter while caring for his wife at home the last three months of her life.
CHAMELEON’S Murder Mysteries
Plays and Musicals Authored
- Pirated! (pirated in wholly new ways from The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan)
- Sleepy Hollow (music by Tom Edward Clark)
- The Plain Princess (based on “The Plain Princess” by Phyllis McGinley) (music by Tom Edward Clark)
- Jingle Jacks (music by Ken Plain)
- Five Carols for Christmas (music by Ken Plain)