From Bay City to Broadway

“Remember, George,no (one) is a failure who has friends.” I know, it’s the middle of May, but even in the heat of summer, I’ve got our favorite guardian angel, Clarence, on the brain.

Dr. Matthew TravisI admit, I’ve hit the friend jackpot. Period. And while there is a community of folks near and far that are dear to my heart, (you are probably among them, truly) I’d like to specifically mention three today.

You may know Korie Lee Blossey as the Genie in “Aladdin,” and Katie Travis as Christine Daee in “Phantom of the Opera,” or Ryan VanDenBoom as the singing and dancing dude with several Broadway credits; but I am fortunate enough to call them partners, collaborators, and friends.

While each of them have attained significant success on the stage, and in the industry, they all started here, in the Great Lakes Bay Region, and they all remain deeply connected to the area that cultivated their careers.

The First Voice Student – Ryan VanDenBoom

I met Ryan in 2005. I was 21 and he had just finished his freshman year at Bay City Central. As a college music student, I volunteered to music direct “Crazy For You,” at Bay City Players, a show highlighting the classics of George Gershwin.

Admittedly, I was pretty green, and was in WAY over my head. At this point, I had taken just one semester of conducting and while I had received voice lessons for many years, I had never given one. Ryan, who was cast as the tap-dancin’, song-and-dance man’ Bobby, had never taken one.

During a day-long SPARK fundraiser in 2020, Ryan VanDenBoom and other artists interacted with the crowd, offering tap dancing tips and posing for photos. (Photo Credit: Ben Tierney)In a sense we were a good match for each other, we didn’t know what we didn’t know and could grow in our respective roles.

Ryan, who had, and continues to have, an unmatched work ethic was constantly asking questions and seeking extra sessions and coachings. In all honesty, I didn’t have enough knowledge to impart nor did I have enough hours in the day to keep up with his constant effort to learn, develop, and improve. It was remarkable.

Undoubtedly it is this drive, coupled with great skill, that led to future successes including important credits on Broadway (“Annie,” “Something Rotten,” “Bandstand,” and “MJ”) as well as work in film (“Hail Caesar”) and television (“Murphy Brown,” “Fosse/Verdon.”)

Ryan is immensely talented, immensely humble, and immensely proud of his roots in Munger. Ultimately, I think it is the quality of his personhood paired with the aforementioned drive and skill that has led to success in the industry. 

The Matron of Honor – Katie Travis

In contrast to Ryan, I’ve known Katie Travis literally her entire life as she grew up in the bedroom next to me. She’s always been a best friend, and I recently served as the “matron of honor” in her wedding in March – one of the great honors of my life.

Anyway, by 2005 Katie and I had sung together for years, but at that time I had never collaborated with her as a music director. This changed in “Crazy For You,” at Bay City Players as she played opposite Ryan.

In the moment, it certainly seemed like a strong cast. In retrospect, it is a pretty special pairing as we’ve already discussed Ryan’s incredible accomplishments and Katie, who would soon to play Christine on the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” and eventually joining the Broadway company.

It’s amazing to think that teenaged versions of future Broadway performers shared the stage and is a special and memorable moment for our community.

I have always admired Katie for many reasons, but chief among them has nothing to do with her voice or acting ability, but it is her kindness, and constant encouragement of others to pursue what they love and what makes them happy, a trait that has contributed to her successes as both an actor and college professor in voice.
During a SPARK fundraiser in 2020, Korie Lee Blossey performed ‘Friend Like Me,’ from his role as Genie in Aladdin, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience. (Photo Credit: Ben Tierney)
A Friend Like He – Korie Lee Blossey

Like many of my friends, I did a lot of theatre as a young person. I met Korie when I was 10, when Bay City Central, my future alma mater, was doing a production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” This musical required a young boy, someone 9 or 10 years old. I was said boy, and as such I met my dear friend Korie, who was a high school student involved in the show.

I can vividly remember his vibrant and warm personality the first time we met. He made me feel immediately welcome amongst the older students, and in the roughly 30 years since, it’s been my great joy to watch Korie thrive.

He’s spent the last several years as the Genie on the national tour of “Aladdin,” and recently joined the Broadway cast.

Korie is capable of creating unforgettable performances for thousands, but also thrives in beautiful individual moments. He can make you feel as though you are the center of the universe in any interaction.
He sends dozens of videos, creates kind posts, and is constantly engaging with others in an attempt to make their lives better. On a personal level, my daughter thinks it is pretty cool that the Genie is her friend.

While these three currently live in New York, they remain tied to their hometown through a strong sense of service and philanthropy coupled with a genuine love for the area. They often return giving concerts, offering classes, and coachings and genuinely want to help students in the area succeed.

In 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this team, along with local residents Katie Miller, Thad Van Tifflin, and Kimberly Pruitt, and I created SPARK Artistic Mentorship program. SPARK is designed to provide meaningful lessons, trainings, and connections to students of color living in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

To date, SPARK has provided awards to six students, who have honed their craft with instructors from Penn State University, University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, Molloy College, and Saginaw Valley State University. 

It’s an incredible testament to Katie, Korie, and Ryan that they are willing to give their time, resources, and skill to support those in our region. It also says a lot about our region in that it raised three performers of this stature that so willingly give generously back to it.

For more information on how to support the efforts of SPARK, please visit

– Matt Travis is the Chief Operating Officer of Midland Center for the Arts
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