Interview by Marilyn Lester
When Broadway powerhouse Craig Schulman headlines the upcoming Robin’s Nest/A Benefit for HelpUsAdopt.org it will be as one who knows whereof he speaks. In 1998 Schulman and wife Monica Robinson experienced the unthinkable: the death of their beloved six-year old daughter, Jenna, from complications of a rare brain disorder.
There is no level of success nor any accolade that can ameliorate a tragedy of that magnitude. “It was a devastating experience,” Schulman remembers. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” Very shortly after Jenna’s passing, Schulman and his wife had a revelation – and a meeting of the minds. The couple were each thinking the same thing: let’s adopt a little girl. “We instinctively knew this would be the absolute right thing to do – the pathway to healing our family,” he recalls. (The Schulmans also have two boys, now grown.)
And so began the process of adopting a child. China was chosen and in 2000 Monica Robinson arrived in Shanghai to assume her new role: mother of the baby girl who would become known as Maya Schulman. “Her middle name is Lee,” says Schulman. “That was her birth surname and we wanted to keep it as part of her legacy.” In 2001, to keep Jenna’s memory alive and to honor the little girl who loved to perform and no longer would, the Schulmans created the Jenna’s Dream Foundation. This scholarship program provides opportunities for children to attend arts camps and for high school seniors to continue their education in the performing arts.
Concurrent to the Schulman’s story, Robin Westle, a speech pathologist and the mother of two adopted children (now grown) became interested in the cabaret world. As a Board member of HelpUsAdopt.org it seemed only natural for her to marry her two passions of song and helping prospective parents and children find each other. A mutual friend, who realized there was a commonality in the adoption experience of each party, introduced Westle to Schulman, who’s happily topping the bill at this benefit evening.
In a career that spans more than 25 years (“I cut my teeth with 650 shows at The Light Opera of Manhattan,” Schulman reveals) and some of the choicest roles on Broadway, Schulman knows he’s been blessed. He not only reports that he often feels Jenna’s presence while he’s singing, but that he’s found great fulfillment in his Master Classes and workshops. “I’d love to create another role and, of course, I also love to perform,” he says. “But at the moment I’m focused on teaching – sharing what I know with young people, and making it fun.”
On September 21 at 7 pm at the Laurie Beechman Theater, when he steps into the spotlight, for Robin’s Nest/A Benefit for HelpUsAdopt.org, Schulman will share his well-honed talent with four hit songs from his roles in “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and “The Music Man.” The man who is the only performer in the world to have starred as three of the most high-profile musical theater characters ever written, and who has sung nearly 2,000 performances as Jean Valjean worldwide, has moved a long way from tragedy. He would be the first to tell you what a joy family member Maya is (now 16 and thriving), and how her adoption brought unequivocal healing, peace and love to the Schulman household .