WSU opens Theatre Week with Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Last week was a Wright State Theatre week. On the Festival Theatre stage, Smokey Joe’s Café opened. Two nights later, three talented professors in the music and opera department gave a recital,. It was their version of The Three Tenors but for soprano voices.
Attending Smokey Joe’s Café was a new experience for a veteran theater lover. When looking over the panoply of songs - music by Leiber and Stoller - I did not recognize any of them. I learned from director Greg Hellem’s program notes that the show was the longest running revue in Broadway history dominating the pop music of the ‘70s.
I also learned from several of our friends in attendance that I was a “classical music Nerd” and I should sit back and enjoy the fun. I agreed on both aspects, sat back and was wowed by the effervescent talents of the Wright State musical theatre student stars.
Being wowed at Wright State theatre is nothing new. The amazing talents of these bright youngsters are a rich tradition. I found from department chair Stuart McDowell that the selection of “Smokey Joe” was made by the students themselves. It was a special homage to the age of Rock and Roll which was old and classical to them and unexplored to Nerds such as yours truly.
From the opening notes and incredible dance moves, nine beautiful and super-talented future Broadway stars took the theatre by storm. Director Hellems is a “dancing man.” He joined with Brandon Kelly and Amber Preston to create a seamless exposition of dance. As they cavorted, they belted out song after song in rapid fire. I did relax and did enjoy every note. I was joined by the entire audience, as well.
The all-star cast each had solos and chorus parts. Their individual personae became apparent. Dayton Muse Machine star Matt Kopec has proven that he is a song and dance man par excellence. Handsome and charming as he beamed from across the footlights, his stage presence set the pulse of the show.
The beautiful quartet of ladies delivered their own show-stopping numbers. Melissa Grochowski has a big voice and personality. She dominated the hapless men, singing with élan and acting peerlessly. Lovely Madeline Paul sported a huge red feather boa in two numbers celebrating her domination of these hapless men.
Lindsay Flick and Jackie Snyder each took “darling” to the walls. Lindsay “shimmied” her way into the hearts of millions. Jackie torched “Pearl’s a Singer” like a real pro.
The men did more of the same. Brandon Michael Fleming used his appealing tenor voice to moisten a few eyes as he sang “Stand By Me.” A real departure was Shea Castle. He punctuated song after song with his booming bass voice and charming presence. Handsome Eric Byrd, well remembered as Tony in West Side Story, had a real comic presence in number after number.
When Jeremy Gaston opened his mouth, the audience smiled and even laughed out loud. He is a true comic, rubber legged, able to sing at mach speed and cavort with unrestrained joy.
I only hit the highlights of the actors’ performances. Each hardly left the stage and never stopped doing what theater does best, bring joy to the audience.
Oh yes, there was an orchestra. In contrast to the youth on stage there was a preponderance of gray heads pouring out the music. Led by Rick Church, these oldsters were having so much fun that it might be illegal.
WSU’s The Three Sopranos
The second visit of the week to WSU was very different. Instead of hearing music for the first time, I was bathed in the glow of familiar and beloved operatic and art songs.
The three sopranos, Dr. Kimberly Warrick, Director of WSU’s Opera Theatre department, Diana Cataldi and Ginger Minneman, are each vocal instructors. They were accompanied on the piano by Steven Aldredge.
The sopranos brought together the vocal arts without a trace of the diva-menace. Each singer performed solos as well as made stunning ensembles out of music that began life as solo arias. Opera dominated but the great American musicals were well represented.
They all sang like angels and looked as if they were having a proverbial ball doing it. Kim Warrick is enthusiasm personified. She has a powerful but truly beautiful voice. Even when she left her familiar world of grand opera to sing songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me,” she made it seem as if she sang only to you.
Diana and Ginger had a show-stopper early in the program. They blended magnificently in the difficult and incredibly beautiful duet from Lakmé, "Sous le dome épais.'
Ginger sang Mozart’s Dove sono with élan and conviction. Near the end of the program, the trio sang, as one, the beloved O Mio Babbino Caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. They carried the magnificence of the vocal line with threefold beauty.
The spirit of Wright State is alive and well! Young talent bubbled from the Festival Theatre stage in “Smokey Joe.” The dedication of their vocal teachers was made crystal clear in a beautiful recital of seasoned artists full of enthusiasm and joy.
Community art project at DVAC
The Dayton Visual Arts Center announces the sixteenth year of REACH Across Dayton. Begun by Paula Recko, Willis ‘Bing’ Davis (the Ohio Arts Council’s choice for the 2009 Irma Lazarus award!) and Tess Little (one of the YWCA’s 2009 Women of Influence honorees!), REACH is a celebration of our community in all its wonderful diversity.
This year’s theme is Understanding Identity - and who among us has not at some point struggled with the question of “who am I, really?” It’s one of the timeless themes for art, of course.
You don’t have to be an artist (or a member of DVAC) to participate. We invite everyone to to be a part of the 2009 REACH Community Art Project by making a “quilt block” about yourself. We make it easy by providing the materials and artists to lead the way during three public workshops.
DVAC fiber artists who will be available during the workshops include: Jane A. Black, Debbie Emerick, Winnie Fiedler, Yuki Hall, Gerry Fogarty, Nosha Namahoyta, Christina Pereyma, Peri Irish Switzer and Sharon Weltner.
These drop-in workshops will be held:
The King and I production Jan. 30 - Feb. 15
East versus West makes for a dramatic, richly textured and ultimately uplifting tale of enormous fascination. It is 1862 in Siam when an English widow, Anna Leonowens, and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, having been summoned by the King to serve as tutor to his many children and wives.
The King is largely considered to be a barbarian by those in the West, and he seeks Anna’s assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. With both keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the King grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another, in a truly unique love story.
Showtimes are Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.. Tickets are $16/adults, $15/Senior Citizens, $12/12 and under. Group rates are also available. Please call 937-424-8477 for reservations or go to our website, www.daytonplayhouse.org.
Gem City Ballet, Bach Society to perform Jan. 31
On Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m., two of the premier performing groups in the area, the Gem City Ballet and the Bach Society of Dayton, will join forces to present a choreographed version of J.S. Bach’s choral masterpiece, the Magnificat in D. The performance, accompanied by orchestra, will include soloists Andrea Chenoweth, Soprano; Emily Landa, Soprano; Liza Forrester, Mezzo Soprano; Randall Black, Tenor; and Jeremy Kelly, Baritone.
Local residents involved in this event include Margaret Karns; Dave Grupe; Faye Seifrit; Laura Thie; Kerri Hemmelgarn; Hannah Wagner; accompanist, R. Alan Kimbrough; and music director, John Neely.
This collaboration is the result of a grant from the Miriam Rosenthal Memorial Trust Fund. Tickets for this performance, which will take place at the Victoria Theatre, are available through ticketcenterstage.com, the Gem City Ballet, and the Bach Society of Dayton.