Monday, June 10, 2019

The Power of the Music of the Night


CCTA Delights with ‘The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’

Aficionados of musical theatre and even those who are not are well acquainted with the body of work by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The English composer, who had collaborated with several lyricists like Tim Rice throughout his career, has been wildly successful in this genre spanning five decades with a string of some 13 musicals and 2 film scores among his accomplishments.  Several shows have run for over 10 years—a remarkable feat whether on Broadway or London’s West End.

“The Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita, and “Memory” from Cats are popular hit songs that have been cemented in our musical culture.  #hocoarts

On June 9, the Columbia (Md.) Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA) and The Young Columbians Senior Ensemble & Alumni presented a magnificent offering of Lloyd Webber’s works including those and other favorites from the composer’s vast catalogue at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College.  The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed by mostly middle and high school students, was a wonder to behold.

CCTA founder Toby Orenstein, the founder of Columbia’s venerable Toby’s Dinner Theatre, made brief remarks before the show in which she pointed out that the mostly student performers also included CCTA staff and alumni.  She singled out a student from her very first class, Larry Friedman, who is currently the Young Colombians’ artistic director and with Ms. Orenstein co-directed this show.

From the rocking number “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar in which Mr. Friedman took the lead, to the finale “Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love, the performances by these artists were scintillating. The selections consisting of a combination of solos, duets and group numbers were generally organized by show.  

It was fitting that “Superstar” launched the presentation not only because the invigorating high tempo of the song and the cast’s journey up the theater’s aisles induced the audience to be involved immediately, but I have no doubt there are potential superstars among this group of entertainers.

Guided by choreographer Tina Desimone, the ensemble remained on the stage throughout each song utilizing methodical movements and a variety of positions from standing to lying down while featured performers emerged downstage to sing.  In some instances the positioning of the ensemble simulated that of the Broadway version of the numbers.

A duet consisting of Kyra Britt and Abby McDonough beautifully performed “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  During the rendition Ms. McDonough experienced a mic snafu. Undaunted, the young lady kept her poise, recognized the situation and increased the volume of her vocals to help compensate. Both performers deserve kudos for seamlessly overcoming a technical problem outside of their control. 

Prince Havely, an alumnus of the program, performed a stunningly moving interpretation of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera while the Ensemble silently stood motionless in the background.

All the other lead performers were outstanding as well. The talented list includes: Bradley Leverett and Ben Saunders (“Song of the King”) and Justin Diaz, Richard Seipel and Gavin Willard (“Close Every Door”) from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Cade MacFee (Light at the End of the Tunnel”/”Starlight Express” from Starlight Express); Andrew Fleming, Evan Williams and Justin Diaz (“Oh What a Circus”) and Alyssa Young and Sophie Snider (“Another Suitcase”) and Caroline Otchet and Logan Dixon (“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”) from Evita; Rachel Kohen (“Memory”) from Cats; Avery Fahey (“Anything But Lonely”) from Aspects of Love; Peyton Kern and Andrew Fleming (“Think of Me”) and Bradley Everett, Leah Reineck, Cade MacFee and Shira Seaman (“All I Ask of You”) from The Phantom of the Opera; and Gavin Willard and Ben Saunders (“Love Changes Everything”) from Aspects of Love.

The Ensemble deftly performed vocally in support of the leads and had their own selections in the group numbers “Evita Requiem” from Evita, “Jellicle Ball” from Cats, and “Masquerade” from The Phantom of the Opera.

They are: Julia Chapman, Amaya Cunningham, Ana Cunningham, Madeline Ellinghaus, Hallie Goldstein, Ally Kolp, Andrew Pavuk, Alyssa Renew, Drew Seipel, Sierra Segal, Kate Tourison, Ava Vanek, and Carly Victor.


Musical Director Todd Twining and the 5-piece orchestra were superb and did justice to Lloyd Weber’s rich and melodious score.  The production itself was stellar, but seeing how the hard work of these young people led to a successful show with tons of potential to be realized is truly inspiring.

There are two flaws I can identify, however. One, the performance was only for one night and the broader community will not have a chance to witness this terrific show. And two, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber wasn’t on hand to marvel how his work was performed in such a superb manner. #hocoarts

Ironically, this presentation took place on the same night as the 2019 Tony Awards (yay DVR!) It would not be a stretch to imagine at least one of these young performers receiving that honor someday.

CCTA is a non-profit organization founded in 1972 by Toby Orenstein. Its mission is to educate through the arts by creating theatrical experiences that inspire thought, action, creativity, and change. This performance was a fundraiser for CCTA’s outreach programs aimed at helping special needs and at-risk youth.  More information can be found on CCTA’s website.

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