Straz Staff Highlight Reel: Our Fave Moments from “Carpool Karaoke”

James Corden stars in the next filmed theater performance from National Theatre Live, One Man, Two Guvnors. We think this is a fine time to mention our favorite bits from his hilarious skit on The Late Late Show.

ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS by Bean

James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors, for which he won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

The awkward Britney Spears one. The somehow-they’re-wrestling-on-a-stranger’s-lawn Red Hot Chili Peppers one. The LOL and then cry when Stevie Wonder calls his wife one. Oh! And the FLOTUS hand-dancing to Bey one or the road tripping to the Super Bowl with Chris Martin one. We give up. Just pick one. They’re all hysterical. Of course, we’re talking about James Corden and “Carpool Karaoke.”

James Corden struck gold when he managed to launch the now cult comedy skit on his late night talk show, The Late Late Show, which he took over when Craig Ferguson left in 2014. The first episode of “Carpool Karaoke” aired in 2015 when Corden asked a “friend” to help him get through traffic to work and the go-pro pans to Mariah Carey. [*wild audience applause* team-singing to “Always Be My Baby” ensues.]

mariah-carey-james-corden-carpool-karaoke-billboard-1548

Mariah Carey helping James Corden get to work in the first episode of “Carpool Karaoke.”

The formula has more or less been the same, whether the passengers are One Direction, Gwen Stefani or Lada Gaga: Corden in an SUV, needs company driving somewhere, famous person gets in car, they sing together. They may pick up friends (like George Clooney and Julia Roberts for Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”) or stop to play dress-ups (Justin Bieber) or, as mentioned, pull over to the curb for some “good man grappling” on a Los Angeles lawn (Anthony Kiedis won).

Most Americans don’t realize that James Corden, this lovable fanboy host, was a gigantic theater and television star in Britain before crossing the pond to headline the vamp-hours CBS talk show. Despite his recent Rolling Stone cover and Tony® Award for One Man, Two Guvnors, Corden continues to find himself pigeon-holed by Yanks as a talk show host although he spent several years hounded by British paparazzi for his fame as the character “Smithy” on the sitcom Gavin & Stacey.

james-corden_gavin-stacey

Along with Ruth Jones (left), Corden (right) co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in the BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey from 2007-2010.

We admit, we love him most for “Carpool Karaoke,” too (we are looking forward to the upcoming skit with Madonna almost as much as we looked forward to Lin Manuel-Miranda on Drunk History). In honor of Corden returning to his more auspicious comedy roots when he stars in the filmed version of National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors, we asked some of our dedicated Straz Center staff to reveal some of their favorite “Carpool Karaoke” moments.

Here they are.

“My absolute favorite was Adele. When he called her and said “Hello, it’s me . . . I was wondering if after all this time you’d like to meet” and then she comes and gets in the car. I also loved when he advised her she could have a better squad than Taylor Swift with Beyonce, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. He also got her to rap the Nikki Minaj “Monster” song which was classic!”—Jeanne Piazza, programming manager

“Favorite: when Adele double-takes directly into camera, artfully crafted eyebrows raised, as Corden starts belting out her own song, pleasantly surprised by his talent.”—Shannon Darby, production manager

“My favorite is when he had JLo (Jennifer Lopez) on his show . . . not that I’m a fan of hers, but because he asked her who was the most famous person in her phone and then she allowed him to send a text to my boy, Leonardo DiCaprio. The end result is totally hilarious and adorable.”—Amber Russell, ticket office supervisor

“My favorite moment was with Jennifer Hudson when she ordered the cheeseburger in the drive thru line for James Corden.”—Nicole Pockrus, production coordinator, education

And, of course, the “Broadway” one was a huge hit.

“Love the Broadway one, for obvious reasons. Growing up in NY as a professional actor, it captures exactly what I love most about being part of the Broadway/Theater community. Plus, it makes me miss NYC.”—Bill Rolon, corporate relations manager

“It’s the most amazing one ever. ‘One Day More’ at the end . . . Audra McDonald for the WIN! They are the perfect ensemble in this. You couldn’t have staged it better.”—Dr. Lauren Murray, music department chair, education

“The ‘One Day More’ pre-Tony Awards bit with Audra, Jesse, Lin Manuel and Jane. It hit at an inspiring time, considering we’d just begun rehearsals for Patel Conservatory Theater’s Les Miserables, School Edition.”—Suzanne Livesay, vice president of education

Illustrator Sam Spratt Draws from Life

When The Daily Show senior political correspondent Hasan Minhaj needed a dope illustrator to make pieces for his upcoming show Homecoming King, he called on his buddy Sam Spratt.

A Brooklyn-based digital painter—a classic oil technique used on computer tablets—Spratt graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010 and took to the internet via shared content while working as the staff illustrator for Gawker and Gizmodo.

Spratt’s work, which ranges from portraiture to the new wave of ultra-artistic advertising and promotion, pops up in incongruent places—from the Long Day’s Journey into Night theater poster to interpretations of Angry Birds. He also has an impressive list of comic drawings and hip hop album covers.

samspratt_longdaysjourneyintonight_keyart_poster_jessicalange

Sam Spratt’s first illustration for a Broadway play. Read more about it here: http://www.richardsolomonblog.com/2016/04/sam-spratt-long-days-journey-into-night.html.

redbird

Sam Spratt’s Red Bird. See more Angry Birds art here: http://www.samspratt.com/angry-birds-for-rovio/.

samspratt_logic_underpressure_deluxe_albumcover

Album cover for Logic’s Under Pressure (Deluxe). (Sam Spratt)

samspratt_gameinformer_vr_oculus_cover_january2016_front

Game Informer cover for the January 2016 issue. (Sam Spratt)

scotch

Study in Scotch. (Sam Spratt)

daenerys_720

Portrait of Daenerys from HBOs Game of Thrones. (Sam Spratt)

samspratt_foofighters_illustration_rolling_stone

Illustration of the Foo Fighters for Rolling Stone. (Sam Spratt)

janellebillboard

Illustration of Janelle Monáe for Billboard Magazine. (Sam Spratt)

Minhaj, whose show explores his personal story as it fits into the landscape of the American Dream, wanted a Norman Rockwell-eque style of vignettes that Minhaj covers (hilariously) in his show. The result is this small collection of Spratt paintings, “New Brown America,” with explanations by Minhaj as posted on http://www.homecomingkingshow.com.

hasan-minhaj-homecoming-king_busdavistext

‘Alone on the Bus’ by Sam Spratt / Some of my worst memories growing up were on the bus. I still don’t know how it’s a mandated policy to put 100 hormonal teenagers in a metal box for an hour and hope fights don’t break out; it’s basically World Star on wheels. Bullying and bus dynamics in middle school are complicated: at times visceral and blatant, but most days it came in a more subtle form: exclusion. On display and surrounding me daily was everything I hoped for: the flirting, the jokes, the high fives, the desire to fit in somewhere on the social hierarchy. The school bus was the most social form of isolation.

samspratt_finals__0000_grocery-hasan

‘Patel Brothers’ by Sam Spratt / Walk into any Indian grocery store and you’ll recognize a very distinct smell. I don’t know what it is; the daal, the dried Shaan masala, the bootlegged VHS tapes, but its uncanny and universal. The ambience is always a little left of what you’d see in a traditional grocery store, but the strangeness makes it familiar. The lights in the back flickered, the price tags were hand written and illegible, but the store owner knew customers by name and called my dad Najme Saheb every time we walked in. I miss those days, but I can relive them—even if its just for a moment—whenever I walk into a Patel Brothers.

samspratt_finals__0002_bicycle-hasan

‘Prom’ by Sam Spratt / By the time my senior year of high school rolled around I had never been to a school dance, I had been cut from the basketball team for the third year in a row, and I had just gotten off of Acutane. I was pretty much crushing it. Sneaking out of my house to go to prom was the most badass thing I had ever done. For the first time in my life I actually grabbed the reigns of an opportunity and just went for it. No matter the consequences, that night was the epitome of my American Dream.

samspratt_finals__0001_dailyshow-hasan

‘October 9th, 2014’ by Sam Spratt / Standup comedy really is the mafia. We all start off as runners in the streets in hopes of one day becoming made men. We pine away for years in the back of dingy bars waiting for that one opportunity that could change everything. On October 9th, 2014 I got the call to audition for one of the most intelligent, poignant, and talented political satirists of the modern era. I had been doing standup 10 years, 1 month, and 9 days when I was hired to join The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jon took a chance on me, believed in me, and changed my life forever. Dreams really do come true.

To see more of Sam Spratt, check out his website.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

Inside Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker rehearsal

img_7571Dance rehearsal smells like feet and moist leotards. There’s nothing elegant about it. When the dancers work hard, improvising corrections on-the-fly from choreographers and ballet mistresses, there is a locker-room funk suspended in the air from sweat-dampened dance clothes, breath and many bodies moving in one studio classroom.

So it was the night we caught up with Next Generation Ballet midway through their Nutcracker rehearsal schedule (which started in September) in room 302 of the Patel Conservatory. We sat in on a first run-through of Act II: Land of the Sweets (you’ll know it as the dance-of-the-sugar-plum-fairy part if you’re not familiar with the ballet) where all levels assembled: the adorable tots performing roles of caterpillars, the beginning and intermediate dancers in corps de ballet roles supporting the advanced dancers in solos (you’re in for a treat with the technical skill of the female NGB dancers) and more challenging small group parts (as the quartet of males performing the knee-punishing “Russian Dance”).

Rehearsals highlight the behind-the-scenes grit and grind that comprise a dancer’s life. In rehearsal, we see the dancers fall out of a triple pirouette, spinning to their shins. They slip on their red ribbons, create slapstick traffic jams exiting the stage and grimace as ballet mistress Ivonne Lemus yells corrections over the music, pushing dancers to extend into a higher diagonal in a leap. Artistic Director Philip Neal, decked out in the official NGB Nutcracker t-shirt, bobbed his head in time, barely blinking as he assessed timing, execution, phrasing, and technique during the deceptively organized chaos.

img_7598The excitement of catching a rehearsal at this stage—the moves and sequences are there but not quite mastered to perfection—is witnessing the work it takes to make a dance, with its stories and characters carried on a platform of technical physical challenge, congeal. As patrons of the arts, we’re often privy to the finished product, the flawless execution of art at the point where the dancers make the moves look easy.

Ellie Borick, 16, dances the Snow Queen and Dewdrop. “I love doing these roles. It’s challenging artistically and technically, but I have to get the role right and look beautiful doing it,” she laughs. “I’m excited to see the whole ballet come together. There’s so much color and life. When we finally get to put on our costumes and see each other in costumes, it gets very exciting, and I can’t wait for that.”

Eliot Wallace, 15, performs as one of the Chinese Dancers in the international section. In NGB’s interpretation, they incorporate 7-foot long red ribbons, which they must also twirl in a separate choreography to match their ballet sequences. “At this stage, we are working out not getting the ribbons tangled with each other, to make sure we keep the ribbon moving,” he says. “Right now, we know everything we have to do. But we still have kinks to work out, and we have to add a layer of expression to our performances.”

“Tonight is our first night running through the whole Act II,” says 17-year-old ballerina Amy Wilson. “We’ll be working to make it smoother. Timing is a focus at this point, making sure people know when to go on, how to get off stage.”

The dancers, unflagging in their spirits about fine-tuning an exhausting and demanding full ballet, draw together as a company, often applauding each other for particularly tough sequences (gawd the fouettes and pirouettes), and erupting in amazement at the jaw-dropping tumbling passes by the Acrobats. (We, too, were agape. See video above.)

Luke Guiterrez, 11, takes on several roles throughout the ballet, and you will see him first as Fritz, the little brother, and later as a Soldier and as part of the Polichinelle, the children who scamper around the Mother Matroyshka Dolls, the always delightful life-sized Russian nesting dolls. He is something of a cherished younger cast member and sums up the experience rather well:  “When you have a bunch of practices together and work so hard, when the show ends you wish it would keep going.”

img_7578

Left to right: Amy Wilson, Ellie Borick, Luke Guiterrez and Eliot Wallace.

Call Me Xalam, Banjar, Strum Strum or Merrywang

The story of America’s instrument

ngoni-halam-xalam-01

Xalam, or khalam, is the Wolof name for traditional stringed instruments from West Africa. (Photo: http://www.instrumundo.blogspot.com)

The meek and pluck-twangy sidekick to guitar and fiddle didn’t get its propers before Deliverance ruined an entire generation on banjo music and canoe trips to rural Georgia. The lone ambassador of a spectacular and truly (colonial) American history, the banjo is considered by folk musicologists to be the only original American folk instrument. The guitar and violin already existed in their current forms as did Celtic drums, piano and upright (a.k.a. “double”) bass. But the banjo . . . what’s up with that?

Known to Europeans as a banjar, bangie, banshaw, strum strum or merrywang, the banjo originated in the Gambia region of Senegal and traveled with enslaved Africans to the Caribbean, eventually inching north to the Southern plantations of America when enslaved people built their home instruments from local resources—gourds and animals.

An animal hide stretched over a gourd with three or four gut strings, this instrument, called a xalam in Africa, stayed among the enslaved, buoying their spirits and keeping them musically connected to their homeland and to each other, giving them an outlet for personal expression and propping up their dancing in the absence of traditional drums. (Interesting side note: when slavers took the Africans’ drums away out of fear of rebellion, the enslaved took up a practice called “pattin’ juba,” using their hands and feet for intricate clapping and stamping to hold the polyrhythms.)

Known to be some of the most gifted musicians in the new world, Africans often played for white communities, introducing them to polyrhythmic music and advanced singing techniques. So, the xalam’s American “banjar” form morphed in the 1800s when white folks fell in love with its sound and capabilities. Although “merrywang,” sadly, didn’t catch on as a popular name, it’s easy to see the short linguistic jump from “banjar” or “bangie” to “banjo.”

Thus, the banjo made a rather rickety bridge—but a bridge nonetheless!—across cultures, with this ungainly instrument as an unlikely taproot for diverse American folkways. The Africans trained others in their traditional “down-picking” style, which formed the basis for how to play American banjo. Anglos restructured the gourd design to a wood frame and added metal strings. Somewhere along the line the all-American fifth “drone” string appeared on this frame design with the frame itself shifting from wood to metal. Early historians credited this addition to Joel Sweeny of North Carolina though more recent study casts that claim into doubt, as longtime banjo maker Jim Hartel notes that African designs of xalams or calabash-style African banjos already included a short string similar to the drone. So, we’re not 100% sure how the string appeared, just that it did when the banjo diffused across the race line to be an instrument for everybody. That addition, however, made the contemporary banjo a uniquely American folk instrument—a circular monument to successful cross-pollination of cultural traditions (it’s unfortunate minstrelsy period notwithstanding).

Banjo maker Jim Hartel and Carolina Chocolate Drops frontwoman and ethnomusicologist Rhiannon Giddens give context and history of the minstrel banjo:

With the new sounds emanating from the open-backed, round body and metal strings, what we now recognize as “frailing” or the “claw-hammer” technique mastered by such banjo superstars as Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs evolved from the down-picking style. Banjo players today pull from both techniques, as evidenced by Newgrass legend Bela Fleck and incredible, Louisiana-based roots-musician Cedric Watson.

All hail the merrywang, a singular sound of our complex and important cultural roots.

Virtual Sensations

How social media and television talent shows changed performing arts programming

image-4

iLuminate placed third on the sixth season of America’s Got Talent.

Some baby-faced tween covers a Chris Brown tune on YouTube. It goes viral. R&B superstar Usher sees the video. Signs the kid to his label.

The kid’s name? Justin Bieber.

Beliebe it: so much of our culture rapidly evolved and adapted once folks figured out the marketing and promotional power of the internet, a virtual worldwide “people’s media.” Suddenly, everyone with access to a recording device, an internet connection and a computer could launch their own free channel on YouTube and be connected to billions of other people. There was absolutely no quality control, but the YouTube market and social community could, would, did and does—make people famous.

YouTube and other social media like Facebook, Instagram, Buzzfeed and Twitter remade pop culture into its current, over-saturated, digital shape, creating a parallel virtual world to real life, with many of us living in both—and almost everyone capitalizing on “see-me” wonderworld of the internet’s mass media platforms. On social media, it’s obvious what people like because videos go viral, shared repeatedly on Facebook or re-Tweeted, until hundreds of thousands or millions of people have viewed someone’s song, rant, dance performance, comedy routine—you name it. Then, sometimes, if you’re a Justin Bieber, you land on Usher’s iPhone and become a megastar.

The show business part of performing arts programming overlaps with pop culture because tickets must be sold, and there must be an audience who wants to pay money for the tickets. This fundamental formula of supply and demand eventually pushed performing arts centers to mine the talent fields at play on social media, following audience trends and taking social media seriously as a legit launch pad for performing artists with popular appeal.

Perhaps one of the biggest acts to launch itself onto the real-life stages of great performing arts centers is Postmodern Jukebox, a YouTube sensation of talented musicians and vocalists who make retro adaptations of popular songs. We had them here at The Straz last season, and the tickets went like hot cakes. YouTube also brought attention to musician Bo Burnham, who also performed here last season, and many of our Club Jaeb artists rely on YouTube and their self-promotion platform online to demonstrate their selling power when programmers, like our director of programming Chrissy Hall scouts talent.

“Well, the influx and prominence of YouTube has greatly increased the number of stars, but it tends to create a 15-minutes-of-fame-scenario,” she says. “So, the trick is finding a measure for whether the success will be more than a flash in the pan. A lot of it comes down to their prominence on social media—if they have a strong number of followers. Those numbers could indicate success in a live performance experience.  I watch the views their videos have on YouTube and the likes they get on social media, which informs the decision to book them or not. This process for fame is still relatively new, so a lot of it comes down to instinct, but, as analytics become more reliable, they help.”

The forerunner to social media, of course, was the TV talent show, an old-time game show template resurrected by Star Search, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. The same populace-meritocracy thread—that average people’s votes determine the winner—laid the foundation for the success with social media since winning-the-Internet depends on mass popularity.

A very interesting connection between these types of TV shows and live performing arts exists between American Idol and Broadway. Several contestants on the show later found a place for themselves on the Great White Way thanks to their ride on Simon Cowell’s gravy train. Constantine Maroulis, who ended up in sixth place in season four, pulled a Tony® nomination in 2009 for Rock of Ages. Jennifer Hudson made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple this year, and other notables include Clay Aiken in Spamalot, Jordin Sparks in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton hit In the Heights and Todrick Hall, who took over the lead role as Lola in Kinky Boots on November 1.

In our season and in the seasons of other prominent performing arts centers, you’ll find artists and acts from America’s Got Talent, The Voice and other road-to-stardom television talent shows. iLuminate, a dance performance company performing here November 20, stunned studio audiences with their high-tech, minimalist lighted costumes and hip-hop dance. Their talent and popularity was the right balance to propel them to a national tour. “We try to see if these groups from TV shows have the ability to convert their popularity to a following of ticket buyers. I monitor them on social media as well, but the sure bet is always peers in the industry. They’re the best resource for knowing who of this type of artist is best to book until our analytics processes get more developed,” Hall says.

With the cancellation of American Idol this year, it’ll be interesting to see what next-big-thing emerges from the screen-based entertainment industry and how that may affect what we see on performing arts stages around the nation. While we wait, we’ll just mind the gap with YouTube dance videos.

NOTE: Remember, fans, take a few minutes to learn about what is fair use and what is copyright infringement before you become famous on YouTube. Wired breaks it down in this article or you can just read over YouTube’s explanation.

The Piano Guy

The Straz Center official piano tuner Kevin Patterson on what it takes to keep the ivories in the pink.

image1

Our official piano tuner, Kevin Patterson, doing what he does best.

The average home piano needs a tune up about twice a year, but when your livelihood and music critics are on the line, a good concert piano gets its ivories tickled, twisted, polished and pricked before every single performance.

A piano tuner’s life is a good one: flexible hours, nice pay, a cool skill set with a high tool-level. Plus, if you tune pianos for the Straz Center, you occasionally get to rub elbows with some of the greatest pianists working today. At the very least, you’ll be charmed by our ever-entertaining backstage production staff.

Our official piano tuner is Kevin Patterson, and we like him a great deal. So does Rohan De Silva, whom you may know as the Steinway artist who accompanies world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. De Silva liked Kevin’s pre-concert work so much that he thanked our humble piano tuner by treating him to lunch.

“It was one of my most memorable experiences at The Straz. I’ve tuned for them twice now, and they also require a technician to check over the piano at intermission. Both times, the audience applauded when I finished the touchup tuning,” Patterson says. So, sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch, and, later, people at your job will clap for you. Like we said, it’s a good life.

800px-piano_strings_6

Piano strings.

The work itself requires an intricate and fascinating procedure that involves more than twisting tuning pegs to set a certain tension on strings. “The piano is an extremely complicated instrument,” Patterson says. “It needs constant maintenance at the professional level. They have thousands of moving parts, about 230 strings amounting to around 15 to 30 tons of pressure, depending on the piano’s length.”

A full grown African bull elephant weighs around 7 tons. So a piano has two to four full grown male elephants of pressure on the strings. That’s a lot of force on a lot of strings, so tuning can be a delicate, somewhat surgical endeavor.

To attain the standard concert pitch of “A440” (that’s the pitch A above middle C at 440 hertz), Kevin uses a tuner app on his phone for the first few notes then does the rest by ear, tuning by intervals then playing arpeggios and scales to double and triple-check his work. “It’s not simple mathematics,” Kevin explains about why he doesn’t use a tuner for all of the notes. “Tuned by machine, a ‘perfect’ treble end of a piano sounds flat to the human ear. So, you have to know what you’re doing to find the right pitch.” In other words, there’s an artistry to capturing the tonal context that requires a human ear to tune for other human ears.

photo-1

Kevin hard at work on stage in Morsani Hall.

Kevin has relative perfect pitch so prefers to tune by ear, which is how he was taught as an apprentice and in his formal Steinway training. His wrench, called a “tuning hammer,” works on the individual string while a “mute strip” or “rubber mute” provides the silencing of the surrounding strings so Kevin can work one string at a time. All in, a solid piano tuning takes about one hour.

But getting a concert piano into tip top shape requires more than tuning. There’s also “voicing” the tone, a low-tech technique of pricking the felt hammer with a needle to relax the fiber. This manipulation of the fibers’ pressure morphs a tinny tone into a warm, strong tone. On the flip side, if a tone is too flat, a drop of a lacquer solution on the felt hardens the fibers to produce a brighter sound.

“It can get detailed,” Kevin laughs. “It’s been said that a pianist is never fully satisfied with the piano condition. But, it’s my goal each time to get the piano as close as possible to its peak level of performance.”

Give ‘em the ol’ Razzle Dazzle

Need a song-and-dance cabaret act for your next event? Look no further than Ovation!, the Patel Conservatory’s traveling troupe of professionally trained entertainers for hire.

ovation

The Straz Center launched its first ever professional student cabaret ensemble, Ovation!, in a 2015 pilot program. Here, they perform in our TECO Theater.

For a few years, a delightful idea from the Patel Conservatory’s theater department rolled around in The Straz’s creative hopper: what if … is it possible … could we have a group of students trained and prepared to gig like any other working performers? And, could they collaborate with our food and beverage team to provide entertainment for public and private clients?

A few stars needed to align with timing and leadership – and, eventually, they did. Last year, the Patel Conservatory hand-picked 16 students who they invited to try out a pilot program to see if the idea could grow legs. Ovation! was born.

The 2016-2017 Ovation! ensemble

The 2016-2017 Ovation! ensemble prepares for its working season in the Straz Center Rehearsal Hall.

Under the vocal direction of Vice President of Education Suzanne Livesay and with choreography from theater faculty member Scott Daniel, Ovation! eventually congealed into a hybrid show choir and cabaret act able to perform medleys for public and private events. The group cut its teeth in-house, performing for the President’s Luncheon, the Patel Conservatory end-of-year Spotlight show and an Evening of Dance.

Eventually, Ovation! made its way into the world, entertaining at the Neiman Marcus holiday event and in Whole Foods during a fundraiser for the Patel Conservatory. Their big break came when Redstone Investments booked the group as a surprise for co-founder Jonathan Levy during their holiday gathering. The party organizers requested the Ovation! crew pretend to be random carolers – but instead of singing traditional songs, the medleys would be parodies of the company set to the tunes of holiday classics starting with “Jonathan the Levy,” a rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”

“It was fantastic,” says Patel Conservatory theater instructor Audrey Siegler. “Redstone died laughing. Everyone at the party was hysterical. Ovation! was a hit, and we knew we had something that worked.”

The gigs throughout 2015 defined and refined the shape of Ovation!, with the directors deciding to create customizable gigs depending on the client’s needs. “We have 10-20 minute medleys ready to go around Broadway themes, love songs, holidays. But there can be other themes, or a longer duration, and combinations of performers depending on what the client wants. We’re training talented young people to sing and dance. They’re prepared to go anywhere and perform to professional standards,” Siegler continues.

With the ground under its feet, Ovation! has deepened its training this season with Popular Dance program director Kelly King, a former Rockette, taking the helm as choreographer with Livesay. Auditions happened in August and will again in January. The Ovation! company rehearses weekly to keep the material and their performance chops sharp.

ovations-performance-number

Ovation! strikes a tableau from a show number. The company is for hire. All proceeds from Ovation! gigs go directly to Patel Conservatory scholarship funds.

“We’re still shaping and working out the logistics,” says Siegler. “We’re looking for more gigs this season, and anyone interested in hiring Ovation! – please contact us and we can work out a show for your event. All the booking fees go directly to the Patel Conservatory scholarship program, so the more they perform, the more opportunities become available for others.”

If you want to book Ovation! or get more information, please email audrey.siegler@strazcenter.org. If you are a Straz Center donor and would like to book Ovation! or get more information, please contact bill.rolon@strazcenter.org.