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.

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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.

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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.