The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Even before the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre opened its blockbuster production of Phantom of the Opera last October, director Everett McCorvey knew there was only one show to do for an encore: Les Miserables.
So, the day after Phantom closed, McCorvey says he wrote a letter to the show’s original Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh, telling him of the success of Phantom, which sold out 11 performances at the Lexington Opera House, and asking if he could get the rights to Les Miz.
Mackintosh forwarded the request to the show’s rights administrators and UK Opera received permission to stage the Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical Oct. 10 to 20 at the Opera House. Like Phantom, this will be the first time a full production of Les Miserables has been presented in Lexington, as the Opera House is too small to accommodate the stages and sets of the show’s professional touring productions.
The full-Broadway version of Les Miserables just recently became available to colleges. Nashville’s Belmont College was the first to present it, in March.
The School for Creative and Performing Arts did present the school edition of Les Miserables at the Opera House in March, and has presented that version before. The Oscar-winning film version of the musical brought it back into pop-culture consciousness late last year.
McCorvey said the UK production will be similar to the near $400,000 Phantom production and involve many of the same personnel, including stage director and set designer Richard Kagey, music director John Nardolillo and choreographer Susie Thiel. Auditions will be later in April, so cast members can work on their roles through the summer.
There will be more performances of Les Miz than Phantom with 13 public performances and two student previews. Tickets will go on sale in April 25 for the entire UK Opera season, which will also include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni March 6 to 9 and the annual It’s a Grand Night for Singing show-tune revue, June 13 to 22. (This season’s Grand Night is still to come, June 7 to 15 at the Singletary Center for the Arts.) Season tickets will be available only by phone, by calling (859) 233-3535 or at the Lexington Center Ticket Office. Available single tickets will go on sale in the fall.
Five singers won cash prizes and full scholarships to the University of Kentucky in the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition on March 3 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. The annual competition has become one of the premier vocal scholarship programs in the United States and has brought some of the top singers in UK Opera Theatre productions to Lexington.
Here’s a list of the scholarship winners, plus winners of other cash prizes:
1st Place Alltech Undergraduate Award, $6,000 plus tuition waiver: Willnard E. Anderson, Florissant, Mo.
2nd Place Bryant’s Rent-All and Kentucky Eagle Undergraduate Award, $4, 000 plus tuition waiver: Samantha Williams, Alexandria, Va.
3rd Place Cavalier Distributing Undergraduate Award, $2,000: Matthew Pearce, Union.
The Barbara Rouse Kentucky Prize, $5,000: Sydney Jahnigan, Lexington.
Kentucky Eagle Undergraduate Enthusiasm Award, $1,000: Sarah Rice, Hager Hill.
Bio-Cat Undergraduate Encouragement Award, $1,000: Meredith Ernstberger, Louisville.
Barlow and E.A. Ackerman Dairy Products Inc. Undergraduate Musicianship Award, $1,000: Taylor Harr, Pikeville.
Undergraduate Encouragement Award, $500: Irene Kelly, La Crosse, Wis.
Kentucky Eagle Transfer Student Award, $4,000: Beatriz Paroni, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
1st Place Alltech Graduate Award, $12,000 plus tuition waiver and graduate assistantship: Ryan Traub, Nashville, Tenn.
2nd Place Alltech Graduate Award, $8,000 plus tuition waiver and graduate assistantship: Iris Fordjour-Hankins, Detroit, Mich.
3rd Place Alltech Graduate Award, $5,000 plus tuition waiver and graduate assistantship: Shareese Johnson Arnold, Sheffield, Ala.
Cavalier Distributing and The Gail Robinson Musicianship Award, $2,000: André Campelo, Lexington.
Kentucky Eagle and Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens Graduate Musicianship Award, $1,000: Holly Nicole Dodson, Houston, Texas.
Kentucky Eagle Graduate Enthusiasm Award, $1,000: Jonathan Macarthur Parham, Cordele, Ga.
Kentucky Eagle Graduate Encouragement Award, $1,000: Nicole Sonbert, Durham, N.C.
Graduate Encouragement Award, $500: Marcus Simmons, Philadelphia, Pa.
The administrators of the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera have gone to great lengths to make sure the student productions they authorize are student productions.
No faculty appearances, recent grad cameos or guest artist ringers in the top spots. The performers in these shows have to be enrolled students.
And the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Phantom, which opened Friday night at the Lexington Opera House and runs for 10 more performances through Oct. 14, succeeds because of the students. The chandelier could defy gravity, the boat could not float and there could be nary a spark on the stage, and this still would be a great production because of the student singers and actors that grace the stage.
Lexington has been waiting nearly 25 years for this show, and it got a good one.
A student production was pretty much the only way the Bluegrass was going to see Phantom any time soon. It is still running on Broadway, so producers aren’t granting rights to independent theaters to produce it, pro or otherwise. And none of the national tours of the show have been physically or economically feasible to present at the Lexington Opera House. But a couple years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s group decided to authorize the show for high school and college student performances, in large part as a gesture of support for arts education.
Fortunately for Lexington-area theater fans, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre got the show, and as is the troupe’s habit, they have done it up right with a $300,000 production that comes with all the frills Phantom fans have come to expect including ginormous set pieces, cool features and pyrotechnics.
But we need look no further than Michael Bay movies to know productions can be big and flashy but have no soul. That’s where Phantom director Richard Kagey and the triple-cast performers come in.
Friday’s opening night cast, scheduled to perform again Saturday night, Thursday night and the Oct. 14 matinee, featured Jacob Waid plumbing the depths of the Phantom’s story for a heartbreaking performance and Rebecca Farley in a stunning turn as Christine. When she sings, “And through his music my soul began to soar,” her voice takes flight. Both nail all of their signature tunes, Think of Me for Christine and Music of the Night for Phantom, along with Elliot Lane who sings a gorgeous All I Ask of You as Raoul, Christine’s true love.
They are supported by a sometimes brilliant ensemble including Arianna Afshari and Evan LeRoy Johnson as the Paris Opera’s buffoonish leading soprano and tenor and Daniel Koehn and Jermaine Brown Jr. as the exhausted company directors, all of who skillfully make the show funnier than we remember it or thought it would be.
Here’s the real striking thing: A lot of the principal cast, including all three Christines (rounded out by Elizabeth Maurey and Monica Dewey) are undergraduates. Waid is a junior. This is in a company that leans so heavily on graduate students it had to establish an annual show specifically designed to give undergraduates a chance to perform. Here, they are shining in UK Opera’s biggest production ever. Some may tut, “Well this is a musical, not a real opera,” but it is a musical with extremely serious singing from the solos to intricate ensembles such as Prima Donna.
Phantom is a big show with lots of moving parts and in this production, they don’t always move great together. Quite a bit of dialogue was lost to blasts of orchestra — which overall sounded splendid under John Nardolillo’s baton — and the microphone system let singers down numerous times, particularly Lane, who frequently sounded like he was singing over a cell phone connection. There were also a number of times performers looked lost, like the doubles for Phantom and Christine crossing the bridge for the first time.
One big thing that worked very well is the dance ensemble with impressive synchronicity under second-year dance instructor Susie Thiel.
If ever there was a critic-proof production in Lexington, this is it. Before opening, this Phantom sold most of the tickets for its 11 show run (a performance at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 was added Friday) at the 866-seat Opera House. Those fans can turn out assured they will get their money’s worth.
The Lexington Opera Society has announced its fall lineup of lectures by musicologist and vocal coach Tedrin Blair Lindsay, also a freelance music and theater critic for the Herald-Leader. Lindsay has presented the popular lecture series for several years now, offering insight into upcoming University of Kentucky Opera Theatre productions as well as the genre of opera in general. This year’s classes are as follows:
Sept. 29: The Phantom of the Opera and the career of Andrew Lloyd Webber
Oct. 6: Falling in love with opera: How to enjoy, appreciate, and understand opera
Oct. 13: Unlocking your inner critic: What to listen for in opera singers
Oct. 20: Unlocking your inner musicologist: What makes a great opera composer
Oct. 27: Larger than life: Opera’s most colorful scandals, shockers, and triumphs
Nov. 3: Does It matter? Opera’s relevance in culture past and present
All classes are at 10 a.m. in the Schmidt Vocal Arts Center on Rose Street, across from the Singletary Center for the Arts on the University of Kentucky campus. Classes are $20 for the general public, $5 students. Reservations are not necessary.
When The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway tonight, two University of Kentucky graduates will be on stage. Andrea Jones-Sojola is playing the Strawberry Woman and understudies the roles of Clara and Serena. Phumzile Sojola is Peter, The Honey Man and understudies the role of Robbins.
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess stars four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Bess and film star David Alan Grier as Sporting Life. Fort Knox native Suzan-Lori Parks, whose numerous awards include the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, wrote the book for the Broadway version which is directed by Diana Paulus, who brought the Public Theatre’s revered revival of Hair to Broadway in 2009. The production has been the subject of some controversy for alterations to the original music and book by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward.
While at UK, Louisville native Jones-Sojola sang roles with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre such as Laurie Moss in Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land and Despina in W.A. Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Sojola, a South Africa native, sang Pinkerton in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Don Jose in Georges Bizet’s Carmen. They met and married while they were at UK as students of Everett McCorvey and have sung in McCorvey’s American Spiritual Ensemble. Sojola sang in the Off-Broadway show Three Mo’ Tenors, and Jones-Sojola appeared in its female counterpart Three Mo’ Divas.
The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is the Broadway debut for both singers.
Jul21Filed under: Balagula Theatre, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Film, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Opera, Photography, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: allocations, Balagula Theatre, Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, Central Kentucky Concert Band, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, grants, Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Kentucky Craft History and Education Association, Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Kremena Todorova, Kurt Gohde, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Bach Choir, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Living Arts and Science Center, The African American Forum, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
LexArts has announced its recipients of general operating support and community arts grants.
The general operating support funds are unrestricted grants, generally to larger organizations in Lexington.
This year’s recipients are:
■ Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, $20,000
■ Lexington Art League, $62,000
■ Lexington Children’s Theatre, $120,000
■ Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, $165,000
■ Lexington Singers, $9,000
■ Living Arts and Science Center, $102,000
Community Arts Grants are given at two levels: Program grants to groups for operating support and specific endeavors and project grants to groups or individuals for specific projects.
Program grants go to:
■ Balagula Theatre Company, $8,600 – for its 2011-12 theater season
■ Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, $8,600 – for the Kentucky Great Writers Series, which brings 12 Kentucky authors to the center to work with writers
■ Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, $4,000 – for the 2011 festival
■ Kentucky Ballet Theatre, $8,400 – for the 2011-2012 season of performances
■ Kentucky Craft History and Education Association, $3,000 – for Stringed Instruments, The Art of the Luthier, a documentary film about stringed instrument-making in Kentucky
■ Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Inc., $7,500 – for the 2011 event
■ University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, $5,000 -for the Academy for Creative Excellence, which provides theater and music training for first through eight graders
Project grants go to:
■ The African American Forum, $1,500 – for The Smooth Jazz Fest
■ Artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, $2,500 – for 1000 Dolls, a project to create and install 1000 local-designed dolls along Limestone
■ Central Kentucky Concert Band, $1,750 – for the closing concert of the 2011-2012 season
■ Lexington Bach Choir, $1,000 – for the 2nd Annual Lexington Bach Choir Vocal Competition in which students age 30 or younger compete for cash and a solo opportunity with the Bach Choir
May5Filed under: Opera, SummerFest, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Arboretum, Bo List, Christopher Baker, Dmetrius Conley-Williams, Frank-N-Furter, Frankenstein, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, Mary Shelly, Nick Vannoy, Rent, Richard III, Sidney Shaw, Spencer Christensen, SummerFest, The Rocky Horror Show, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, Wesley Nelson, William Shakespeare
Kentucky Conservatory Theatre’s SummerFest has its monsters lined up for the annual event July 6 to 24 in the Arboretum on Alumni Drive. The theme for the season is monsters, with trio of shows featuring monstrous characters in numerous forms.
Dmetrius Conley-Williams will play the title role in William Shakespeare’s Richard III to open the event, July 6 to 10, in a production directed by Sidney Shaw. Conley-Williams’ credits include numerous Shakespeare roles at venues including the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University and the Moscow Art Theatre in Russia.
Bo List’s adaptation of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein will play July 13 to 17 with Spencer Christensen as Dr. Frankenstein and Nick Vannoy as the creature. Christensen played the title role in the Lexington Shakespeare Festival’s 2005 production of Cyrano and Vannoy was Tom Collins in last year’s Summerfest production of Rent. Vannoy will be in the acting apprentice program at Actors Theatre of Louisville for the 2011-12 season.
The season closes with University of Kentucky Opera Theatre singer Christopher Baker as Frank-n-furter in the July 20-24 production of The Rocky Horror Show directed by Wesley Nelson.
For complete cast lists and more information, visit summerfestlex.org.
Apr25Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Opera, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: A.R. Gurney, Alicia Helm, College of Fine Arts, Dylan Dean, Everett McCorvey, Guignol Theatre, Louisiana State University, Love Letters, Michael Tick, Pulitzer Prize, Swine Palace, Tuska Center for Contemporary Art, UK School of Music, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Central Kentucky theater goers are used to University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey and his wife, soprano Alicia Helm, hitting high C’s and other skyscraping notes when they take the stage.
Friday and Saturday though, the drama will be more intimate, though still intense.
McCorvey and Helm, who are married, will perform in Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play that follows a couple from grade school to middle age through their letters to each other. The production in the Guignol Theatre will be the first show at UK directed by Michael Tick, the new dean of the College of Fine Arts. Tick came to UK last summer from Louisiana State University, where he was chair of the theater department and artistic director of Swine Palace, a professional theater affiliated with the LSU theater program.
The show will include musical interludes by students in the UK School of Music and it’s paired with UK graduate student Dylan Dean’s master of fine arts exhibit in the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art across the hall from the Guignol Theatre.
Performances will benefit faculty research at the UK College of Fine Arts.
Tuesday night I got out to rehearsals for the second production by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre Undergraduate Studio, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which runs April 15-17. After talking to director Margo Buchanan and music director Dan Chetel, I caught a good chunk of Act I rehearsal and took some photos.
Mar3Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, Current Affairs, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: 42nd Street, Carl Hall, Cats, Chris Isaak, Emmylou Harris, Gustavo Dudamel, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Kathy Griffin, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Franklin, Michael Grice, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Norton Center for the Arts, Porgy and Bess, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steve Martin, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic
The afternoon of Feb. 6, I was standing in line at the Singletary Center for the Arts box office behind a handsomely dressed couple that looked like they had just come from church to see the final performance of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess.
When it was their turn to be served, the man held out his credit card, and the ticket agent said, “I’m sorry. This performance is sold out.”Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown as Bess in the sold-out Feb. 6 performance of the UK Opera Theatre production of “Porgy and Bess.” Photo by Tim Collins for UK Opera Theatre.
That’s become a more common occurrence at Lexington-area shows recently. Just this weekend, Rupp Arena presents a sold-out performance by country star Jason Aldean Friday night, the Lexington Opera House hosts two sold-out performances by theBeatles tribute show Rain and Saturday night’s concert by violin legend Itzhak Perlman and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is so sold out even people who know people couldn’t get tickets.
This follows recent sold-out or near sold-out shows at those venues by artists such as pop star Chris Isaak, comedian Kathy Griffin, the touring production of Spamalot! and country stars Rascal Flatts, Rupp’s first non-UK basketball sell-out of 2011.
So, is the sell out back? Is a recovering economy starting to show up at the box office?
Well yes and no, venue directors say.
Yes, things do seem to be better than they were in the depths of the great recession in 2008 and ‘09. They also see other factors from a string of very popular acts to a pure desire on consumers’ parts to go have fun to ticket prices coming back to earth.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich