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By Olga Rodriguez-Walmisley | @KyKernel
On what could have been another humdrum Thursday night in June, UK Opera Theatre instead transformed the stage at the Singletary Center for the Arts into a magical space bursting with color, glitter and talent in “It’s A Grand Night For Singing!” transporting the audience to the world of Broadway for the second weekend in a row.
The musical revue, now in its 21st consecutive year, was created by Everett McCorvey, producer and executive director of the UK Opera Theatre, and James Rodgers, professor emeritus, in 1992 as a means of showcasing the talent of UK’s students.
Rodgers said there were a large number of people who couldn’t be worked into musicals, but this show “gave us the opportunity to do a large musical and mix the community with students,” thus including more students as well as the community.
“Grand Night” also gives opera students a chance to experience styles they don’t normally work with.
The night started off with an exuberant “Willkommen” performed by McCorvey under hot pink lights, soon to be joined by the rest of the cast who filled the stage with jewel-toned gowns and plenty of energy. The night was filled with captivating performances that flowed seamlessly together, all under an ever-glowing moon and twinkling stars.
The show also includes humor in ample amounts: Tendrin Blair Lindsay, arranger and associate musical director, strode onstage after the intermission dressed as Liberace, flinging his coat to the ground and then whipping his hair dramatically before performing the piano medley, A Solute to Wayne Newton in the Style of Liberace.
Numbers from recent Broadway hits were also performed. During the first half of the show, a troupe of cheekily confident children bounded onstage to perform, Revolting Children from “Matilda the Musical.” Their grins and energetic performance radiated as they rebelliously pumped their fists in the air.
One cast member, Greg Turay, an artist-in-residence at UK, performed in the first-ever “Grand Night” back in 1992.
Turay originally came to UK on a baseball scholarship, but then discovered his voice and decided to pursue music. On Thursday he delivered a powerful, heartfelt solo, Love Changes Everything, from “Aspects of Love.”
This year’s edition of “Grand Night” includes a cast of 50 adults, a chorus of 13 children and an orchestra of 23 musicians. The youngest member of the children’s chorus is 4 years old, while the ages of the main cast range from high school students as young as 16 to “up until you can’t dance no more,” cast member Maggie Blair said, who has performed in the show for the past five years.
In this year’s show, Blair sings a duet with UK senior Ron Wilbur who is majoring in musical education and vocal performance. Together they sing You’re the Top from “Anything Goes.”
“We love our number together,” Wilbur said, which is evident in his and Blair’s playful interchanges onstage. Wilbur said he enjoys being a part of the show because “it’s really cool to see how the audience responds.”
This is Wilbur’s second time performing in “Grand Night.” He will graduate in December.
Blair also cites the audience’s reaction as a source of satisfaction.
“Dr. McCorvey always says that we are responsible for getting the audience to respond and bringing energy to the performance, and tonight we really brought it, because the audience really came to life,” Blair said.
The audience’s enthusiasm was especially evident during the final number, “It’s a Grand Night for Singing!,” when the cast spread across the stage, spilling into the audience as McCorvey invited the audience to join in on the singing.
Audience member Jose Manuel Cañibano, who is a doctoral student from Spain in the Hispanic studies department at UK, described the show as “a great selection of American musical history.”
“The lead singers were moving and the choreography was good,” Cañibano said.
Graduate student Aída García Revuelta, who is finishing a masters in hispanic studies, also enjoyed the show.
“The orchestra was really good. The show was funny and I like that it was interactive — it was the best ending ever,” Revuelta said. “It was really good to see everyone standing up, clapping and singing along.”