It is not lost on the organizers of A Grand Night for Singing when the annual show tune-based revue is presented.
The six-performance University of Kentucky Opera Theatre production usually falls right on or after Tony Awards weekend, when Broadway is in the brightest national spotlight.
“Every year, we try to have two or three songs that are this year, the current season on Broadway, or on the pop charts,” associate music director Tedrin Blair Lindsay says. “The students really love it, because they are all current with what’s going on, because they’re all Broadway babies and they want to be in musical theater.
“On Sunday after the show, they are all gathered at various houses for Tonys parties.”
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And really, since its inception, one of the aims of Grand Night has been to train UK opera students to stretch beyond Puccini and Verdi and make them comfortable singing Broadway fare. The lion’s share of the show, which also features performers from the community, is show tunes that over the years have been presented in increasingly elaborate productions.
“That was sort of how the show was designed, back when Jim Rodgers and I were thinking about creating this sort of show,” said Everett McCorvey, director of UK Opera Theatre. “The idea was to put something together in five weeks that was super intense, start to finish in five weeks — and it actually wasn’t five weeks, it was four weeks, before we added all the dancing — and the idea was to give them that high-intensity experience because the reality is that’s what happens on Broadway.
“Sometimes you have two, three, four weeks to put up a show, and it’s gotta look good, and it’s gotta work. So I wanted them to have that experience here, before they go to New York.”
There’s a two-way road between Grand Night and Broadway. Singers who have appeared in the show have gone on to sing on Broadway stages and at the Metropolitan Opera. Stamps recalls a recent return visit from Phumzile Sojola, who went from UK to perform in Broadway productions of Cinderella and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and is on tour with Phantom of the Opera.
Members of the creative team include Broadway vets, most recently choreographers Lyndy Franklin Smith, who was the dance captain in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, and her husband, Jeromy Smith, whose stage credits include national tours of 42nd Street and Swing! and management work with Broadway productions of August: Osage County and Blithe Spirit.
“They know the requirements,” McCorvey says. “To teach our kids with that sort of specificity about what makes a number work is just amazing to watch.”
Lyndy Franklin Smith says, “Jeromy and I walk in with the idea, ‘This is what we’re going to do, no questions asked,’ and they rise to what we ask them to do, and it’s beautiful. I get emotional watching them.”
They essentially teach a number a night, with 10 days to get 11 songs they are choreographing together, she said. This year, Smith says, they set a Grand Night partner-dancing record with more than 20 couples on stage for one number.
More dance is just one of the many ways Grand Night, which celebrates its 25th edition next year, has changed since its inception in the 1990s. Technology has played a role. Director Peggy Stamps says they used to record numbers and exchange ideas on cassette tapes, and now they are sending mp3s to each other via Dropbox, and entire rehearsals are video recorded and downloaded to a computer server, so anyone in the cast can access the recording at home to practice.
McCorvey says he and Lindsay will work together on arranging a number, record it on one of their phones and then send the recording to arranger Johnie Dean, “Johnie will send it back with a complete orchestration, vocal parts and everything. It’s beautiful.”
“It would be impossible to do the show the way we do it, if not for technology,” Lindsay says.
The way they do it is somewhat on the fly. Gone are the days of Rodgers and Hammerstein themes or movie music nights. Grand Night is now an annual revue of songs classic and as current as possible.
That brings up a question: Will we hear a number from a certain show up for 16 Tony Awards on Sunday night? The Grand Night brain trust says you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out.
If you go
A Grand Night for Singing
What: Annual town-and-gown showtune and pop-song revue presented by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. June 10, 11, 17, 18; 2 p.m. June 12, 19.
Where: Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, 405 Rose St.
Tickets: $45 adults, $40 senior adults, $38 each for groups of 25 or more