Nearly 50 performers gathered Monday night on a tiered stage in the Singletary Center for the Arts, dancing together in front of a black curtain with starry lights as bright piano music rang behind them.
“We’re a special kind of people known as show people,” the performers sang as they danced, throwing up their arms and moving with the music. Some performers wore just shorts and T-shirts, but others were decked out in tuxedos and sparkling evening gowns. The energetic cast was rehearsing for the 25th annual production of “It’s a Grand Night for Singing!,” a show presented each summer by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.
In celebration of the 25th year, choreographers Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith said the show will include some of their favorite numbers from past years, including the opening number, “Show People,” from the Broadway show “Curtains,” and “Lullaby of Broadway” from “42nd Street.” This year’s show also has more recent hits, including songs from the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
“I think it’s become a tradition,” Franklin Smith said of the annual production. “I think that a lot of Lexingtonians really look forward to it every year, and a lot of people love that they get to see a performance outlet for their community.”
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UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey has produced the show since it began. At the very first show, McCorvey expected an audience of no more than 200. He said more than 400 people filed into the auditorium.
“That’s when I knew we had a hit,” he said. The first show had fewer than 20 performers. It has since grown to about 80 this year, with numerous song and dance numbers to make one “grand” production.
McCorvey said he put the show together as a way for UK students to explore all the opportunities available to a performer in addition to opera. The production includes hits from Broadway, the pop charts, movies and musical theater — “there’s something in it for everybody,” he said.
Recent UK graduate Matthew Pearce will perform at “Grand Night” for the fourth time before he leaves Lexington for New York to study opera at The Juilliard School.
“It’s just so professional,” Pearce said of the five-weeks of preparation and rehearsals. “It’s a fun environment, but it’s a real environment. You know, you’re working with real choreographers; you’re working with real music directors. It’s just cool to have that experience.”
Pearce’s ultimate goal is to teach music like McCorvey, who he said has his “dream job,” and he hopes to continue performing during his time in New York.
Brock Terry, a UK graduate student and director of music at First United Methodist Church, said being a part of “Grand Night” has helped him with network and gain professional experience.
“The creative team is brilliant,” Terry said. “There aren’t many things going on in this area and of this scale.”
The choreographers, Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith, worked about 10 years on Broadway and with national tours before getting married and moving to Lexington, where Franklin Smith grew up. Together, they’ve choreographed “Grand Night” for seven years, and she called it “a wonderful opportunity to come home and get to know the community again.” The couple also direct The Lexington Theatre Company, which will present its third summer production, “Legally Blonde — the Musical,” in July.
In “Grand Night,” performers from the community sing alongside the UK students each year, creating an age range of more than 50 years.
“We all just get to be really good friends, because even though the rehearsal process is short, it’s really concentrated,” Terry said. “We’re putting so many hours in.”
He said the set is a mix of old and new, appealing to a wide audience by “bringing a little bit of New York to Lexington.”
Terry said, “From the singing to the dancing, to the lighting, to the orchestra, you are just not going to have another opportunity in Lexington to see something this grandiose.”
McCorvey said it’s a night for Lexington to see its talented performers, many of whom are on their way to perform professionally.
Emma Austin: 859-231-1455
If you go
‘It’s a Grand Night for Singing!’
What: Musical revue presented by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. June 9, 10, 16, 17, 2 p.m. June 11, 18
Where: Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.
Tickets: $45 adults, $40 seniors