Late afternoon on the Singletary Center for the Arts stage, Grady Bowman is leading a group of singers including Gabrielle Barker and Emilia Bustle through their moves on "I Don't Know How to Love Him," the "Jesus Christ Superstar" number they will be singing in this year's "Grand Night for Singing" concert.
Barker frequently mirrors motions to the women, who quickly move through the pre-rehearsal session, preparing for the Tuesday night dress rehearsal for the show that opens Friday for a two-weekend run.
All of this seems like a normal production week before the mid-June Broadway and pop-song extravaganza, except for the people involved. New York-based Bowman is taking his first turn as Grand Night's choreographer, and while Bustle and Barker are veterans of the show, they and a number of other singers are stepping into brighter spotlights this year.
While last year's Grand Night celebrated the 25th anniversary of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre show, this 26th edition finds the production in transition, though if all goes well, the audience shouldn't notice.
Producer Everett McCorvey says that several departures from long-time performers in the town-and-gown production have created opportunities for new singers to step to center stage. And the departure of choreographers Lyndy Franklin and Jeromy Smith, whose Lexington Theatre Company moved up to presenting two shows this summer, made the production go look for a new dance leader.
"It was intimidating, because it had so much content in it," Bowman says of the initial pitch from director Peggy Stamps. "So I knew I'd have my work cut out for me."
The show contains 29 numbers from pure solos to all-performers-on-stage production numbers. And the cast varies from well-traveled performers who have done professional work to complete newcomers to the stage, or at least this type of production.
"They've been great," Bowman said. "I think it's been challenging for them — some more than others. They haven't backed away from that challenge. "
Actor Emilia Bustle said, "Grady has done an outstanding job, coming right in and not knowing anybody in Kentucky and getting us all up to the level he needed us at."
"One thing this production team does really well is find a way to feature someone's strength," UK music education graduate Isaac Jones says. "There's a way to highlight someone who really sings well, or if there's someone whose strength is dance, they put them in a number where they're featured as a dancer."
And it is a show that is open to even putting newcomers center stage. While she is a senior in music education, Taylor Wells has never been in "Grand Night" before but leads several numbers, including a featured solo of "The History of Wrong Guys" from "Kinky Boots."
"It's a big change, but it's so cool to be on this level and be surrounded by such a positive environment," said Wells, who is in the show with her younger sister, Hailey, who just graduated from Scott County High School.
The consensus in the performers, particularly the veterans, is the change this year has been good.
"I really like this year," Bustle said. "I think it's a brand-new, fresh feeling to 'Grand night' and the audience will see that when they come."
If you go
'Grand Night for Singing'
What: Broadway and pop revue presented by University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. June 8, 9, 15, 16; 2 p.m. June 10, 17
Where:Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.
Tickets: $45 general public, $40 senior adults, $13 students, $38 each groups of 25 or more