Some of the area’s best young singers, musical theater actors and musicians will take to the stage at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club on Sunday for a unique performance of the seminal musical “Show Boat.”
The Young Artists of America, founded in 2011 by brothers Rolando and Kristofer Sanz, took 40 musicians and 41 singers from 30 different area schools for a few weeks of practice and training before the rare opportunity to perform musical selections with the help of a full orchestra.
“Ever since the beginning, we’ve been attracting a certain type of musician. No other organizations really do a full orchestra and full chorus and it creates some electricity,” Kristofer Sanz said. “We’ve really found ourselves a nice niche.”
The group rehearsed at Churchill High School, where Sanz is the school’s music director. He said the vocal component of the group is also rare in that it looks for more classically trained singers, as opposed to the Broadway-oriented programs that are more common.
“All those guys who have been hiding in the closet and just in their school choruses have been coming out with their beautiful voices that have had no outlet before,” Sanz said.
One of those voices is George B. Perry, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School who hopes to one day get a masters degree in music at a conservatory.
For Perry, who is in the Young Artists program for the second year, finding outlets to practice classical or opera music are few and far between. Over the summer, he went to the Washington National Opera Summer Institute and saw firsthand the talent and experience many kids his own age have with music theory schooling at arts schools.
“There’s a lot of competition out there. It’s going to be a challenge because I don’t come from that place,” Perry said. “I have to find that in myself, and I think that’s part of the allure.”
The Young Artists program claims it’s the first program of its kind to specialize in performing opera with high school students and a full orchestra. It provides after-school training and rehearsals that Perry said are invaluable, even if it comes in addition to a full day of school and private voice lessons.
“It’s like if you’re doing sports. You can instantly tell the people who practice a certain way or if they don’t practice enough. You can definitely tell in their performance,” Perry said. “You can see the gears working.”
It’s an admittedly time-compressed process. The performance will be more “musical in concert,” than musical, meaning there won’t be sets or big costumes.
But the performance standards are high. The singers and musicians all auditioned and many are among the best at their schools.
And for the singers in the group, “Show Boat” carries with it the extra challenge of stage acting. In a recent rehearsal, musical theatre coach Maureen Codelka had the actor playing Magnolia, the female love interest in the story, literally turn her back and walk away from actor playing the main male character as he admitted his love for her, a subtle technique to make the actors put more feeling behind the dialogue.
The show on Sunday will include a fundraising gala for tuition subsidies for students in the program, which goes year-round. Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl will act as master of ceremonies.
It’s the first time the gala has been attached to the musical. The company, funded by the Montgomery County Council of Arts and Humanities and a roster of private donors, started performing in 2011 at Strathmore. It has since packed the 1,000-seat Churchill High School auditorium. The Blues & Jazz Club will provide the setting for a cocktail hour and three-course dinner before the performance.
For more information or for tickets, visit the Young Artists of America website.