The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Celebrate Broadway! - June 19, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
High Voltage is a spin-off of the El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT), the youth theater operation that rakes in Elly awards year after year. Since I discovered EDMT for myself a couple of years ago, I have attended every one of their shows, and I have come to recognize many of the young performers of High Voltage. To me, they are stars, who continually amaze me with the quality of their work.
Their performance this past Tuesday evening at Three Stages in Folsom was up to the standards they set in the previous two shows that I have seen. This particular event was a departure from their two-public-shows-a-year pattern. It was a benefit performance for Sacramento’s Shriner’s Hospital for Children, something added late in the season. It seems that among the special, non-public performances by High Voltage, a recent one that was the most meaningful to these kids was the one they did at Shriner’s Hospital. And the experience made them want to do something extra to benefit that organization.
Tuesday evening’s performance consisted of 28 numbers (click here for the full program) that delivered two hours of pure entertainment for the enthusiastic audience. The selections were nearly all from contemporary Broadway musicals, and there was enormous variety among them, with pieces from well-known shows such as: Wicked, Les Misérables, Hairspray, Spamalot, Shrek the Musical, and Mary Poppins – as well as numerous lesser-known shows.
Most numbers involved ensemble singing, and it was all solid, often with sophisticated arrangements, delivered with energy, accuracy, and good articulation. (I believe each performer had their own mic.) But I’d say that at least half the singing consisted of solos or duets, and when one heard these, it was clear why the ensemble singing was so good. Nearly everyone who had any solo role displayed a strong, pleasing, Broadway-quality voice. In fact some of them were astoundingly good. For example, Helen Regula nearly brought down the house with her solo performance of “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy. The same was true of Lencia Kebede performing “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray. But I hate to single out individuals, because there were so many wonderful voices on display.
But it’s well to remember that these young people are first and foremost actors, and it was their stage presence and acting that really sold these numbers, as was especially evident in Helen Regula’s “Rose’s Turn.” And then there was the dancing.
The choreography in EDMT productions is always a highlight, and these High Voltage performances are no exception. Nearly every number in Tuesday night’s performance involved elaborate dance routines, most with moves that I, for one, have never seen before. I found myself marveling that these young people could keep those intricate moves in their heads and the words and music they were singing – and manage that incredible complexity with a smile piece after piece, often with no break in between.
And while I’m reliving the amazing dancing I saw, I have to mention “Whipped Into Shape” from Legally Blonde the Musical in which Angie Rose Wilson (a brilliant dancer throughout the show) led the others in dancing and singing, as they all were jumping rope (and performing a number of other complex actions with the jump ropes). It was stunning.
The variety of costumes was another extraordinary part of this show. Nearly every number involved a costume change for the performers, and the costumes were themselves impressive: original, complete, and coordinate with the music being performed. OK, Elphaba (from Wicked) wasn’t green, but her outfit was very witch-like. The costume changing must have been a terrific challenge for performers and their helpers backstage. Often I noticed a solo performer from a previous number run back onstage with a new costume to join the ensemble in progress. And once or twice, it seemed that they were a little out of breath when they had a solo line. And to me, running back to join the ensemble says something about the morale and work ethic of this organization. Once couldn’t help but notice it, and to me it’s a message that goes beyond the singing and dancing.
There was a bit of nostalgia about this performance, because it would be the last for many of those on stage. EDMT only involves young people up to the age of 20. When they hit 21, they move on. And that makes everyone sad, including me, because I’ve seen many of my favorites “graduate.” But the quality of EDMT and High Voltage will persist because the organization is so strong. These kids are trained as performers from a very early age, and the wonderful things they are able to do on stage begin in the minds of their mentors, Debbie Wilson (Director and Choreographer) and Jennifer Martin (Vocal Director). With the talents of these women and the support they get from an extensive organization, new young performers will take the place of those leaving, and will, no doubt, amaze and entertain audiences for years into the future.
The audience at Three Stages was a bit thin, as perhaps might be expected for a Tuesday night, though I know there are thousands of people out there who would have loved this show, but who are completely unaware of EDMT and High Voltage. It makes me wonder why professional-quality local performing organizations (and there are others) have to struggle so hard for recognition.
To some extent it was a partisan crowd on Tuesday night, with EDMT alumni, family and friends in the audience, but no one could doubt that the quick standing ovation at the end was earned. I’ve seen a lot of standing ovations lately, but for this there should have been something more – maybe standing on our seats to recognize an especially high level of achievement.