The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Stand Out Talent Performance Group & Concert Choir
Spring Concert - March 20, 2016
by Dick Frantzreb
My first surprise was reading in last Friday's Roseville-Press Tribune (on Saturday night) that I'd missed the debut of Stand Out Talent's (SOT) Performance Group and Concert Choir. According to the paper, the event had taken place that evening. The next surprise was a pleasant one: checking SOT's website I discovered that there would be another performance on Sunday afternoon. My first surprise came from the fact that I have followed Roseville's Stand Out Talent almost since it was started in 2010, and I've attended most of their plays and musicals. I've watched them closely, but apparently not closely enough.
I was there for the second offering of this ambitious show, which itself was one surprise after another. For example, when SOT's CEO Jennifer Bortz welcomed the audience, Nic Valdez, Music Director, was at her side. Nic has been the Music Director for many SOT productions over the years, and I've been impressed by the quality of his work. But this was apparently "his baby" and besides that, Jennifer mentioned that he was a few days short of his 20th birthday. There was clearly a lot of talent in this young person, and I was about to get a clue of the scope of that talent.
The first half of this afternoon's program involved the "Performance Group" — about 40 performers, nearly all of them high school age or younger, with most well short of high school age. They began with a big production, "King of New York" from Newsies with 9 girls tap dancing and 7 boys singing to the accompaniment of a recorded track. It was entertaining and full of energy, and it got me thinking that this whole event was going to be something special.
And indeed it was. I counted 18 numbers in this first half of the show. There was no printed program, and more than half of them were songs, presumably from Broadway musicals, that I couldn't identify. Most were solos, though some involved ensembles of different sizes. There was some kind of choreography or acting in each number, and the energy level was typically high.
To my mind, Stand Out Talent has two major thrusts. They mount impressive musicals or dramas which could feature both adult and child actors. But they are also a training organization, holding workshops, and giving young performers the opportunity to develop and display their skills. These young performers were at various stages in developing their vocal, dance, acting, and presentation skills. They were all fun to watch, but some were surprisingly good. There was the young fellow (I don't dare guess his age) who sang "Popular" from Wicked and poured so much character and comic acting into his delivery that I'm can hardly wait to see him perform again. He was followed by a young woman who sang "Defying Gravity" from Wicked with such a big voice from such a small frame that I had to turn to the man next to me (whom I didn't know) with a comment, "That was amazing!" to which he quickly agreed. Then there was a red-headed girl who performed a number unfamiliar to me with such personality and stage presence that, to my mind, she could have stepped right into the lead of Annie (without a wig) if it were being staged anywhere locally.
Toward the end of this first half of the show, all the performers were on deck, singing and dancing in "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray. This fast-paced homage to the rock and roll of the 1960s never fails to get me (and I bet other audience members) moving, and the SOT performers really captured its spirit. Next was a major change of pace with a fine solo in "All Good Gifts" from Godspell. The first half of the afternoon's entertainment ended with a song unfamiliar to me. It was "When You Believe," written by Stephen Schwartz for The Prince of Egypt and popularized by Mariah Carey and Whiney Houston. With the repeated lyric, "There can [will] be miracles when you believe," it captured perfectly the significance of all that we had just seen and heard from those budding performers, giving words to their unspoken aspirations.
After intermission, it was Nic Valdez's show, with the introduction of the SOT Concert Choir. With one or two exceptions, these were different people from the mostly children we had seen earlier. There were 20 singers — all adults — 14 women and 6 men. And I would consider them more of a show choir than a concert choir. For one thing they were all on mic, something you only see in show choirs and jazz choirs. For another thing, each of their numbers was differently staged and choreographed, with the theater going to black between each selection while different ensembles assumed their places. For the most part the accompaniment was live (drum set and 2 synthesizers), and everything was performed from memory.
Although I wouldn't call them a "concert choir," this was clearly a concert — and one of the most varied and creative I've seen. They began with the rousing "Brand New Day" from The Wiz. With every voice amplified, they made a big, impressive sound as they moved through a variety of formations. Then the singers sat in a "U" formation on the stage, facing the audience, singing "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" from the movie Lilo & Stitch, while a video from the movie played on a screen behind them. As they sang, I was conscious of the good harmony I was hearing — and the mature voices, in contrast to the mostly young voices I heard before intermission. Toward the end of the song, one singer stood to perform a hula, joined by the rest, as they built to a high-energy finish.
Next was a solo in a song I didn't recognize, then a duet plus chorus in "One Short Day" from Wicked. For the next song, involving just the women, they looked more like a chorus with Nic Valdez in front directing and live accompaniment from the two synthesizers. The song was "No One Is Alone" from Into the Woods. To my ear, it was an excellent presentation of this inspiring song with a pleasing vocal blend. What followed was another song from Into the Woods, "Children Will Listen," sung by 3 girls who had been part of the first half of the afternoon's show. Then an ensemble of seven gave an uplifting performance of a song I didn't recognize, but that I think was titled "I'll Be There for You."
Then came something quite different. If I recall correctly, all the songs to this point had involved live or recorded accompaniment. This next piece was sung a cappella. It was "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from the Disney movie, Cinderella. It was a beautiful arrangement, beautifully sung with Valdez directing as one of the 8 singers who stood in a tight formation.
The audience was then treated to another of the many surprises of the afternoon. Valdez performed "Pure Imagination" from the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, accompanying himself on the synthesizer. What surprised me was that he displayed a very fine voice, adding to his remarkable list of talents.
I didn't recognize the next song, but it included a nice tap dance routine. After it came a big production of "One Day More" from Les Misérables. When I say "big," I mean BIG. For a start, there was a good recorded accompaniment track backing up the whole chorus. There were solid incidental solos, and there was choreography. I thought it was the finale because I couldn't imagine a bigger number to end the concert with. Wrong. It was followed by one of the best solos I heard all afternoon — a beautifully understated performance of a song I’d never heard before: “Second-Hand White Baby Grand.” I later found out it was from the TV series, Smash, and I love the thought that it emphasizes, “Something second-hand and broken can still make a pretty sound” sensitively brought out by this soloist.
Nic Valdez was out front directing again for a delightful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. Then we heard from the spark of energy and support and coaching of all these people, Jennifer Bortz, who lent her Broadway stylings to a song I didn’t recognize.
Now we were ready for the culmination of this concert, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables. It began with singers entering the stage in step to the playing of a snare drum. They were soon joined by the children from the first half of this production, and with 50 people spread throughout the performance spaces of this small theater, it was all very stirring, and yes, even more appropriate for a finale than “One Day More.”
So this entire show was full of surprises, none greater than the fact that the choir only started rehearsing in February and that it was all staged with only one full rehearsal. In the introductions, Valdez noted that the choir had performed at Oakmont High School and for a retirement home. I hear a lot of choruses, and having heard what I heard Sunday afternoon, I have no doubt that this choir, new though it is, is ready to delight the larger public.