A Jet all the way

A Jet all the way

Muse Machine performs Tonight as 2011 summer concert

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

The Muse Machine cast of ‘Tonight’

The Muse Machine cast of ‘Tonight’

The musical West Side Story is a complicated one — a challenge for any company to take on, let alone one whose youngest performer is a
6-year-old.

But it’s a challenge to which the members of Dayton’s Muse Machine, a nationally recognized arts education organization, stand up and say, “Let’s do it.” And it’s exactly that attitude that will carry the group’s upcoming summer concert performance of Tonight: The Songs of West Side Story & More, August 10 and 11 at the Victoria Theatre.

“The Miami Valley is filled with talented, caring, wonderful, mature and funny young adults,” said Douglas Merk, producer of the concert and director of student programs at Muse.

“These performers are great people and I guess that’s sort of the secret of Muse.”

Another special ingredient? The opportunities Muse Machine sees to bring its own finesse to every production. Take, for example, a classic musical like West Side Story. It’s been done time and time again, in countless venues throughout the world. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the style Muse has learned to call its own. Merk said one of the changes audiences will notice is a bit of lighter feel to a production that can be rather dark in its original form. In addition, the concert will not display West Side Story in its entirety, but rather certain song selections such as  “Maria,” “America,” “Somewhere” and many others. The concert will also feature music selections unrelated to West Side Story.

“West Side Story was the first Muse musical, so it’s a way to glance back while also looking forward by bringing new sounds and choreography to this great music,” Merk said in a news release. “We’ll be joined by exciting guests and we’ll also explore a few ‘related surprises,’ throughout the evening.”

Muse guests this year include a student orchestra performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” featuring internationally renowned pianist Leon Bates. This will be the second time Bates is performing this song with Muse Machine, having also appeared with the company in August 2001.

The evening will also feature appearances by talented, local gospel singers from the GSJ Youth Choir, as well as the nationally acclaimed Stivers Jazz Orchestra.

“What a great opportunity to put our own touch on the show (West Side Story),” Merk said of the show’s additions. “To put some of our best dancers and singers into these roles — that’s wonderful.”

As for the dance moves, Choreographer Lula Elzy, said her motto with the show’s sequences has been to “just have fun with it.”

“There are a lot of moments that [are derived from] West Side Story,” Elzy said. “But this has been a chance to reinvent.”

For 17-year-old Daniel Baughn, dance innovation has landed him and his fellow cast members a wide-open opportunity to explore their movements and
characters onstage.

“This is probably the most dance we have put into a show in Muse Machine’s history,” Merk said, “and Dan (Baughn) is one of the finer young dancers in the Miami Valley, so you will be seeing him on stage a lot!”

Other performers will have familiar faces for some audience members, since more than 200 Muse students will share the stage with alumni from previous Muse Machine productions.

“It’s a great chance for students to interact with alumni who are having successful careers,” said Luke Dennis, executive director of Muse Machine. “[The alumni] are always so gracious and they treat the current students like their peers.”

And, perhaps, it’s because those successful alumni see in those students exactly what the Muse Machine always saw in them: talent, hope and absolute proof that the young people in this world have something to give.

“We feel great about the next generation,” Merk said. “These kids are genuinely having fun and that just spills out into the performance.”

Surely that’s an infectious wave worth riding.

Tickets for ‘Tonight’ are available exclusively through Ticket Center Stage by calling
(937) 228-3630, visiting www.ticketcenterstage.com or at the Ticket Center Stage box office in the Schuster Center in downtown Dayton.

Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CarolineShannonKarasik@DaytonCityPaper.com.

About Caroline Shannon-Karasik

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