On Broadway

Dayton’s Guys and Dolls present Best of Broadway

By Joyell Nevins 

Photo: Artistic Director Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will accompany the stars of Human Race

It’s hard to tell who’s going to have more fun at the The Kettering Health Network SuperPops Series Concert Best of Broadway show put on by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra – the audience, the orchestra or the Human Race performers and guests. The night of music brings together a host of Daytonians, and Daytonians at heart, in a mix of classic and contemporary Broadway music, staged with a full orchestra.

“Working with Neal [Gittleman] and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is a dream,” Kevin Moore, producing artistic director of the Human Race Theatre Company, said.

Gittleman is the artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic. Moore’s and Gittleman’s groups have worked together in the past – they performed Guys and Dolls at Fraze Pavillion in July 2000 and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor in February 2005. In Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, the orchestra was actually part of the set, as the show took place inside a dissident’s head. The man is sent to an insane asylum, and part of his delusion is an orchestra inside his head.

“It went extremely well,” Human Race resident artist Patricia Linhart, who performed in Every Good Boy recalled. “The orchestra itself, aside from being talented, are just great people.”

Ever since that success, Moore and Gittleman have been trying to find another project to do together –  and the time to do it with their respective companies.

“It’s great to work with him – he’s adventurous and he steps outside the box,” Moore said.

Gittleman added, “We’re friends; he likes music, and I like theatre.”

The Best of Broadway idea was a perfect blend of music and theatre. Human Race performers will stage songs from 20 different Broadway shows, with the Dayton Philharmonic to accompany them.

“There is nothing greater in the whole world than singing with a full orchestra,” Linhart said. “It’s the most glorious experience.”

Linhart wasn’t the only one who thought so – according to Moore, the Human Race artists are generally “kind of slow” in their response time to emails. When he sent out an email about working with the Philharmonic, though, the response time was noticeably quick.

“There were a lot of immediate responses, saying things like ‘Sounds great!’ and ‘Yes, I’m in!’” Moore said.

How it began

To prepare the program, Moore and Gittleman, along with Human Race resident artist Scott Stoney, sat down with a list of their favorite Broadway songs. They started with a list of almost 50 – and whittled it down to 20 for the show.

“The hard thing was to choose what shows didn’t go in the program,” Gittleman said, noting there could be a Son of a Best of Broadway show with all the “reject” songs.

The men looked not only at getting a variety of Broadway styles, but matching up the songs with the people they knew were going to sing them.

“It does no good to pick the perfect song without the perfect singer,” Gittleman said.

The song list includes solos, duets, small groups and full company productions. Some of the music and staging was tweaked to fit the theatre group’s style. “At the Ballet,” a song from A Chorus Line, is normally three women singing about how their experiences at the ballet changed their life. For this show, though, the trio will be two females and one male.

“It opens up the material in a whole new light,” Moore said, grinning. “We think we’re being very clever.”

“At the Ballet” is in a segment of the show called “New Broadway.” Moore assures it’s “not too contemporary,” but does include songs from musicals like Rent, Cabaret and a nod to the British invasion through Evita and Les Misérables.

Another song both Moore and Gittleman are looking forward to is “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Sweeney Todd is the darkly comedic musical set in a poor part of London about a barber who kills his clients, and a woman who bakes them into pies. This song occurs when they’re deciding what to do with the first dead body, and includes plenty of plays on words.

“The whole song is tongue-in-cheek,” Moore said. “It’s a great wonderful piece of theater.”

Gittleman added, “It’s a dark piece of music, but very engaging.”

“A Little Priest” is part of the “The Steves” segment of the show, which pulls from musicals by both Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, The Baker’s Wife) and Stephen Sondheim (Follies, A Little Night Music).

The melodic “Send in the Clowns” comes from A Little Night Music and will be sung by Linhart. She originally performed in the Night Music production Human Race did in their Loft theatre – which holds nearly all of seven musicians.

“To sing that in the Schuster with an orchestra, woo! I’m getting weepy just thinking about it,” Linhart said.

The other two segments start and end the Best of Broadway show with “The Golden Age of Broadway.” The segments include music from classic shows like The Music Man, South Pacific, Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady. 

Who’s in it

While most of the singers are resident artists, there are some special guests as well. Claire Northcut, the 11-year-old daughter of two Dayton Philharmonic members, already has a full resume of musicals and orchestral productions, although this will be her first performance with Human Race. Jay Pierce and Michelle Zimmerman are no longer resident artists with Human Race, but still consider it their artistic home.

“I’m very excited [about the show], but I’m more excited to see the people I haven’t worked with in a while,” Pierce said.

His last performance with Human Race was in 2002. Since then, Pierce has been living in New York and working with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He has sung in their back-up band, been on tour and, most recently, worked behind the scenes getting musicians ready to perform in front of crowds of 10,000 or more.

“It will be just nice to sit in a theatre and enjoy theatre again,” Pierce said.

The last time Pierce was in the Schuster Center was for its grand Gala opening, where a star-studded evening included a brush with Ray Charles. This will be Zimmerman’s first time in the Schuster. She started having babies before it was built and is just returning to the stage after a break to raise her three children. Despite the length of time since rehearsing with the Human Race, they aren’t concerned.

“Once you hear someone sing and you know their voice, you fall back into really cool things,” Pierce said.

Sean Michael Flowers is the vocal director for the show and is doing the vocal preparation with the singers. Greg Hellems is the staging director, making the production more than just a “stand and sing” concert, according to Moore. Other artists include Kay Bosse, Deb Colvin-Tener, Jamie Cordes, Marya Spring Cordes, Scott Hunt and Katie Pees.

The musicians will have had three weeks to learn their songs in their respective homes, two weeks to practice with each other and a few days to bring the orchestra and the singers together.

And when the curtain goes up, the audience will have a few hours to enjoy a trip down Dayton’s version of the Great White Way.

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Human Race Theatre Company present Best of Broadway on 8 p.m. Friday, May 9 and Saturday, May 10 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. Tickets are available by calling Ticket Center Stage at 937.228.3630, or by visiting daytonperformingarts.org. Senior, teacher and student discounts are available at the box office. For more information, please visit daytonperformingarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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