Grand Night '12: A great experience for students - and audience
- A REVIEW -
Oxford – Vocal solos, ensembles, and dance ala review and Broadway were on display Friday and Saturday night last as the Department of Music presented the third annual Grand Night for Singing in Hall Auditorium on the MU-Oxford campus.
An extravagant production subtitled The Big Band Era, the event featured two hours of entertainment complete with live show orchestra conducted by Ben Smolder, the director and inspiration behind Grand Night. And a wonderful job he did.
The 30-member cast was extremely well prepared, especially when one remembers that the performers were all Miami students and were new to Broadway styles of dance and vocalization. Ensemble numbers, of which there were quite a few, were cleanly executed and convincing. Smolder, with the help of lighting and stage designer Nick Muni and choreographers Jay Goodlet and Kelly O’Neil, created a professional looking aura that enabled the audience to forget that the group onstage doing all the performing were not professionals. Stage movement was clean and effective.
The evening featured 22 fast-paced acts in two sets. Vocal soloists were uniformly strong, the highlight of which was Smile, sung by Maximillian Jansen, who gave a great deal of poignancy, conflict, heart, and warmth to his performance. There were tears in the audience.
The well-rehearsed student orchestra was augmented by members of the nine-piece Cincy Brass, which, during the evening, played two highly spirited solo spots of its own and lent professional solidity to the evening.
In the orchestra was pianist Tedrin Lindsay, a mainstay of Grand Night. A total professional, Lindsay was rock-solid in his support for the vocalists, in his concepts of style and tempo, technical prowess at the keyboard, and working within the ensemble. His solo rendition of Ol’ Man River, was, and I mean this as a sincere compliment, right out of Liberace.
Smolder is to be highly commended for his year-long effort to put Grand Night on the stage. It is a huge effort, and worth every moment from the views of both performer and audience. “The opportunities that this sort of production provides for the students is immense,” he says. University-wide auditions are held early in the fall semester and training ensues immediately. “The effects of exposure to the traditions of Broadway and musical review lasts a lifetime, and the sense of connection with the audience is an unforgettable experience.” He might have added that that connection is a two-way street.
Of this year’s repertoire, Smolder writes in his notes that “these songs, out of the Great American Songbook, have been at the forefront of our social consciousness, easing the pain of devastating war, challenging stereotypes, and shaping our opinions about race and religion, life and death, power and politics. But perhaps the most American part of this truly American art form is its sense of optimism. It is an honor to share this music with our students and to celebrate this unique part of our vast cultural inheritance with the Grand Night audience.” - James Olcott