BWW Reviews: BROADWAY TENORS Wows Rural Virginia Crowd
The Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts exists to bring cultural programs to a rural Virginia area whose two counties have fewer than 25,000 people between them. On October 19th, the Foundation sponsored a trio from "The Broadway Tenors," a rotating group of about sixteen singer-actors who have starred in musical productions in major venues.
Brent Barrett, John Cudia, and Matt Cavenaugh presented song and dance classics and newer musical numbers to an appreciative crowd of almost 500 at the recently upgraded Lancaster Middle School Theater in Kilmarnock. Mr. Cavenaugh's rendition of "Oh What a Night," from Jersey Boys, had the crowd clapping in rhythm. The performers' banter generated laughs, especially when Mr. Barrett, 56, mentioned that he appeared as Tony in West Side Story in 1980, and Mr. Cavenaugh, 35, said that he played the same role in 2009. Mr. Barrett's "The Impossible Dream," from Man of La Mancha, and Mr. Cudia's "Music of the Night," from The Phantom of the Opera, seemed to mesmerize the audience. The trio received a standing ovation at the end of the evening.
The trio members have accumulated an impressive array of musical theater appearances in major markets. Mr. Barrett has appeared in key roles in such musicals as Annie Get Your Gun, The Pajama Game, and Camelot. He may be best known for his roles as Billy Flynn in Chicago and as one of two rotating Phantoms in the Las Vegas production of The Phantom of the Opera. Mr. Cudia is the only actor so far to have played both Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and the Phantom on Broadway. Matt Cavenaugh has played key roles in West Side Story, Grey Gardens, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Anything Goes.
Mr. Barrett, the Broadway tenor's founder, said his purpose was to give people employment "when they're not doing a regular gig on Broadway." He said that the idea originated in 1999, when his voice coach, Bill Schumann, who occasionally worked with Placido Domingo and the late Luciano Pavarotti, suggested forming a group modeled on the Pavarotti-Domingo-Jose Carreras "Three Tenors." Mr. Barrett and an actor-producer friend, Betsy Friday, founded the "Broadway Tenors" shortly afterwards. Upon Ms. Friday's untimely death in 2002, Mr. Barrett took over as sole producer. John Cudia said he joined the Broadway Tenors because he was interested in doing concerts. Matt Cavenaugh became involved when Mr. Barrett called him and asked, in Mr. Cavenaugh's words, "Schmuck, what are you doing this weekend?"
According to Kathleen Pollard, Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts' self-described "Girl Friday," and Loretta Warren, the 501(c)(3) organization's current president, the foundation was created by a group of retirees from suburban areas around Washington, DC. They missed the Kennedy Center and the rest of the cultural scene and decided to create similar opportunities in the Northern Neck.
The Broadway Tenors is one of five On Stage productions planned for the foundation's 2013-14 season. Ms. Pollard indicated that the foundation operates on an annual budget of about $120,000. It spends about 45 to 50,000 dollars a year on the On Stage program. The rest goes to school programs and other grants. In addition to ticket sales (which consist of about 300 season tickets and up to 200 individual performance ticket sales per show), the organization receives funding from individual donors, corporate sponsors, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Despite the foundation's and performers' shared goal to transform Kilmarnock for one night into Broadway, the trio earned the audience's affection not only for the quality of the entertainment, but because of their adoption of a Southern hospitality touch - the performers posed for pictures in the lobby and schmoozed with the crowd at the end of the evening.