BWW Reviews: Oakland Youth Chorus Dazzles at their Broadway on Broadway Performance
It was a night to remember as the Oakland Youth Chorus (OYC) took to the risers and promptly raised the roof on the 1st Presbyterian Church on Broadway in Oakland, belting out some amazing Broadway tunes and putting on an all-around great show for the sold-out crowd. This was not just a concert for doting parents and dewy-eyed devotees. These kids can sing! The performances from the many choral groups that comprise OYC were impressive and fun and definitely high-energy entertainment.
First up was the Concert Chorus. Dressed in matching outfits of blue or black shirts and black skirts or slacks they swiftly made their way forward as the strains of "On Broadway" (Man, Weil, Stoller and Leiber) started to build electric momentum. Silver and red streamers formed the backdrop for these talented singers while pianist Teri Simmons and Drummer Bob Scott got ready to let loose.
Artistic and Education Director La Nell Martin set the stage by thanking the board and their supporters as well as the audience, then, with a nod toward the accompanists; she turned to the youth -- who burst out singing at her direction -- in pitch-perfect rhythm and harmony.
Thoughtful and plaintive solos by Adrienne Burg ("Castle on a Cloud" from Les Miserables) and Casey Moore ("Think of Me" from Phantom) followed and the Concert Chorus finished with a rousing version of "Fame" with sharp choreography by Caitlyn Freeman.
"Seasons of Love" from Rent was the opening number from the Middle School Chorus, with moving solos by Amir Still and Karen Arellano. Alina Sainer gave "Defying Gravity" from Wicked a sweet energy, while boa-clad Sophia Abelson and Eleanor Wikstrom camped it up in the "Stepsisters' Lament" from Cinderella.
The 3rd-5th grade Miracle Chorus joined them for a vibrant and heartfelt rendition of "He Lives In You" from Lion King II, then wove their own special magic on "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. K-5th, K-2nd grade and All Miracles groups sang the fun "I Won't Grow Up" (Peter Pan), "Green Eggs and Ham" (Suessical the Musical) and "Tomorrow" from Annie. (5-year-old Branden Ramirez was especially cute in his suit!) These young singers had giant smiles and delightful voices (with perfect syncopation on the difficult "Green Eggs and Ham") and simply wowed the audience, who happily clapped along to the beat. Chins up, eyes shining in the light, they sang their hearts out. They received a standing ovation as they were played off the risers, with Production/Stage Manager Angela Dant leading them off stage just in time for intermission.
Oakland Youth Chorus singers have been delighting audiences for 39 years (their 40th Anniversary will be in 2015) and have performed at the White House, toured Japan and Jamaica and have even shared the stage with Bobby McFerrin.
Their mission focuses on creating and sustaining programs of high artistic merit that are accessible to and supportive of children and youth in Oakland and the surrounding areas who might otherwise not be able to experience the joy of making music with others.
It was with this mission in mind, along with their upcoming 40th anniversary, that the adults took the stage during intermission with a clever pitch and hat pass that was performed by Executive Director Keri Butkevich, Board President David Bond, Board member Jenna Gilfoil, teachers Ben Brady and Michelle Jacques, and OYC alum and current OYC dad, David Flores. Their goal was to help fund a matching grant as well as their various programs, and they encouraged generosity with their hilarious version of "The Money Song" from Avenue Q.
Then the Chamber Singers began Act II with an a capella version of "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" from Jersey Boys that was a highlight of the night. Alto soloist Olivia Monteil delivered an amazing version of this song, her soulful, Tracy Chapman vibe nicely supported by the high-soprano back-up and the voice percussion of Terrin Flores.
"Summertime" from Porgy and Bess was rich, while "Happy" (Despicable Me II), with its Motown groove and solo by Terrin Flores made me think that original artist Pharrell Williams had better watch out!
Not to be outdone was Caitlyn Freeman who brought down the house with "And I am Telling You," from Dreamgirls. She owned the song. The intricate song "Cups" (from Pitch Perfect with a wonderful solo by Olivia Mesa) had rich harmonies and choreographed cup playing (Gabriel and Olivia Mesa) that was just pure fun.
Arriana Glen sang a stirring "I Know the Truth" from Aida that highlighted her acting abilities and her poise, not to mention her wonderful voice. "The Color Purple," from the musical of the same name, had wistful solos by Satya Hawley and Kiera Glenn. Caitlyn Freeman's choreography was front and center again for the always wonderful "One" from a Chorus Line which was sung with roof-raising energy and exuberance. This was followed by Oscar winning best original song, "Frozen," with a bold solo from Karina Nicks. All of the choruses combined for the finale which was "Everybody Rejoice" from The Wiz. The audience went wild and honored OYC with a long and joyous standing ovation.
Between raising the roof and bringing down the house, it was one of the best choral performances I've seen. The choruses, teachers, conductors and highly profession production crew put on a great show. But even more importantly this talented team helps bring the gift of song and the joy of music to well over three hundred children in the Bay area each year. Many of the children couldn't be there for the performance because they don't have transportation, so if you would like to donate a bus or make a charitable contribution to this comprehensive youth choral music education organization, contact Executive Director Keri Butkevich at firstname.lastname@example.org or donate at http://oaklandyouthchorus.org/support-oyc. "Like" them on facebook at www.facebook.com/oakyouthchorus and be part of the magic of the Oakland Youth Chorus.