BWW Review: Glenn Close, Norm Lewis Perform at Benefit for National Dance Institute
At the National Dance Institute (NDI) headquarters in Harlem Monday night, October 16, 2017, Glenn Close, Norm Lewis, Charlotte d'Amboise, Robert Fairchild, and NDI's young students gave a special benefit performance titled, SONGS I'VE SUNG ON BROADWAY...AND ONE I WISH I HAD.
NDI is a non-profit organization founded 42 years ago by then New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d'Amboise to give public school children exposure to the arts.
D'Amboise, now 83, sat in the front row with Glenn Close and began the evening by introducing NDI's children in a high-spirited swing number to "This Joint is Jumpin'" from AIN'T MISBEHAVIN'. The kids executed it flawlessly with exuberance, personality, and professionalism.
Next up was Jacques' daughter, Charlotte d'Amboise, a Broadway veteran who is currently starring in the Great White Way's CHICAGO. She began her remarks by dedicating the evening to Barbara Cook, who passed away in August. Cook had performed for Jacques d'Amboise three years ago on the occasion of his 80th birthday. We were treated to a video of the performance, in which Cook sang a touching rendition of "Here's To Life."
Charlotte then sang "At the Ballet," a song she wished she had been able to sing while starring in A CHORUS LINE as Cassie. She altered the lyrics, however, to conform to her own experience, telling the audience that she grew up across the street from a brothel and in a tough school. Ballet class was her haven.
Norm Lewis was next, performing "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin" - a song he performed in the Broadway production of PORGY AND BESS. Then, he explained that as Javert in several productions of LES MISERABLES, he always coveted Jean Valjean's song, "Bring Him Home." Lewis proceeded to sing the piece with tremendous vocal control and emotion.
Charlotte d'Amboise came back on stage after a costume change to sing her number that she has already sung on Broadway - "Me and My Baby" from CHICAGO - which she performed with two of the male dancers from the current production. She told a story about how, when she was in the show years ago, she had become pregnant with her daughter. Since she'd struggled to conceive, her doctor suggested she keep it a secret for the first four months, just in case something went wrong. Ever since then, "Me and My Baby" has had special meaning for her.
Robert Fairchild, who made a splash in the recent Broadway version of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, was next on the program, fresh from giving his final performance with New York City Ballet the night before. He started by singing "Bianca" from KISS ME KATE, which he performed at a special evening earlier in the year, complete with a crowd-pleasing tap section.
Fairchild's song he wished he'd sung was "I Got Life" from HAIR, which he performed with the help of some of the NDI kids.
The NDI children then came back on stage dressed in colonial costumes to dance a piece to "The Room Where It Happens" from HAMILTON. Choreographed by Christopher d'Amboise, the piece skillfully used the children's strengths in a way that made it constantly interesting to watch. This isn't easy to do when you're working with non-professional dancers.
Glenn Close was next, telling a story about how she'd become aware of NDI when the organization began to teach the children at her daughter's school. First, she sang "The Colors of My Life" from BARNUM, her first major role on Broadway. As a big fan of Rodgers & Hammerstein, she chose "Hello, Young Lovers" from THE KING & I as her song that she wished she'd sung.
The finale of the evening was "You Can't Stop the Beat" from HAIRSPRAY, in which the NDI students performed Jerry Mitchell's original Broadway choreography. This was particularly impressive because while the movements themselves are not tremendously complex, the speed of the piece makes it very challenging. I was thoroughly impressed with the children's abilities.
The evening was accompanied by a four-piece band and two vocalists, one of whom is an NDI alum who is now pursuing a career as a singer.
Now under the Artistic Direction of Ellen Weinstein, NDI uses dance and music to instill in students a love of the arts, a passion for learning, and a desire to strive for their personal best. In addition to programming in New York City, NDI has 12 associate programs in the United States, and one in Shanghai, China. Its center in Harlem opened its doors in 2011.
PHOTO CREDITS: Eduardo Patino