Photo Flash: Porchlight Kicks Off Season With CHICAGO SINGS
Porchlight Music Theatre's 25th anniversary season began with the 14th Annual Chicago Sings concert: Chicago Sings 25 Years of Porchlight, Monday, Aug. 5 at 7 p.m., at The Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave, directed by Christopher Pazdernik and Artistic Director Michael Weber with music direction by David Fiorello and a band featuring Kelsey Boltz, Cara Hartz, John McCreary, Greg Strauss, Celeste Park and Jake Saleh. The special event included performances from many of Porchlight's 25 years of productions, special guests and the presentation of the Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago to Gary Griffin.
The launch to Porchlight's silver anniversary celebration began with a cocktail reception for its nearly 300 guests including Sondra Epstein, Marsha and Phil Dowd, Jared Kaplan and Maridee Quanbeck.
Guests seated in the Edlis Neeson Theater were welcomed by Porchlight Music Theatre's Executive Director Jeannie Lukow who then introduced Porchlight's 25th Anniversary Gala Co-Chairs Rick and Deann Bayless and Donna LaPietra and Bill Kurtis. Deann Bayless said, "I have been looking forward to this night and the celebration of Porchlight and all it does to shine a light on music theatre." La Pietra added, "And not only is this a night of great music and performances, it is a fundraiser where proceeds benefit the amazing Porchlight's education and outreach programs." Kurtis then introduced the night's first performers: Bil Ingraham, Gerald Richardson, Charissa Armon, Carrie Beth Bramlett and Heather Townsend.
The evening's music program was a celebration with fifty Chicago artists singing the more than two decades of Porchlight productions; the first number was "Better," from A Class Act, produced by Porchlight in 2012. Artistic Director Michael Weber then shared some of Porchlight's history saying, "Jill Moore, our founder and first artistic director, whose recollections of the joy and camaraderie she experienced putting on shows with childhood pals under the glow of the lamp on her front porch after the streetlights came on inspired her to build a warm and welcoming home for music theatre right here in Chicago." Weber continued, "Jill's tenure as artistic director in those early days transitioned briefly to another company founder, Eric Bramlett, then, in 1998, the company hit its stride with the arrival of a new brash young artistic director who, along with a passionate music director, steered Porchlight over the next 13 years to many a success." Weber introduced former Porchlight artistic leaders Walter Stearns, the very first Guy Adkins Award recipient, and Eugene Dizon.
Stearns and Dizon spoke of their time at Porchlight, thanked the many familiar faces in the audience and then introduced songs from their time at Porchlight including Eric Lewis who sung "Lost in the Wilderness" a Chicago premiere at Porchlight in 2002 Children of Eden, Patrick Martin and Christine Mild performing "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" from 2002's Promises, Promises and Heidi Kettenring presenting "I'm Breaking Down" from Falsettos which Porchlight presented in 1999 and 2005.
Weber returned to the stage to present Michael Mahler and Billy Rude with "The Ballad of Booth" from 2007's Assassins; brothers Elic Bramlett and Eric Bramlett performing "Agony" from Into the Woods, which Porchlight presented in 2000 and 2010 and Laura Savage singing "Another Hundred People" from 2003's Company. This portion of the night was dedicated to Stephen Sondheim, a composer that Porchlight has become well known for performing his works.
The next performances were mounted under Weber's leadership as artistic director, which began in 2011. These numbers and performers included "Why?" from tick, tick...BOOM!, 2012, with original cast member Adrian Aguilar singing and playing the piano; "Your Feet's Too Big" from Ain't Misbehavin' presented back to back in 2014 and 2015 with cast member Lorenzo Rush Jr.; "I Will Never Leave You" from 2015's Side Show performed by Yando Lopez and Michelle Lauto and Donica Lynn brought the crowd to their feet with "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls, presented in 2016.
Since 2005, Chicago Sings, Porchlight's annual concert fundraiser, has honored artists and organizations whose music has changed the world. This year, in addition to celebrating 25 years as Chicago's center for music theatre, Porchlight Music Theatre honored director Gary Griffin with the 9th annual Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago. Brenda Didier, a Guy Adkins Award-winner, presented the award to Griffin, a celebrated director who has led productions in Chicago, on Broadway, off-Broadway, Canada, the United Kingdom and throughout the United States. Griffin said, "This is an honor, not just because it is coming from Porchlight but also because I knew and worked with Guy. I am so grateful for this award and appreciate the significance and the importance it represents."
The first act of Chicago Sings 25 Years of Porchlight ended with Bethany Thomas and the entire cast of Chicago Sings performing "The Human Heart" from Once on this Island from Porchlight's 2009 season.
The young stars of Porchlight productions were included in act two's opening number as Brianna Borger sang from 2011's The King and I "Getting to Know You." Zachary Fewkes, a cast member from 2018's Merrily We Roll Along (which Porchlight also presented in 2000) sang that show's "Growing Up" followed by Porchlight's own Billy Elliott Lincoln Seymour dancing and performing "Electricity" from Porchlight's 2017 production and concluded with Izzie Rose belting "Let Me Entertain You" from 2018's Gypsy.
Porchlight Music Theatre's Education Manager Michelle Lauto and 25thAnniversary Co-Chair Bill Kurtis then came on stage saying that the youngsters who had just performed are representative of Porchlight's mission to educate and engage young audiences about music theatre. Lauto and Kurtis then began the paddle raising portion of the night with the audience learning about Porchlight's expanding youth education and community outreach programs including the "Make Your Own Musical" Summer Camp and providing tickets to performances for high schools students. In addition, they hailed new programs such as Porchlight presenting Freaky Friday, Jr and classes throughout the year to help students learn and improve their music theatre skills. The audience responded enthusiastically and helped raise over $60,000 in support of these programs.
The evening continued with Weber sharing Porchlight's stories of its signature "Chicago style" with "Mein Herr" from Cabaret, produced in 2003, featuring choreography by Shanna VanDerwerker, who recreated Bob Fosse's original vision with Laura Savage, LaMar Brown, Kaimana Neil, Aalon Smith, Wade Tischhauser and VanDerwerker performing. J.C. Brooks sang "Make Them Hear You" from Ragtime, 2007 and from 2006's The Secret Garden Evan Tyrone Martin and Kelvin Roston, Jr. performed "Lily's Eyes."
The music of Sondheim filled the theatre again with Cecilia Iole singing "The Glamorous Life" from A Little Night Music, 2001; Bill Larkin and Joshua Bishop performing the comedic "Free" from 2015's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and concluding with "Opening Doors" from Merrily We Roll Along, 2000 and 2018, featuring Neala Barron, Jim DeSelm and Andres Enriquez.
The penultimate numbers of the night saluted long running shows from Porchlight's recent history with James Earl Jones II reprising his number "Go Back Home" from 2017's The Scottsboro Boys, "Breathe" from In The Heights, presented in 2016 and performed by cast members Lucy Godinez with Yando Lopez and Michelle Lauto and Angela Ingersoll's performance of the classic Garland song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from End of the Rainbow, 2016.
Lukow joined Weber, again, to thank the people who helped and continue to promote Porchlight's vision and mission for more than 25 years but are not always on stage including the Board of Directors, the staff, the production teams and the 25th Anniversary chairs and committee. She then thanked the audience "... without you we would not be here. Period. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to create this art and make it accessible to so many in Chicago." Weber then invited the Chicago Sings cast back on stage for the finale "Make Our Garden Grow" from 2008's Candide featuring Cecilia Iole and Billy Rude with the Chicago Sings company.
Photo Credit: Michael Courier
Rick & Deann Bayless and Donna LaPietra & Bill Kurtis
Hedy Weiss, James Earl Jones II and Judith Share
Bill Gilmer with John Blackburn, Alan Spaeth and Eduardo Alvarado
Michael Weber, Gary Griffin and Jeannie Lukow