BWW Review: Washington Performing Arts Serves Up a Swinging Gala
All of the cultural offerings in Washington, D.C. can be easy to take for granted. There are now so many options for theater, music, dance, opera, ballet, or any other art form that it's easy to forget this wasn't always the case. The robust arts scene of today is possible thanks to long-established organizations which have championed the creation and presentation of exciting works for decades. As one of the most established performing arts institutions in America, Washington Performing Arts stands as a symbol of all the city has to offer. During their annual gala, the organization successfully celebrated their long history while looking to all they still have to offer in the coming years.
The celebration began with a hosted cocktail reception and silent auction, offering a selection of fine goods ranging from baskets of wine to box seats for the Washington Nationals and beyond. Held in the grand atrium of the National Building Museum, the reception was a nice start to the evening. As guests intermingled amongst one another, the stars for the subsequent performance filled the crowd as well, giving those in attendance the opportunity to connect with the performers who would be entertaining the crowd in just a few short moments.
When guests moved in for dinner, they were treated to a three-course dinner courtesy of the gala's exclusive caterer, Ridgewell's. During dinner service, the performance program kicked off with the Children of the Gospel Choir, a resident ensemble of Washington Performing Arts. There is nothing cuter than seeing a chorus of children singing passionately and really getting into their performance. Unlike seeing a middle school choir, however, this group nailed every aspect of their presentation thanks in large part to some skillful conducting and direction by Michele Fowlin.
Immediately following, remarks from leadership helped to get the evening going full-steam with Tamara Tunie serving as a delightfully engaging emcee throughout. It's a tricky task to be the face of entertainment for an event such as this as you're forced to wear multiple hats as an entertainer, advocate, and motivator for silent and live auction bidding. Ms. Tunie fulfilled all of her roles expertly and crafted a strong connection between her and the audience where it was a delight whenever she stepped onto the stage. This is a high honor for an emcee, who can sometimes woefully drag down an evening. Thankfully, this was not the case for Ms. Tunie.
The Ben Patterson Jazz Orchestra took the reins following the first set of remarks. Honoring the legacy of jazz legend Hazel Scott, the ensemble showcased a world premiere arrangement of her tune, "Idyll." In addition to being a beautiful number, the performance helped to highlight Washington Performing Arts' upcoming Hazel Scott tribute to take place during the 2020/21 season. Commemorating the centennial birthday of this jazz legend, the celebration will consist of a series of main stage concerts coupled with special events and educational programs. If the work demonstrated during the WPA gala was any indication, this will be a celebration worth marking on your calendar.
Ben Patterson Jazz Orchestra not only had their own delightful set but served as the accompaniment to two shining stars for the evening. First was Stephen Scott Wormley, who crooned his way through a stellar performance. Throughout his set, Mr. Wormley exuded the charm best exemplified by classic singers like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Similarly, the 24-year-old Veronica Swift demonstrated why she is now one of the top young jazz singers in the nation. Her set was filled with stunning musicality, with Ms. Swift skillfully executing every note with a clear tone and passion for her material. Both of these singers served as a cherry on top of a spectacular lineup.
Closing the evening with post-dinner dancing accompanied by strong work from DJ Dimmy, the event, titled Sizzle and Swing, was certainly swinging into the late night. As fun as the evening was, it was additionally a necessary reminder for the importance of stalwart programs like WPA to continue developing and celebrating all that their community has to offer. With more than a half-century of history and a promising slate of programming on the horizon, it's clear that the artistic scene in Washington is in good hands.
The Washington Performing Arts gala was a one-night-only celebration last Sunday at the National Building Museum. For information and tickets to their upcoming performances, click here. For more information on the aforementioned Hazel Scott centennial celebration, click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
To stay up-to-date on reviews from Sam, click here and subscribe to alerts.