The above title is a reference to the Stephen Sondheim song “Broadway Baby,” written for his acclaimed musical “FOLLIES.” Originally produced for the Broadway stage in 1971, the plot revolves around an old theatre about to be demolished and the now-aged showgirls and performers who reunite to confront their past, singing and dancing about regrets and misplaced hopes. “I’m just a Broadway baby,” Sondheim’s character Sally Durant Plummer sings, “walking off my tired feet, pounding 42nd Street, to be in a show.” Those lyrics echoed in my head last week when I read about the Forestburgh Playhouse (FP) and producer Franklin Trapp’s newest venture, “Spring Break Musical Theatre Intensive Workshop.”
“Can you believe that what you saw was a culmination of only about 17 hours of work?”
When I called to inquire about the program, Trapp had this to say: “The playhouse is thrilled to open its arts education wing titled the Forestburgh Playhouse Performing Arts Academy. This is the very first workshop offered to local young artists and was designed to give students instruction in music, acting and movement, with the goal of helping them prepare for future auditions,” he said. The students spent an entire week, four hours a day, working with their teachers on solo and group projects, culminating in a presentation for friends and family (and my dog, of course) at the FP studio where the classes were held. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for kids singing and dancing their little hearts out and always up for a good high school musical, but this workshop was different, and I’m still exploring why. I learned that Trapp brought in some amazing professional instructors, like acting coach Brian Michael Hoffman, choreographer Chaz Wolcott and music director Andy Hudson, all of whom have impressive resumes.
Each addressed the audience, explaining their contribution to the workshop and praising the talented kids who participated. “They’re singing and dancing for a few hours a day to become Charlie Brown or Rapunzel, while creating a sense of self and a new community of friends with this incredible shared experience,” Hoffman enthused. “Sure, some [of these kids] might grow up to be performers,” he continued, “but whether they become lawyers, plumbers, doctors, or librarians, they will each have acquired the skills to stand up in front of a room, present themselves and express their ideas. That confidence is a life lesson that they don’t even realize is creeping in.”
As the kids strutted their stuff, I took photos and marveled at their poise, presenting polished performances that were put together in a very short period of time. Boys and girls, ranging from 13 to 18 years old sang and danced like seasoned pros, interspersed with words from their coaches, who explained the process along the way. Music director Hudson demonstrated the evolution of learning a song, while Hoffman took the audience through an acting class and choreographer Wolcott beamed as his kids performed a seriously complicated number from “Mary Poppins” with incredible style and panache. Honestly, I was blown away by the ensemble and what they had accomplished in one intensive week. “Can you believe that what you saw was a culmination of only about 17 hours of work?” Hoffman asked between musical interludes. “I still can’t... and I was there!”
The kids performed songs from “Hairspray,” “Most Happy Fella,” Disney’s “Tangled” and “Aladdin,” in addition to Broadway classics from “Guys and Dolls,” and “HAIR,” and with each successive number I became more and more impressed. While the students were assigned “age-appropriate” material to learn, none of it was “kiddy fare,” and all was designed to challenge them in one form or another, gently nudging them into stepping out of their comfort zone. “Not only were they willing to take the leap,” Hoffman shared with the audience, “but they all soared!” Nodding in agreement, I couldn’t help but think about Sondheim’s lyrics once more. “Someday maybe,” Sally sings in her show-stopping number, “All my dreams will be repaid. Heck, I’d even play the maid… to be in a show.”
As I congratulated the kids and shook hands with proud parents following the performance, Trapp beamed. “It has been a dream to open such a program,” he said, “so that the Playhouse can continue its mission of [not only] presenting performing arts productions, but also providing educational programming for local young artists.”
To me, they’re all “Broadway Babies” and some (IMHO) might even be future stars.
For more information regarding the Performing Arts Academy and upcoming productions, visit The Forestburgh Playhouse Theater in Sullivan Catskills, NY.