[News Article - Westfield Leader May 2006]

Cranford's Celebration Singers: A Cause for Jubilation

The Westfield Leader - Thursday, May 26, 2006
By Susan M. Dougherty
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
[News Article - Westfield Leader May 2006] CRANFORD - W.C. Fields gave actors the sage advice to never share a stage with animals or children, because they steal the show.

That's what happened at the Friday, May 19, performance of "Opera Meets Broadway," featuring Celebration Singers of both the adult and children's choirs.

Oh, that's not to say the adult Celebration Singers weren't able to hold their own. It's just that, well, they're up against kids. And when children open their mouths to emit an angelic unison, you can't beat it.

The adult choir opened the show dressed in snappy black and white dresses and tuxedos. The upbeat "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum featured bucket loads of props, setting the tone for a fun-driven evening.

A three-piece instrumental ensemble headed by pianist Mary Elizabeth Latorre supported a rousing version of Verdi's "Anvil Chorus" and the less recognizable "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves," as well as Bizet's "Habanera." After what conductor of six seasons Sean Berg called "a little Italian, a little French," the adults put away their black binders of music and cut loose with "Defying Gravity" from the Broadway smash hit Wicked. Their rendition, with soloist Barbara Stroz, brought cheers from the audience at the Harvest Training Center on Myrtle Avenue in Cranford.

Next came the munchkins, looking very spiffy themselves in white and black outfits. Preceding their vocal offering of the "Overture to the Marriage of Figaro," two little adorable ham bones brought to our attention that an overture is an instrumental, not a vocal piece.

So out came the "instruments" (kazoos) that played the familiar melody complete with three-part harmony.

[Celebration Children's Choir]

Under the direction of Tom Pedas, renowned former Cranford teacher of music and notable director of musicals at the Scotch Plains/Fanwood High School, the children were breathtaking in another Mozart piece, "Papageno/Papagena Duet" from The Magic Flute as well as the "Children's Prayer" from Hansel and Gretel.

Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" aria by Jake Forrestal and duet ending with Bridget McCoy could bring a person to tears with the pure boy soprano vocal and tender alto harmony.

[Celebration Children's Choir]

Next came the hilarious, "The Painless Opera (Opera Non Terrore)." The audience howled its delight.

After intermission, the middle school young guys, aptly called the"Boys' Ensemble," debuted with an impressive array of close harmony barbershop quartet selections including "Lyda Rose" from The Music Man.

[Celebration Children's Choir]

But the highlight of the night had to be the children's version of songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Out came the props of cowboy hats, some with price tags still affixed, and other accouterments to set the mood. The children really got into the physicality of the songs and enjoyed performing, not just singing.

Then Conductor Berg led the adults in a number of outstanding musical numbers including Shaw's version of Rogers/Hammerstein's "It's a Grand Night for Singing." Fifteen "movement artists," directed by dance captain Mara Canlas, lent a nice visual touch to the Latin flavored piece.

[Celebration Children's Choir]

Bravo to both conductors who doled out solos liberally. What a great way to showcase the massive talent assembled in the groups. The Celebration Singers have been around for decades. If you haven't yet seen this group of creative community vocalists, plan to attend their holiday show featuring "Amahl and the Night Visitors on December 8 and 9.

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  • [News Article - Westfield Leader December 2006]

    Cranford's Celebration Singers Create 'Holiday Favorites'

    The Westfield Leader - Thursday, December 14, 2006
    By Susan M. Dougherty
    Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
    [News Article - Westfield Leader December 2006] CRANFORD - Not everyone loves opera. But in Amahl and the Night Visitors when a little crippled boy with the face of an angel and a face to match lifts his voice to his widowed mother, what's not tolove?

    That was the pervasive feeling at Cranford's Harvest Training Center on Friday, December 8 when the Celebration Singers presented a two-part Holiday Favorites evening with Amahl and the Night Visitors as the first half of the musical night.

    The Gian Carlo Menotti one-act opera, written and sung in English, is a perfect way to introduce opera to children. All kids can relate to another child who fabricates stories using his terrific imagination.

    With the message of giving all that we have for the good of another, the one-hour opera has a timely moral that transcends all faiths.

    An elaborate, impressive set by Rick Marsden was the backdrop for poor shepherd boy Amahl, played on Friday night by Jake Forrestal, a sixth grader from Hillside Avenue School in Cranford. A young dynamo of talent, Jake has been selected for the 2007 National Honor Choir. His clear soprano voice soared to tell his mother things he had seen.

    His mother, played expertly by the golden-voiced Betsy Mackenzie-Stubbs, doesn't always believe her son because he is known to weave elaborate tales.

    On this starry night, however, she finally does believe him and welcomes three elegantly robed wise men/kings who are in search of a special child.

    Scene-stealer Kerry Stubbs plays King Kaspar, the funny royal that can't quite hear everything. Mr. Stubbs' gorgeous, powerful voice blends well with the others; King Melchior played by Allen Omar Castro, King Balthazar played by Khy Garner and The Page played by Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School freshman Vangelis Dimopoulos.

    Adult cast members of Celebration Singers, costumed as shepherds, provided dancing and merriment in welcoming the kings.

    This isn't director Tom Pedas' first shot at the helm of this particular production. The former director of the adult choir and now director of the children's choir knows how to move people on stage and get a unified sound from them even while they are processing down the aisles.

    In the evening's part II, director Pedas led the Celebration Children's Choir, Boys' Ensemble and their combined choirs. He guided the focused and well-trained elementary school and middle school students through songs in Latin and Hebrew.

    The solo spotlight shone on Emily Egan, Varshini Narayanan, Madhu Parmar, Emily McGurk, Zachar Love and Nicholas Poulios from Scotch Plains who played a piano accompaniment for one number and sang a duet in another.

    The preteens and teens were able to reveal their personalities with songs like "Jingle Bell Travelogue," and "Variations on Fa La La."

    Accomplished pianist/accompanist Mary Elizabeth Latorre got a well deserved rest while the adults sang their first few numbers without accompaniment.

    These madrigal style songs were a teaser for a January program, "The Changing of the Guard - a Madrigal Dinner Feast" that the adult group will sponsor at Pantagis Renaissance in Scotch Plains. Beautiful four-part harmony, rich with a lush bass section, set the stage for the musical gems.

    Outstanding numbers included, "Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day" and "The Queen to Me a Royal Pain Doth Give," a spoof by PDQ Bach.

    Under the baton of charismatic and energetic Sean Berg, the adult Celebration Singers sparkled like lacy snowflakes in moonlight.

    With a combined adult and children's choir finale of "Light One Candle" by Peter Yarrow, the different generations came together vocally to unite the audience and performers in a holiday mood.

    Tom Pedas, The Celebration Singers and Children's Chorus


    e-mail Tom Pedas at: tpedas@aol.com