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From Broadway to Hollywood
It started as a salute to the opera, it moved to Broadway, and now it's going Hollywood.
But the purpose of Christopher Simmons and Debra Da Vaughn's annual concert – to lend their musical talents for a boost to the Surrey Food Bank around Thanksgiving, when resources are usually at a pre-Christmas low – has been constant and unwavering.
Their benefit for the Surrey Food Bank is back and bigger than ever in its seventh edition with a special movie-oriented theme: A Night on Broadway Goes Hollywood, which comes to Surrey Arts Centre Oct. 5 in two performances (at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.).
Quite apart from contributing to a worthy cause, A Night on Broadway Goes Hollywood is a treat for audiences craving a scintillating, witty and – above all – tuneful entertainment.
The South Surrey-based tenor-soprano, husband-wife team have assembled their largest, most versatile cast yet for this salute to favourites from hit musicals that have travelled from Broadway to Hollywood – and in some cases vice-versa – over the past 80 years.
"There are so many great songs that have been featured in musical movies – it's really a natural for us to do this," says Simmons.
Returning from last year are soprano/choreographer Vanessa Coley-Donohue, mezzo-soprano Tamara Croft, and well-known musical theatre player Cathy Wilmot, who will be joined by baritone Christopher King, pianist Caitlin Hayes, bassist Graham Clark, drummer Daniel Fortin and some 18-20 members of the Lindbjerg Show Choir directed by Chad Matchette, equally well-known in theatrical circles.
Also returning is the show's artistic director/master of ceremonies Matthew Bissett.
"He's become known as 'the man in the chair'," Da Vaughn said, adding that Bissett's distinctive personality, plus his skills as an actor and raconteur, made him an instant hit at last year's show – and an invaluable ally in shaping this year's edition.
"We were able to give up a little of the control by having Matthew make the selection of the songs this year," she said.
Bissett has responded by creating interesting groupings of numbers – for instance juxtaposing songs from the original 1939 Wizard of Oz with numbers from The Wiz and the much more recent Wicked.
"As we chose the music in previous years, we came to realize this is one of the most difficult things about putting together a show," Simmons said.
"You're always trying to balance upbeat numbers with ballads and other songs of various types."
"He did a masterful job – and this year we actually have eight ensemble numbers as well as solos," Da Vaughn said.
Some 25 top-30 pieces will include popular numbers – and a few unexpected surprises – from such shows as Grease, Mary Poppins, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, Rent, Singin' In The Rain and Dream Girls.
Simmons and Da Vaughn are also quick to acknowledge a winning combination behind the scenes that has helped them move their fundraiser to the next level; the inspiration, marketing know-how and promotional materials contributed to the project by Chris Thornley of Thornley Creative Communications, the extensive producing expertise of Lyn Verra-Lay, plus the financial support of Envision Financial, as well as other sponsors – which enables them to make the proud claim that every cent raised through the sale of tickets will go to the food bank.
One of Da Vaughn's voice students, Olivia Lang – a Lord Byng senior and also an award-winning filmmaker – is gaining valuable experience as a production assistant, they say. And Verra-Lay and Surrey Food Bank staff are also working on a few special elements to amp up the Hollywood razzle-dazzle factor for the show.
"They're trying to arrange a little bit of a Hollywood-premiere atmosphere," Da Vaughn said.
Thanks to the major sponsorship of Envision and many donations-in-kind, including of rehearsal space by Vancouver Community College and microphones by Capilano University, production costs don't eat up the funds raised, they said. Last year's concert raised some $11,000 and the goal this year is $20,000.
They noted Envision's Full Cupboard program – designed to "raise food, funds and awareness for food banks" in the communities it serves – is entirely in sync with their own initiative, and in addition to sponsoring last year's and this year's shows, the organization has already committed to backing next year's show as well.
"Their aim is to get it ready for the next stage," said Simmons, who said the production team is already at work to line up a major sponsor for the year after next.
"We want to continue to raise awareness of the need for the food bank – and we're also encouraging people to bring food donations to the show," said Da Vaughn.
"It's amazing to look back at this idea we had in our living room all those years ago and see where it's gone," said Simmons, adding they marvel at the way people have embraced the concept and are making it their own.
"It's grown a long way beyond what we do – when we say it's a community event, it's something that truly involves the whole community – something all of Surrey should be proud of," he said.
Tickets ($27.50 plus service charges, $25 plus service charges for seniors and students) are available from the box office at 604-501-5566.