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Category Archives: performARTS
The Coterie will launch its 34th season of live theater on September 8 with the pop rock musical Spring Awakening, the winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show will feature a cast of powerful, young musical theater performers from the Kansas City area and can be seen in a series of evening shows and Saturday matinees. Spring Awakening is based on the 1891 play of the same name by German playwright Frank Wedekind and explores what has changed—and what hasn’t—on the path to understanding sex.
A story of first love and lasting regrets, Spring Awakening is set both “then” and “now”—with book and lyrics by Steven Sater, overlayed with an affecting rock score by 90’s music icon Duncan Sheik and raging choreography. The show follows a magnetic young cast as they try to gather the knowledge necessary to keep up with the rapidly changing world around them—navigating abuse, crushes, suicide, sex and some very maturing circumstances.
“Spring Awakening is an exciting project for The Coterie in many ways,” said director Jeff Church (who also serves as Producing Artistic Director of The Coterie). “It’s a perfect fit to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Coterie’s Dramatic Health Education Project (DHEP) by performing this show. The uniting theme is arming teenagers with the information they need to face the pressures of the modern world.”
DHEP focuses on STD and HIV/AIDS prevention to area schools free of charge. The project, now 20 years old, is a joint effort by The Coterie, the KU School of Nursing and the UMKC Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy. Highly lauded for its effectiveness and balanced message, DHEP serves an estimated 8,000 students across the metro area annually. Teams of actors and young medical professionals present true stories of HIV positive teens in the Kansas City area and discuss the myths and realities of transmission and prevention. DHEP’s community presence will be featured in an eight-minute documentary shown before each performance of Spring Awakening created by KU graduate filmmaker Rebecca Basaure.
“The Dramatic Health Education Project is one of the things I’m most proud of during my time at The Coterie,” said Executive Director Joette Pelster. “We strive not only to entertain, but also to inform and inspire young audiences with so many of our main stage performances. I’m glad that we finally have an opportunity to highlight this life-saving program.”
The cast for The Coterie’s unique arena staging of Spring Awakening includes many of Kansas City’s most promising young professional actors, including: Kristen May Altoro, Will Amato, Shea Coffman, Caroline Drage, Tyler Eisenreich, Steven Eubank, Shelby Floyd, Adam Henry, Justin Kirk, Daria LeGrand, Linnaia McKenzie, Emily Shackelford, Hughston Walkinshaw, Noah Whitmore and Shelley Wyche. Spring Awakening is a part of the Coterie At Night series and is funded in part by the Missouri Arts Council (MAC) and the ArtsKC Fund.
The show runs September 6-30 at The Coterie, located on level one of Kansas City’s Crown Center Shops. To purchase tickets, visit www.coterietheatre.org. Due mature content, including sexual topics and situations, Spring Awakening will be open only to audiences age 13 or older.
One Show Heads to the Kauffman Center
for the Performing Arts
Five more shows remain for the Starlight Theatre 2012 Broadway season. In the Heights, the 2008 Tony Award-winning best musical, began the first week in June. The Starlight’s summer shows include The Addams Family the first week in July. This musical was on Broadway in 2010 and the U.S. tour started last year with some revamping and revisions with Douglas Sills, who played the lead in The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Gomez and actress Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia. Memphis, which runs July 10-15, is another Tony Award winner from the 2010 award season. These first three shows mark contemporary musicals that are fairly new within the realm of musical theater. “We sure try to make everyone happy with our season,” says Denton Yockey, president and executive producer at Starlight.
Step back 10 years and Elton John’s Aida won the Tony Award. Aida continues to capture the interest in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Yockey says. This marks his fourth summer with the organization. “We are producing Aida and staging it at the Kauffman Center,” he says. “There is no secret that there is much attention with the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and they are in their honeymoon phase right now.”
Initially Yockey and the staff were going to open the summer season at Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts. However, the board and the timing of the tour altered the schedule. This is the first time for Yockey to produce Aida.
“It is a popular title among the survey responders,” he says. “The response to take it to Kauffman has been met with positive accord as well. However, we have already taken the two children’s shows to the Kauffman Center during the late winter and early spring. That worked great. For many folks, this may be their first chance to get into the building.” There will be 12 performances of the show. Yockey says this musical will not be part of the Pick 3 choices. “We are planning on this show being quite popular.” Gymnast Cathy Rigby returns in Peter Pan.
La Cage Aux Folles won three Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival in 2010. Yockey says the musical has been around for 29 years. The story is about a nightclub owner whose partner plays the lovely “leading lady” at the club. The two men are successful and have raised a son together. When the owner’s son brings his fiancée’s conservative parents home to meet the flashy pair, the bonds of this non-traditional family are put to the test.
“While the musical includes a mild parental advisory,” Yockey says, “the musical features nothing that today’s prime time sitcoms or dramas have explored. It is that situational comedy where the in-laws are different,” he says. George Hamilton stars in this traveling musical. Yockey is excited to meet him. “However, subscribers don’t seem to have any problem with the show or its subject matter. About two-thirds are picking all six. Whatever the choices, audiences will find something for everyone, he says.
There is something to be said when the parts of the equation add up to a positive. The actors, directors, designers and stage managers that make up the core artistic group for Kansas City Actors Theatre understand the demands and the rewards of live theater. Collectively, the years of experience prove that they are not green, but seasoned and knowledgeable. That expertise adds up quickly into years of understanding how a theater works, not just in front of the stage, but also the moving parts behind the curtain.
Jim Mitchell, with his background in stage production and design, is a founding member. Actor John Rensenhouse and actress Melinda McCrary joined the group not long after the formation. The three talk about the challenges of a theater company. “We get to choose our own projects,” Rensenhouse says. “So often we are at the mercy of directors and administrators. With KCAT, we get to do what we want. We want to offer great theater and that still guides us. We saw a niche that we could fill. However, there is a great deal of responsibility for this all-volunteer group of core artistic staff and leadership. It is like being your own boss.”
McCrary explains that no one serves as the artistic director, but rather the collective makes decisions. “While we have a president and a board, it is mostly the need to have that structure,” Rensenhouse says. “Mainly we start with the question of what we are passionate about and we move from there.”
The first show in 2005 was the dark comedy Cripple of Inishmaan. Mitchell says the first play set the tone for the theater company. The next year, it was a sort of marathon as the group performed the Talley plays, the trio of plays about a family in Lebanon, Mo. McCrary says those three plays were so strong and furthered the mission and direction of KCAT. “The other great aim is to create a budget and we are committed to paying a professional wage.” Rensenhouse chimes in and agrees that they strive to honor all the theater professionals in town when they hire the actors and others.
In the past few years, they have continued to raise the ante, so to speak. Their fifth season was the illustrious David Mamet-written Glengarry Glen Ross and Boston Marriage. By Season 6, the group added to the mix with True West, Marion Bridge, The Seafarer and Oh What A Lovely War. The most recent season returned to the rotating repertory with The Harold Pinter Project: The Birthday Party and then The Collection, The Lover and Night. God of Carnage was co-produced with Unicorn Theatre in »»
partnership with UMKC Theatre. The last show was Billy Bishop Goes to War, staged at the World War I Museum.
The eighth season starting this August is being billed as a Summer of Mystery. First up, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, runs Aug. 8 to Aug. 26 at Union Station’s H&R Block City Stage. Turning the mystery genre on its head, the September show is The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. The dates are Aug. 31 to Sept. 14 at Union Station too.
Mitchell says he expects a sort of Gothic mansion for the setting of both “mysteries.” Stoppard, he says, takes the mystery to a different place artistically and intellectually from Christie. “We had a different season on the docket, but that happens. Actor and director Mark Robbins, one of the founders, will direct the first two shows and that will create that continuity to the approach for both shows. I know that I am excited.
“Agatha Christie gives us that broader audience appeal. Tom Stoppard provides that answer to our mission that we need to perform the works of often neglected playwrights,” McCrary says. “I have seen Mousetrap performed a couple of times and look forward to KCAT’s interpretation. It’s almost startling to see the parody with The Real Inspector Hound. I fell in love with both shows again.”
Inspecting Carol by Daniel J. Sullivan continues the collaboration with Unicorn Theatre. The comedy, written in 1991, runs late November through Dec. 23. “It’s that humor that is just the right mix for all of us,” Rensenhouse says. In the late winter, Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire is the second collaboration with Unicorn Theatre. This new play was a Tony Award nominee for best play in 2011. The play runs Feb. 27 to March 24. Rensenhouse praises the collaborations.
The group passed its eighth official anniversary in January. They formed initially to respond to a larger theater company that imported talent rather than tapping the local talent pool. “We may have some ‘pie in the sky’ attitudes, but we have support and we know it is a privilege to produce the plays we want.” McCrary says the loyal theater base in town likes theater. “Look at the number of new theaters popping up seemingly monthly. How do audiences get to all these shows? We know that we are constantly learning about keeping the loyal folks happy and get new folks in the seats.”
Rensenhouse calls KCAT’s vision and its complete history part of a philosophy of trust. “People expect to see good acting and well-written plays.” McCrary agrees that the most direct and perhaps the simplest approach works as they present worthwhile plays from quality playwrights. “As an eight-year-old organization, we are definitely thinking about those next deliberate steps. Will they take place next year or in 10 years?” Rensenhouse says he wouldn’t mind seeing KCAT in its own space. However, opinions vary. “We are fortunate not to have a theater home that requires all the maintenance, but we have an odd freedom that allows us to plan. It would be great to expand our season to even more shows, but summer is good for us right now,” McCrary says. Rensenhouse says the group has had requests to tour and hopes that could be part of the future.
Mitchell says he likes that KCAT acts as a more self-sufficient entity. “We have managed to survive. We have struggled and the business can be rough. We demand that we stay true to our artistic vision and the artistic product. We are proud of the history of the shows and look forward to the future. We are meticulous on choosing a director, but we also seek to cast a wider net. My dream is to see bigger shows and new faces in the plays. We made a commitment to the theater community.” l
EXHIBIT SWAY: IN THE CURRENT
An original dance performance by Exhibit Sway, in collaboration with artist Elijah Gowin
Friday, June 1st – Performances on the hour 6-9pm
Saturday, June 2nd – Rehearsals 12-2pm, Performances on the hour 2-4pm
La Esquina, 1000 W. 25th St. KCMO
Charlotte Street Foundation is pleased to present Exhibit Sway: In the Current, a live gallery performance collaboration of Exhibit Sway, a contemporary dance project, and Elijah Gowin, a visual artist and Charlotte Street Visual Artist Award Fellow.
Combining a display of photographic work by Gowin with live dance by Exhibit Sway, In the Current explores the human psyche and aspects of truth, life, and individualism. Exhibit Sway dancers of the Kansas City Ballet are creating new works inspired by and relating to Gowin’s photographs during a three week workshop leading up to the performance. During the performances/ exhibition, visitors are invited to walk through the gallery, absorbing different perspectives of movement as they relate to Gowin’s images.
Gowin’s photographs are from his recent “Playing Nature” series. Combining scans of small backyard creatures with plastic debris, these dark and unsettling images juxtapose the organic and inorganic, and speak to the disjunctive relationship we often have with the natural world. Taking their cue from the still life’s rumination on mortality and death, blackness and infinity appear in many ways. Whether as rich black backgrounds in which these dislocated shards swim, or as visions of snow flake fields extending forever like expanding galaxies, Gowin’s images highlight the finite nature of humanity amid the daunting scale of the universe.
Curated by choreographer/dance Stayce Camparo, In the Current will feature contemporary dance created and performed by Kansas City Ballet dancers Stayce Camparo, Rachel Coates, Gabriel Davidsson, Logan Pachciarz, and Catherine Russell.
ABOUT EXHIBIT SWAY
The mission of Exhibit Sway is to create gallery-based performances of original choreography that are inspired and shaped by collaboration with local artists and that re-imagine traditional roles of dancer and spectator.
Exhibit Sway experiments with creative perspective by creating gallery performances that embody choreographic exploration through conceptualized and improvised movement, evolving on a show-by-show basis. Collaborations with various local artists shape and transform concepts and arouse deeper insight by offering a portal through which traditional roles of dancers and spectators are re-visioned. Exhibit Sway promotes creation among all artists and engagement among all art lovers by promoting the intrinsic value of art to the human psyche.
Look up the concept, “grassroots,” and the non-profit organization, Charlotte Street Foundation, may best represent the notion that the individual artist or artist group must find support that starts more as a groundswell rather than from the larger and more traditional structures.
The organization’s co-directors, Kate Hackman and David Hughes, both admit that Charlotte Street Foundation is not easily definable. It is a multi-faceted entity that has many tendrils branching out and impacting many art forms in Kansas City. First, there is the presentation, promotion and development of new and existing artists. These individual artists may be overlooked within a larger macrocosm, but Charlotte Street makes sure that the microcosm of a budding art community is not lost. By supporting these burgeoning artists and art groups, Charlotte Street Foundation also fosters economic and neighborhood development.
Hughes says he learned about the need to give back to his community from his parents. The interest in art came through art history classes in college. He graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree and moved on to Yale for his master’s in public and private management. “When I moved back from New York in the mid to late 1980s, I met individual artists, dancers, musicians, curators, and gallerists working at the grassroots level,” Hughes says. Gallerist Dorry Gates introduced Hughes to local art and many artists, including artist John Puscheck, a 1971 KCAI graduate. Puscheck’s house on Charlotte St. was a gathering spot for all kinds of artists. There, Hughes gained a glimpse into the vitality and potential of the artists’ community.
Over the years, Hughes has served on boards for numerous visual art, theater and dance organizations, including the Kansas City Art Institute. “Generally when I served on boards, my interest was in individual artists – who didn’t receive much attention. I felt that the artists as well as the city would benefit from increased awareness and support for individual artists.” He was inspired to create Charlotte Street Foundation, named in honor of his friend Puscheck, to garner support and recognition for Kansas City artists. Founded in 1997, Charlotte Street began as a small gesture, and was actually one of the first programs in the country to give unrestricted cash grants to artists.
Hackman also understands non-profits. Many in her family work for non-profits, and her mother both made art while she was growing up and ran the Albany League of Arts, making grants to arts organizations in Upstate New York. Hackman’s love of the arts was also fueled when she taught art classes for neighborhood kids in her backyard. She then jumped into an art history program at Williams College, where opportunities in museum work study opened the doors to work in the field. She served as the assistant director of Exit Art, a non-profit, multi-disciplinary contemporary art space in New York City. “This was an exciting and dynamic experience that confirmed my interest in working with living artists and supporting creative experimentation.”
Her father, Larry Hackman, served as the director of the Truman Library from 1995 until his recent retirement. Hackman moved to Kansas City to be closer to family. “I realized that Kansas City was a place steeped in the ever-churning process of invention. I stayed and dug in.” She was founding editor of Review magazine and curated exhibitions at such locations as Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University, H&R Block Artspace at KCAI, and Urban Culture Project’s la Esquina, Paragraph, and Project Space galleries. She has taught at Kansas City Art Institute and frequently lectures about artists and the arts community in Kansas City.
The two understand the vitality of the city. They bring in artists and constantly serve as ambassadors and hosts, but their jobs are so much more. Hackman says individual artist impact then adds to the larger arts community and eventually the city as a whole. “It is empowerment,” she says. “We are smart, I think, about developing processes and structures, but we are also at the leading edge, being challenged and taking risks, right along with the artists.”
In this support, Charlotte Street Foundation may also be defined as a “nurturer” and a “catalyst.” “It is a sort of ground-up movement rather than the top-down mentality,” Hughes says. Hackman says many of the artists are young and emerging. “Through the foundation, they have many opportunities that are open to them. They find their place in the artistic ecosystem.”
Over 15 years, more than 75 visual artists have received cash awards that have been used for financial support and they have also benefited from increased exposure. This year’s 2012 Visual Artist Awards Fellows are Marcus Cain, Anne Austin Pearce and Luke Rocha. Their work will be featured in the 2012 Charlotte Street Visual Artist Awards Exhibition opening in October 2012 at the H&R Block Artspace at Kansas City Art Institute.
There are also the Rocket Grant Project Awards for the Kansas City Region. These grants are another collaborative effort with the Foundation, the KU Spencer Museum of Art, with funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. These grants are supporting the creation and presentation of art in non-traditional spaces. And there is Charlotte Street’s Studio Residency Program, providing free studios on vacant floors of downtown office buildings to visual and performing artists. The biannual open studios event is May 18 and 19.
Along with the visual arts awards, the Foundation also gives out Generative Performing Artist Awards. These recognize artists in the fields of dance, theater, music, performance art and interdisciplinary hybrids. Like the visual artists, they receive monetary support and exposure. “We believe in advocacy. Small organizations and individual artists lack attention, awareness and support,” Hughes says. Hackman says when artists are supported, they are empowered. “They are themselves activists, ambassadors, and advocates for the city. They seek out ways to better their worlds around them. They bring creative thinking to many contexts,” she says. “However, they need advocacy for the importance of their contributions.”
Three exceptional actor/singers pay tribute to the musical team that has razzle dazzled audiences since the 1960s in the cabaret revue Life Is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb, opening April 20 at Quality Hill Playhouse. Kander and Ebb’s sleek, sexy and sophisticated style translated such gritty subjects as pre-Hitler Germany, decadent 1920s America and a prison cell in a South American police state into successful Broadway musicals (Cabaret, 1966; Chicago, 1975; Kiss of the Spiderwoman, 1993; respectively). Director and arranger J. Kent Barnhart has designed the show to give audiences an appreciation of the duo’s remarkable career by selecting material from across their five-decade partnership, including their first song written together (“My Coloring Book” in 1962); songs from their last projects together (Steel Pier, 1997; The Visit, 1999; Chicago (film), 2002); and many of their standards (“All That Jazz,” “Maybe This Time,” “Cabaret,” “New York, New York”). Vocalists Stephanie Laws, Aurelie Roque and Tim Scott will be joined by Barnhart at the piano, Julian Goff on drums and Brian Wilson on bass for the revue’s three dozen sizzling songs.
Life Is a Cabaret runs through May 20 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, Mo. Single tickets are $29, with discounts for students, seniors and groups. For tickets, call 816-421-1700. To purchase tickets online or for more information, visit www.QualityHillPlayhouse.com.
About Kander and Ebb
Composer John Kander, a Kansas City native, was introduced to lyricist Fred Ebb in 1962. After working together on a few projects to determine if they could partner well, they opened their first Broadway show in 1965 – Flora the Red Menace with Liza Minelli in her Broadway debut. The following year they achieved arguably their greatest Broadway success with Cabaret; the film version was released in 1972 to further acclaim. In 1975 they opened Chicago on Broadway, and the show had a respectable run of two years. The show’s Broadway revival in 1996 was an even greater success and is still running today. The film version won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2002. Other successes include the Broadway musicals Woman of the Year (1981) and Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1992); the films Funny Lady (1975) and New York, New York (1977); and collaborations with Liza Minelli and Chita Rivera. Premieres of the partnership’s work continued even after Ebb’s death in 2004 with Broadway productions of Curtains in 2006 and The Scottsboro Boys in 2010.
About the Performers
Stephanie Laws earned her Master’s and post graduate performance certificate at UMKC’s Conservatory of Music. In 2004, she traded her classical repertoire for jazz, performing with her own combo at Benton’s in the Westin until its closing in November 2011. Laws returns to the Playhouse following her appearance in My Romance: The Songs of Rodgers and Hart earlier this year. www.stephanielaws.com
Aurelie Roque is making her QHP debut with this production. Previous credits include Evil Dead: The Musical (Egads! Theatre Company), The Rocky and Bullwinkle Horror Picture Show (KC Fringe Festival), multiple productions with The Coterie, and three years as an entertainer at Bar Natasha. www.aurelieroque.com
Tim Scott just completed an off-Broadway run at New Victory Theatre in The Coterie’s Lucky Duck. A popular Kansas City actor, Scott has performed at nearly every major theatre in town. Following this production he immediately returns to the Playhouse as “Pete” in Pete ’n’ Keely, and he returns to The Coterie this December for Shrek the Musical. www.timmyscott.com
J. Kent Barnhart has served as Executive Director of Quality Hill Productions since he founded the nonprofit theatre in 1995. Throughout his career, he has worked as pianist, musical director, stage director and/or producer for over 100 musicals, plays and cabaret revues.
By Kellie Houx
When I attend a show at Quality Hill Playhouse, I am always thoroughly entertained and just a little bit wiser about those composers and lyricists who helped write the Great American Songbook. The latest show, Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Comden & Green, is no exception.
When the houselights dim, patrons know they are going to get a mix of education and loads of enjoyable musical diversion. I personally know that I am going to gain an understanding about the creative lives of lyricists and composers, their motivations and the stories behind the songs. I feel enriched. J. Kent Barnhart, the executive director, pianist and emcee, is a veritable resource. And as I have written before, he’s a tremendous pianist. I think of him as this artistic guru who is so well versed in musicals that I forget how incredible he is at the piano.
The show starts with On the Town (1944) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s collaboration with Leonard Bernstein. The movie is something many will remember, especially with songs like New York, New York, I Can Cook Too or Some Other Time. Now let me write briefly about the trio that joins Barnhart for the show: Lauren Braton, Molly Hammer and Cary Mock.
The ladies, Hammer and Braton … OK, I have to admit a little something here. I purposely seek out shows and performances with these two women. I have known Braton longer. I remember her as a sweet singer taking the stage in Pirates of Penzance with Gladstone Theatre in the Park. Now, she can be found all over the city, lending her incredible voice and lovely stage presence to anything and everything. Yeah, it’s hard to find any fault with her. She is charming and worth hearing. She has a set of pipes that are a gift.
Now, Hammer is not really the yin to Braton’s yang. The two are almost the perfect female duet. Their voices blend well and they seem to genuinely care for each other. While shows at Quality Hill Playhouse aren’t staged shows, there is some acting and they seem to enjoy each other’s company. Hammer has a voice that I wish I could have. She has the red hair and creamy skin that makes many women jealous. Add that to the feistiness of a woman who knows her vocal range and zowie, there’s a winner. She’s just the sort of singer whose voice fits jazz, blues and the American musical theater.
I can’t forget the charming Cary Mock. He is tall and easily fills the corner of the Quality Hill Playhouse stage. Yet, while I am sure that as an actor given the right role, he could be intimidating, however singing A Quiet Girl from Wonderful Town, the second collaboration of Comden and Green with Bernstein, seemed appropriately sweet and dreamy. Yes, I said dreamy in describing a man’s song, but it really was.
The second half of the show looks at Comden and Green’s relationships with Jule Styne and Cy Coleman. Hammer shines singing the tune Call Me Savage. Braton’s sort of acerbic tones come across with the song If You Hadn’t But You Did. The lyrics are some of the most clever I have heard in many moons. The ability to rhyme an “if” ending is so creative. It is something worth hearing. Of course, Make Someone Happy is just the right tune to end the show. I left humming and thoroughly thrilled that I learned about another musical partnership.
The Quality Hill Playhouse production of Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Comden & Green, runs through April 1.
Almost ironically the first three or four definitions of the word “evolution” fit the journey of the Kansas City Chorale from its inception 30 years ago to its current place in Kansas City’s arts community to its hopeful and growing future.
• One set of prescribed movements
• A process of change in a certain direction
• The process of working out or developing
• The historical development of a biological group
Patrons and friends of the Kansas City Chorale have offered their opinions for the early March concerts. “If you sing what people want to hear, they’ll come see you.” Artistic Director and Conductor Charles Bruffy will conduct the Chorale’s most beloved repertoire. Also on the program to celebrate Franz Liszt’s 200th birthday and the start of the Paschal season, Via Crucis, one of Liszt’s most daring and original compositions. The shows are March 4, March 6 and March 13. (See page 73 for locations.)
The Chorale will also take the stage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Helzberg Hall May 12. The concert will focus on Russian composer Georgy Vasilyevich Sviridov, who lived from 1915 to 1998. The Chorale also plans to record again with the Phoenix Chorale.
“The excitement to perform in Helzberg Hall is palpable,” he says. Bruffy also serves as the Kansas City Symphony chorus director so he is very familiar with the sound at Helzberg Hall. “I have confidence in the room and in the singers. Obviously the acoustics are going to behave differently with 24 singers versus an orchestra, but we really are accustomed to that. The joy will be a chance to challenge the hall with the pianissimo of 24 singers. The room will sing with us. It will be fun to play within the space.
Executive Director Don Loncasty has been with the Kansas City Chorale since 2000. He calls Bruffy a leader and a leader who knows how to influence people. “No one can work in a vacuum. It’s 30 years worth of putting out good work to an audience.”
Toward the beginning of the Chorale’s start in Kansas City, Bruffy managed all the rehearsals and assisted the Director John Goldsmith, who flew in for performances. “We have always been a unique group. It’s a professional choir that has been paid from the first year. The other group I conduct, the Phoenix Chorale, has been around for 53 years.” »»
“Thirty years is a milestone. It’s a rich history that includes wonderful singers who have been part of this journey. Then you add the board members and friends. There are so many who have helped us get where we are today.” Bruffy has served as the conductor and artistic director for 25 years. During the early years, Bruffy says, he neglected those thank-yous and he is hoping to make up for some of those accolades. “It’s gratifying to have been awarded the respect of my colleagues and patrons. If the creation of an art is paralleled to traveling on a trip, you get to a certain point and with the choral art, that point is the possibility of uniting intonation, blend, dynamics, sincerity and genuineness for a concert or recording. So when you get to here, thinking it might be the place where we try to live in, it’s really the place where the challenge begins anew. When the goal becomes the starting place, people aim to improve their skills and depth, not only as a musician, but also as a person.”
The Kansas City Chorale has recorded compact discs for Nimbus Records and Chandos, two British labels. “That wasn’t the goal. Even the Grammy nominations and wins weren’t the goal. The idea was to create as refined an art as we possibly could.” Recordings have included American Christmas carols, Brahms, Shakespeare, hymns to the Virgin Mary and a collection of American choral music.
Emotion, integrity and a love of music still inspires Bruffy, 25 years into his run as director. “When people hear us sing, they need to feel something. We singers are historians, poets, interpreters, actors, dancers and magicians. When we draw on all of those tools, music comes in balance. It’s a blast to consider all these things and bring in the depth and vulnerability to the music. In a sense, we invite the audience to become vulnerable and open to join in the experimental sound,” he says. “As an American conductor and choir, we are responsible to expose listeners, either through CDs or our concerts, we share a variety of cultures and eras, but every moment needs to be immediate and fresh.”
With the Phoenix Chorale, Bruffy has performed works of contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo. The Kansas City Chorale has performed works of American contemporary composer Rene Clausen. “Even when the choirs and I have a chance to collaborate with the composers, a curious thing happens. The piece finds it own timing, tempo, dynamic and shape. A piece often migrates until it finds its identity.”
Loncasty says he expects the next 30 years to be even more creative. “Our audiences and future audiences expect us to be innovative. We will enhance our international reputation with tours and more recordings. We want to reflect even more of the cultural fabric of the city.” Bruffy says he plans to take the experience and wisdom of what has been gained in the past 30 years and build on that. “We aim for continued artistic freedom. For me personally, I plan to continue to explore the possibilities in sound and in communicating sensations to our listeners.”
In partnership with KCPT, The Local Show will present its art segment on the Kansas City Chorale March 29. l