For the fourth consecutive year, the Savannah Music Festival and Savannah Voice Festival will team up for a co-production featuring world-class vocalists.
Each year, Voice Fest founders and renowned opera singers Maria Zouves and Sherrill Milnes piece together a program exploring a different arrangement of vocal stylings. Following the Arias & Encores program of last year, SVF will explore the early days of musical theater in a Classical Broadway showcase for two performances April 13.
“We have found, as you can imagine, through the years that when you give people musical theater, you can often trick them into other parts of great singing,” Zouves said. “We thought this would be a nice way for families to come and see it. When they might not be as connected to an Arias & Encores title, they would be excited about Broadway.”
Musical theater, historically the most produced style on Broadway in New York City’s Theater District, has in some form or another been around since the ancient Greeks. The music commonly referred to in modern times was born during the 1940s and 1950s, Broadway’s Golden Age. Rooted in an amalgam of opera and straight drama, musical theater’s format started with songwriting teams, whose names have become synonymous with the genre.
“We thought we’d go more with the time when musical theater was just ootching out of operetta and operas,” Zouves said. “Not that there aren’t great new works being done for classical singers. Of course, [‘Phantom of the Opera’] is one of the big things. Those classics — those Rogers and Hammerstein pieces, even as far back as Gilbert and Sullivan — these are things that were starting to cross over. That’s what we’re trying to showcase.”
Although the full program will be announced from the stage, the Classical Broadway show will feature music from scores like “The Pirates of Penzance, “Funny Girl,” “Paint Your Wagon,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Camelot,” “South Pacific” and “My Fair Lady.” Returning to the stage are Voice Festival singers Jessica Ann Best, Sean Christensen, Nan Qin, Scott Russell, Angela De Venuto and James Wright.
“I think we’re stopping somewhere around the 1970s,” Zouves said. “There are a couple of exceptions to that rule, where we’ll have a few that are bit more modern that are suited to what the scene is for that particular moment in that wild ride we’re going to take for 70 minutes. It’s a mix of different things, but most of it will be those 1940s/’50s, where Rogers and Hammerstein, those guys were all knocking out gorgeous, soaring melodies, fun hit tunes. Things that you recognize.
"For our audience who loves that repertoire, they’re going to recognize a lot of what we’re doing. Then, bringing their children and grandchild to introduce them to it in some cases. That’s a great way to say hey, this is one of my favorite pieces.”
Working with highly accomplished pianist and Broadway veteran Dan Gettinger, Zouves and Milnes have built a dramatic program. Avoiding a banal stand-and-sing format, the show has been carefully curated to tell the stories of the musicals. The performers will be in full character, and Zouves and company have built a narrative into the show. Milnes will act as an emcee as well, sharing in brief the history of the pieces, further augmenting the festival’s educational aspect.
“We try to glue the show together so it has ebb and flow and people feel like they’re being given a story,” Zouves said. “It’s not even a question of standing up there and singing a beautiful tune. We’re treating this as we would any of our shows, where there’s really an opportunity to showcase these voices and this music in a way that makes sense.
“Dan is incredible,” Zouves continued. “He’s very special. When it comes to this kind of repertoire — well, Dan can play anything — when it comes to this kind of repertoire, he knows so much. He’s a fabulous arranger. We’re talking about gluing pieces together. He and I have collaborated for years on programs. Really, nobody does it better in terms of understanding an ebb and flow to a show.
“A good show is a series of tensions and releases. That’s true with anything. No matter what you plan or what you’re doing, it’s got to be tension and release. You have to understand that from a musical perspective, so your audience feels it. If you give them too much intensity, you make them tired. If you give them too much laid back, it becomes boring and redundant.
"Dan really understands that. It’s so much fun to work with him in that capacity. He makes the piano smoke! When you have that kind of support, it’s so much easier to do your job.”