Ahead of its most ambitious season to date, the Savannah VOICE Festival is hosting a prelude concert featuring one of the festival’s regular stars and success stories.

For its sixth annual season, the SVF will stage four operas, the largest programming schedule to date for the festival. As already announced, the August festival will be themed “Stories Great and Small” and feature Menotti's "The Telephone,” Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel,” Ching's "Speed Dating, Tonight!" and Verdi's classic "La Traviata.”

At the prelude event May 12, the SVF will announce additional events in a concert featuring three of its premiere stars: Chad Sonka, Tessa Hartle and Carlton Moe, the latter returning to Savannah after making his debut on Broadway last year.

When Moe, a classically trained opera singer, began working with SVF co-founders Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves, he knew very few musical theater pieces.

During his three years with the festival, he was invited by Milnes and Zouves into the world of musical theater. For the Funny at Five program last year, Moe handled a number of Broadway pieces, which prepared him for his Broadway audition.

 

Taste of Broadway

Last October, Moe made his Broadway debut as Ubaldo Piagni in the “Phantom of the Opera.”

Milnes, a world-renowned operatic baritone and Zouves, an educator, producer and exceptional soprano, began the Sherrill Milnes VOICE Program as a training ground for young singers. The SVF’s main event and satellite shows offered the chance for burgeoning singers to practice their art in a professional setting and with one of the greatest baritones of the modern age directing. Moe is one in a line of many singers who, through the program, have seen their careers blossom.

“A big part of the mission is to help artists realize their potential, and we are so happy to see Carl succeed among others like Santiago Ballerini, Micaela Oeste, Jessica Ann Best and Meechot Marrero,” Zouves said in a press release. “It has been truly rewarding to watch our Carl grow and expand on his skills over the years through our programs. We could not be prouder of his hard work and professionalism, which has led him to his recent Broadway debut!”

“Before I got involved with the Savannah VOICE Festival, I hadn’t sung much music from Broadway,” Moe said. “When I started working with them, they were giving us assignments for concerts to learn all this music for Broadway shows. I basically went into the festival knowing two show tunes. Then over those three years, I learned a lot more than that. If I knew two when I started, I probably came out knowing 10 times that.”

During the past seven months, Moe has been performing eight times a week on the Great White Way, adjusting to the rigorous Broadway schedule. In comparison with the four- to six-week preparation time for an opera, Moe had only two weeks of rehearsal before heading out on stage every night.

“You get a rehearsal period of four, six weeks sometimes with the intent that you create a finished product,” Moe said of opera. “So that your first performance is set and ready to go for your audience. With theater, we got two weeks of rehearsal. The choreography and staging is all very precise. With the thinking — this was the impression that I got — they don’t think that you’re going to be finished with or have a finished performance until you’ve been doing performances for two or three weeks. Part of the learning still happens in front of 1,600 people every night."

Vocal, physical workout

“It was definitely a bit of a struggle in the beginning,” Moe continued. “That was part of the trial by fire. It took a while to figure out the pacing, how much singing I could do away from the show without it costing me later.”

Moe has also had to adjust to the physical toll of being a Broadway performer. Recently, he figured out that he climbs 24 flights of stairs every show. Along with the dancing and climbing on an elephant with a large costume in the first scene, Moe has seen himself shape up.

“I definitely have lost some weight,” Moe said. “My friends are going on diets; I’ve told them if you want to lose weight, get cast in a Broadway show.”

Moe is teaming up with his old friend, Sonka, for the prelude show. The two met while in graduate school at Manhattan School of Music. They’ve sung almost every baritone/tenor duet possible, according to Moe. The prelude’s programming will give the audience an idea of what to expect at the SVF this summer with a few special performances as well.

“My idea for programming my part of it, for this prelude concert, was kind of doing a musical journey through my story of starting at ‘Phantom,’” Moe said. “There’s going to be a set where I recreate my audition for ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ So people can get a sense of what it’s like to audition for a Broadway show. There’s another set, I call it the ghosts of the Majestic Theatre. I am going to be singing songs from shows that premiered at The Majestic, where I sing every day.”