5 reasons to go see ‘Little Mermaid’ if you’re a kid or grown-up

Published: Thursday, August 10, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

“The Little Mermaid” comes to the Schuster Center Aug. 8-13. SUBMITTED PHOTO BY MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY
“The Little Mermaid” comes to the Schuster Center Aug. 8-13. SUBMITTED PHOTO BY MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

There’s ample time to venture “under the sea” as the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series offers a special Star Attractions presentation of Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight Theatre’s vibrantly entertaining production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through Sunday, Aug. 13 at the Schuster Center.

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale and the 1989 Academy Award-winning animated film, “The Little Mermaid” is a whimsical account of the beautiful mermaid princess Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton, who longs to leave her ocean home and join the human world above, ultimately falling in love with handsome Prince Eric. However, a pivotal proposition from wicked sea witch Ursula threatens to destroy Ariel’s happiness.

>> PHOTOS: Check out the breathtaking set from The Little Mermaid

Here are five reasons why you should see this family-friendly crowd-pleaser.

Diana Huey as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” SUBMITTED PHOTO BY MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY(Contributing Writer)

1. A STORY WORTH ADMIRING

As Ariel vows to seek a life of her own in spite of adversity, her journey remains relatable, empowering and universal with a few pointed messages about tolerance in the process. After all, she fittingly reminds King Triton, “You can’t blame all humans for a few wicked ones.” “We are reaching out to a whole new generation of musical theater lovers,” said Eric Kunze who plays Prince Eric. “A good amount of our audience consists of young children who perhaps are seeing their first theatrical experience. Hopefully, we are inspiring them. This is a beautifully written show, especially musically.”

>> What to know before you to to Little Mermaid

Eric Kunze portrays Prince Eric in the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series special Star Attractions presentation of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (Contributed photo)

2. DEEPER SUBTEXT FOR ADULTS

Kunze points out an intriguing commonality in the world of Disney: many of its main characters come from single-parent homes and desire acceptance. “The underlying themes of the show are geared toward adults,” he explained. “King Triton is raising his daughters alone and is having a difficult time letting Ariel go. But the show also (deals) with characters who are trying to fit in and are feeling out of place in the world. They are trying to find where they belong. But everybody has their own journey, their own special path. And if you do feel out of your skin – embrace it.”

Diana Huey will play Ariel in the Victoria Theatre Association’s upcoming production of “The Little Mermaid.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO(Staff Writer)

3. WELL-DEFINED PORTRAYALS

Director Glenn Casale, working with a libretto by Doug Wright, ensures the show isn’t merely a carbon copy of the film or full of one-dimensional characterizations. In fact, there is a renewed sense of imaginative discovery and fierce determination within Ariel primarily thanks to Diana Huey’s wonderfully lyric-driven rendition of “Part of Your World.” Jennifer Allen’s witty comedic timing is also a plus as she commands attention as Ursula. “The show is so smartly written so we really don’t have to overplay anything,” Kunze noted. “It’s all in the script. We just have to be honest and tell the story clearly as best we can without being cartoon-like.”

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Jennifer Allen is Ursala in “The Little Mermaid.” CONTRIBUTED BY MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY(Staff Writer)

4. NEW SONGS BROADEN SCOPE

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s original score includes such favorites as “Kiss the Girl,” “Les Poissons” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” but Menken wrote several new tunes with lyricist Glenn Slater to broaden the story’s scope for the stage. “If Only,” a gorgeous quartet for Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and King Triton, is a particular Act 2 highlight offering varying perspectives on hope and love as each character faces an emotional crossroads. “When the four threads come together it is a gorgeous moment,” Kunze said. “It’s one of my favorite songs in the show.”

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Paul Rubin is a flight choreographer whose talent helps “The Little Mermaid” cast swim under the sea. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO(Staff Writer)

5. HIGH-FLYING SPECTACLE

The production marvelously conjures underwater fancifulness with an array of colorfully elaborate sets and costumes, outstanding lighting design stretching beyond the proscenium, and nifty flying sequences choreographed by the legendary Paul Rubin (who has choreographed over 300 productions of “Peter Pan”) specifically for Ariel, King Triton and Ariel’s seagull buddy Scuttle. “This is a full-scale Broadway production with mind-blowing technical aspects,” Kunze said. “There’s definitely some pizzazz.”

WANT TO GO?

What: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”

Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: Through Aug. 13; 8 p.m. through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $25-$108

Tickets/more info: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com

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Weekend of Jazz: Where music legends meet future stars

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 12:00 AM


            Student musicians performing at the 2017 Weekend of Jazz, which returns for another year at Beavercreek High School, Thursday through Saturday, March 1 through 3. CONTRIBUTED
Student musicians performing at the 2017 Weekend of Jazz, which returns for another year at Beavercreek High School, Thursday through Saturday, March 1 through 3. CONTRIBUTED

Saxophonist Dave Liebman’s career as a professional musician was solidified at 15 when he saw John Coltrane perform. The Pennsylvania-based artist and teacher hopes to inspire a new generation of teens during Weekend of Jazz at Beavercreek High School, Thursday through Saturday, March 1 through 3.

“I had polio as a kid,” Liebman said. “I was always around hospitals and doctors, so I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. Then I saw Coltrane and it looked interesting and unbelievably fun. This was art and music that was beyond the pale. It was so visceral. It was an awakening.”

Liebman, who performs regularly in the United States and Europe, has appeared on more than 500 recordings. His latest release is “Masters in Bordeaux” with French pianist Martial Solal.

“Jazz is a very deep music,” Liebman said. “It’s very American, at least at its roots, and it’s very African-American in its personnel. It’s music of complete honesty and of democracy versus individuality at the same time.”

CONCERTS & WORKSHOPS

Weekend of Jazz features a series of public performances. Beavercreek Band Night is Thursday, followed by the Victor Wooten Band on Friday and the Dave Liebman Big Band on Saturday. Liebman and Wooten will also be working directly with students.

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“I’ve been doing this for 50 years so I’m a relic, but I have some things to share with students,” he said. “I’m still running the organization I founded, the International Association of Schools of Jazz. We’re doing a lot of outreach and trying to get young people interested in the music.”

Musicians from more than 20 high school jazz bands will attend the 18th annual event, including Beavercreek senior Gabriel Brausch on trumpet. “I like Weekend of Jazz because it’s a place where professionals meet the students and students get to see how the thing they like doing can relate to a career,” he said.

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Beavercreek senior Shelby Rice, who plays trombone, agreed. “Weekend of Jazz truly is a unique learning experience for students. We get to interact with — and learn from — world-class musicians we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. We get insights into the industry and the lives of professional musicians, and get lessons in performance and musicianship from people who’ve made this their life’s work.”

FUTURE OF JAZZ

The motto of Weekend of Jazz is, “Where the future of jazz meets the legends of jazz.” According to Tim Sakulich, the director of the Weekend of Jazz, he and the other parent volunteers take that very seriously.

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“Our mission is to get the students even more excited about music being a part of their lives,” Sakulich said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to experience jazz at this level. It’s a fun time and very educational so it really does engage them. Whether the students pursue jazz as a professional career or not, we want them to be excited about music.”

WANT TO GO?

What: Weekend of Jazz featuring Beavercreek Band Night, the Victor Wooten Band and the Dave Liebman Big Band

Where: Beavercreek High School Alumni Auditorium, 266o Dayton-Xenia Road, Beavercreek.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 1 through 3.

Cost: Free Thursday, $33 adults, $23 students and seniors per concert Friday and Saturday.

More info: www.weekendofjazz.org

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‘School of Rock: The Musical’ is bigger than Jack Black — and here’s why you shouldn’t miss it

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

The cast of the School of RockTour. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MATTHEW MURPHY
The cast of the School of RockTour. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MATTHEW MURPHY

Rob Colletti was a high school junior when the hit movie, “School of Rock,” came out. Now, 15 years later, he’s taking on the Jack Black role of Dewey Finn in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical version of the movie, which plays at the Aronoff Center throughout next weekend.

“I saw (the movie) when it came out,” Colletti said. “I was a huge Jack Black fan and I was also just hitting my stride in my musical discovery. I grew up with my dad playing that music, though his tastes were mellower. The movie added Black Sabbath.”

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Theodora Silverman and Rob Colletti in the School of Rock Tour. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MATTHEW MURPHY(Contributing Writer)

The story is familiar to many. Finn is a down-on-his-luck rock star wannabe living off his roommate. By chance, he lands a job as a substitute teacher, where he throws out the math textbooks and turns the classroom into a rock school. Naturally, Finn and the kids end up having more to teach each other than how to play The Doors in perfect harmony. According to Colletti, the musical expands greatly on the movie.

“There are two new levels of storytelling,” he said. “First, the relationship between Dewey and Rosalie, the principal, is amplified. There’s also a storyline about the kids, how they’re not listened to by their parents and how they’re being pushed into lives they didn’t choose. There’s a reason why the movie was two hours and the musical is two and a half. Even audiences who know the ending are surprised.”

In addition to retaining all of the classic rock songs from the movie, the Webber score adds 14 more songs.

“(The score) hearkens back to (Webber’s) ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ which was a rock opera,” Colletti said. “It’s all guitar, piano, bass and drums. There are no brass or woodwinds. It’s just a rock band in a pit. And the kids play songs onstage, too. I’ve never yet seen an audience that isn’t on their feet at the end.”

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Rob Colletti, in a role originated by Jack Black, portrays Dewey Finn in “School of Rock: The Musical.” CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

Because a major part of the movie’s appeal was Jack Black’s idiosyncratic brand of physical comedy, Colletti said he felt obligated to replicate that performance, but only to a certain extent.

“I’m very intent on not doing a Jack Black impression,” he said. “I’ll be building on what he did, because it’s iconic for a reason. But it wasn’t just him. If you look at old footage of Mick Jagger and Angus Young, you can see their physicality in (Black’s) performance. It was very specific and it just happened to fit his sense of humor.”

Colletti added that he’s applying his own life experiences to the trials that Finn endures.

“I’ve had my share of failure, too,” he said. “I’ve been dismissed, fired, told no. I use the implications of the lessons I’ve learned.”

WANT TO GO?

What: “School of Rock: The Musical”

When: Feb. 22-March 4; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati

Cost: $30 and up

More Info: 513-621-2787 or www.cincinnatiarts.org.

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DCDC celebrates 50 years with one-night special celebration

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company has just won a Bessie. Video by Amelia Robinson first uploaded July 14, 2016.

On the brink of its 50th anniversary season, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is producing a one-night-only celebration of former dancers and current artists in its winter concert fittingly titled “Reunited,” which is slated Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Victoria Theatre.

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“Celebrating 50 years is very important internally to the organization,” said DCDC Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs. “Longevity of a company in the dance world is very important right now particularly when you hear of companies closing their doors daily as the economy tries to adjust to the non-profit sector. But DCDC, being around for 50 consecutive years in a non-coastal city, is proud of our accomplishments. We want everybody to celebrate with us.”

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company closes its 48th season with its annual Soulstice fundraising gala Saturday, May 13, at America’s Packard Museum. The gala has a New Orleans theme and will include dance renditions of folklore and fairy tales. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

Organizers are preparing excerpts of 10 works from each of the company’s three artistic directors: founder Jeraldyne Blunden, Kevin Ward and Blunden-Diggs. The program will also feature works from choreographers in DCDC’s classic repertory including Asadata Dafora and Donald Byrd, and works from today’s top choreographers including Ronen Koresh, Dwight Rhoden, Alvin Rangel and Ray Mercer.

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“The concert is going to be an interesting retrospective that sort of takes the audience through an open photo album through our 50 years,” said Blunden-Diggs. “I’ve seen a lot of dance companies celebrate their 50th anniversaries and I wanted to create something more exciting than particularly hearing a lot of historical facts. So, the audience will see snippets of past work and most recent work. It’s going to be an exciting program.”

DCDC dancer “Sheri “Sparkle” Williams is shown here in “Body Talk.” She is the recipient of the OhioDance Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Dance Art Form. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY AUDREY INGRAM(Staff Writer)

In addition, former WDTN news anchor Marsha Bonhart will connect the dances as the show’s live storyteller.

“Marsha has witnessed a lot of the things DCDC has done,” Blunden-Diggs said. “I was looking for a way someone could help us tell the story in more than one way. She’s a wonderful host and moderator.”

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Organizers are still confirming how many former dancers and special guests will be included, but Blunden-Diggs is certain the evening will be an amazing homecoming for all involved. She also hints the company could possibly announce the upcoming 50th anniversary season at the concert.

DCDC will be performing Shed at the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus concert on June 3. SUBMITTED PHOTO(Staff Writer)

“Once you’re with DCDC, you’re always with DCDC,” she reminded. “This concert is just another opportunity to say that out loud and get as many people back here to see what we look like now. There are many people who left the company years ago who haven’t seen what the company is today. And our present company will have the opportunity to hear the stories of the people whose shoulders they stand upon.”

Want to go?

WHAT: “Reunited”

WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton

WHEN: 7:30 p.m.; Saturday

COST: $14.50-$47

TICKETS/MORE INFO: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com

FYI: DCDC will host “The Gathering: A DCDC Family Reunion” with dancers, choreographers, teachers and patrons Fri. Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at Dayton Women’s Club, 225 N. Ludlow St., Dayton. For more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.

ABOUT DCDC

The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is about to celebrate 50 years. Dayton Contemporary Dance Company was founded in 1968 to create performance opportunities for dancers of color. Nearly 50 years later, it remains rooted in the African American experience.

The dance group will be awarded the prestigious Irma Lazarus Award this year, one of the Governor’s Awards for the Arts.

The “Lazarus Award goes to individuals or organizations who have helped shape public support for the arts through their work as advocates and have brought national and international recognition to Ohio through sustained dedication to artistic excellence.”

Other top honors:

  • Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) won a prestigious NYC Bessie Award in 2016. The dance company received shout-outs from The New York Times and The Huffington Post as well for its performance “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”
  • The film “Sparkle” premiered on PBS in 2012, featuring dancer Sheri “Sparkle” Williams.
  • DCDC performed the opening performance for Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Maya Angelo at the Schuster Center in 2005. 
  • DCDC toured 27 cities with The Flight Project, five dance works commemorating the Wright Brothers centennial of powered flight in 2003.
  • Dancer Sheri Williams received the New York Dance and Performance Award (the Bessie), the JOSIE Award in 2002.
  • DCDC was featured in the 2001 Emmy award-winning PBS Great Performances documentary, Free to Dance, in 2001.

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Falling in love at Dayton Opera: Young artists sing ‘Barber of Seville’

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 12:00 AM


            Soprano Olivia Yokers, a native of Hamilton. CONTRIBUTED
Soprano Olivia Yokers, a native of Hamilton. CONTRIBUTED

It’s easy to imagine an 8-year-old girl aspiring to become a ballerina or a 14-year-old musician dreaming of rock star fame. But what accounts for a decision to set your sights on an opera career?

We posed that question to the four young opera singers participating in Dayton Opera’s Artist-in-Residence program this season. Selected from 150 to 200 applicants at national auditions in New York and Dayton, the four arrived in December to perform in the Dayton Philharmonic’s annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah” and in the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance’s New Year’s Eve Concert. Their official residency began in January and you may have caught them performing at the Dayton Philharmonic Chamber Concert “Bernstein Songfest” at the Dayton Art Institute.

Three of these singers will be on stage at the Schuster Center when the Dayton Opera presents Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera, “The Barber of Seville” on Friday, March 2 and Sunday, March 4.

“The first, and most important, attribute I look for is career potential vocal quality,” explains Dayton Opera artistic director Tom Bankston.” Our AIR singers have to be able to represent Dayton Opera at a professional level in wide-ranging performance situations so it is important that their voices show a professional level that is distinguishable even to the youngest of children, and believe me they can tell the difference!”

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Bankston says he also looks for a baseline level of experience and training gained either from university- or entry-level opera company experience. “And because they are advocates and emissaries for our art form,” he adds, “they must have an ability to communicate what our art form is all about in a persuasive and positive way.”

About the program

The Dayton Opera Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program was established in 1987 as a professional training program for young singers, providing a bridge between their university/conservatory education and a professional opera company career. This season marks the program’s 31st year.

In addition to performing in Dayton Opera productions and Philharmonic concerts, the young artists introduce opera in schools throughout the community. This winter, in cooperation with The Muse Machine, they’re presenting “OMG — It’s Opera,” written and directed by WYSO’s development director Luke Dennis.

“This quartet is the best I’ve worked with in terms of comedic timing,” says Dennis. “Sometimes opera singers are in the ‘park and bark’ school, but these four are really actors as well.”

New to the AIR program is pianist Carol Warner, who is serving as music director and accompanist. She’s worked extensively for Cincinnati Opera and has been principal accompanist for past Dayton Opera productions.

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Meet the singers

Soprano Olivia Yokers, a native of Hamilton, was only 13 when she saw her first opera, “Tosca,” and immediately fell in love. “I was amazed by the woman playing Tosca and in awe by the power of her voice,” Olivia remembers. “I never knew that the human voice could sing over a 50-person orchestra and fill a concert hall like that without the help of microphones. I was struck by the beauty and drama of the whole thing and from that moment on, I knew opera was something I wanted to pursue.”

Olivia, who earned both her bachelor and master’s degrees in music at Indiana University, first appeared locally in the Dayton Philharmonic’s PhilharMonster concert, “Green Eggs and Ham” in October. Being from Hamilton, she says, has meant that Dayton Opera has always been a company she loved. “I think the highlight of my time here was performing in the New Year’s Eve concert,” she says. “I couldn’t think of a better way to bring in 2018.”

Mezzo-soprano Noragh Devlin has been praised for her “powerful, rangy mezzo-soprano” by the New York Times. She’s a recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music.

When it came to choosing opera as a profession, she says, there was no special “a-ha!” moment. “I started out as a violinist and when I was 12, I took my first voice lesson out of curiosity,” she says. “From there, I just couldn’t get enough. I took more lessons and joined more choirs. It quickly became evident that my voice was more suited to classical music.”

After a friend spoke highly of her experiences in Dayton, Noragh decided to look into the Dayton residency. “I did some research and saw that Dayton Opera would be putting on ‘The Barber of Seville’ and applied immediately,” she says. “Berta is a perfect role for me right now and I hoped I would get the chance here in Dayton. I even prepared Berta’s aria for my audition — and it worked!”

She loves performing comedy and says Berta is such a funny character. “She’s sometimes curmudgeonly, sometimes bitingly sarcastic, sometimes very earnest,” she says, “and I am very much looking forward to finding all the nooks and crannies in her character.”

Tenor Michael Anderson says three things inspired him to choose opera: Frederic, Liz, and Oberlin.

“I discovered that my voice was suited to opera when I got a ‘lucky break’ as a freshman in high school,” says Michael, who grew up in Little Silver, N.J. He currently lives in New York City, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. “The senior singing Frederic in ‘Pirates of Penzance’ dropped out three weeks before opening night, and I was the cover.”

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That first time singing with a full orchestra, he says, was a magical experience. “As a sophomore, a pretty girl named Liz took me to my first opera, Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute,’ at the Metropolitan Opera, and I was absolutely blown away by it.”

The following year, his voice teacher suggested he attend a summer program at Oberlin College. “Working with so many talented artists and impressive faculty members sealed the deal!” Michael says. He will make his Dayton Opera debut as Sergeant in “The Barber of Seville” and will return in May to sing the role of Pong in “Turandot.”

He’s enjoying his time in Dayton. “As part of the residency, we visit middle schools and high schools to perform and speak with kids about what we do,” he says. “This aspect of the program has been inspiring beyond belief. We have had the chance to interact with so many wonderful children and young adults and introduce them to opera. I remember being their age and being motivated and encouraged by artists who came to my school, and it’s exciting to know that we could be that for these kids.”

Baritone Alexander Harper, who last year sang Morales in Dayton Opera’s production of “Carmen” and Assan in “The Consul,” says he was fortunate to grow up with a classically trained vocalist in his household: “My own mother!”

“She would tell you I’ve been singing ever since I’ve been talking, although it wasn’t until I was in high school that I knew I wanted to be an opera singer,” Alex says. “I didn’t pay much attention to opera until Luciano Pavarotti died. A tribute to him in the form of a television commercial featured him singing ‘Vesti la giubba’ from ‘I Pagliacci’ and I had never heard anything more beautiful in my life — although I understood none of the Italian, nor even how to figure out which aria I was even listening to!”

That TV commercial inspired him to visit every record store and secondhand music shop he could find in order to buy all of their opera compilation CDs. “I must have listened to 100 arias and duets before I landed on Mario del Monaco singing the aria I had heard on television, but by that point I was already hooked on the art form,” he says. “I was lucky to have a supportive family and chorus teacher, both of whom urged me to follow my passion.”

Alex, a native of Richmond, Va., attended college at Virginia Commonwealth University and received his master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He will appear in the role of Fiorello in “The Barber of Seville.”

Music director Warner says these four singers are not only talented in their own right, but together make a dynamic group. “Each one has contributed ideas and energy to the programs we have performed and each is eager to communicate and interact with all of our audiences,” she says. “The enthusiasm and good will between them and from them is very contagious.”

HOW TO GO:

What: The Dayton Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”

When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 2 and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 4.

Where: Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Dayton

Related programming: Come to the Mead Theatre one hour prior to both performances to hear pre-performance talks presented by University of Dayton’s music professor Sam Dorf.

Tickets: Range from $28 to $94 and are available at www.daytonperformingarts.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630. Senior, student, and military discounts are available. For more information on tickets, or how to subscribe to the 2017-2018 The Great Ones Season, visit www.daytonperformingarts.org.

Related programming: Come to the Mead Theatre one hour prior to both performances to hear pre-performance talks presented by University of Dayton’s music professor Sam Dorf.

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