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Broadway stars lend talent to 'Sensational' show

April 7th, 2014 5:38 pm by Leigh Ann Laube

Broadway stars lend talent to 'Sensational' show

Beth Leavel is among the Broadway stars that will perform at '{One} Singular Sensational Evening,' set for April 12 at Niswonger Performing Arts Center. Contributed photo.

Broadway and musical professionals from New York to California will converge on Greeneville in April to present the third "{One} Singular Sensational Evening," a fundraiser for Niswonger Children's Hospital.

Joining four Broadway stars and a San Francisco-based musical director on April 12 at Niswonger Performing Arts Center will be a group of local youth who earned the right to perform through a series of auditions held earlier this year. Show time is 7:30 p.m.

David Elder, whose Broadway credits include "42nd Street," "Kiss Me Kate," "Titanic," "Damn Yankees," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Guys and Dolls," has flown from New York to Tennessee for five years now to help support Niswonger Children's Hospital, which serves more than 200,000 children in a four-state, 29-county region and is home to one of six St. Jude Affiliate Clinics.

Three years ago, the fundraiser was changed from a gala to a Broadway show, with Elder and his long-time friend Cookie McKinney — Niswonger's manager of Children's Initiatives — planning a way to bring Broadway to Tennessee.

"Some people might have thought, 'How do you mix Broadway and children from the hills of East Tennessee?' and we weren't sure, but we thought we could do it. It's hard to do long distance, to come a couple of days beforehand, so you can't do well thought-out production numbers of Broadway caliber," Elder said. ... "It's almost a relief for us to come to East Tennessee and not have the pressure of having wealthy producers who are putting together a Broadway show. Here, we get to come and do it from the heart, and that's the story that the concert wants to tell. We are real people, not just Broadway stars.

"In my business, everyday, we hope somebody notices that we have a bit of talent so we can have some job security. Let's say I run a show for four years, and at the end of that job, it's back to square one for us. When we have the opportunity to do something that's not really about us, it's a vessel or catalyst for making money for these kids."

Elder has no children of his own, but does have six nieces and nephews. Not only was he on board for the first "{One} Singular Sensational Evening," but he had talented friends who hopped on quickly as well.

The inaugural event featured Elder, Gary Mauer, Cary Miller and Denise DiRenzo. Mauer wasn't originally supposed to participate; instead he filled in for someone who had to back out.

"He came up with a conflict and couldn't do it. I stepped in. I went down and did the first one. From that point on, I've been the one involved," Mauer said.

Mauer most recently starred as the title character in Broadway's "The Phantom of the Opera." His Broadway and National Tour credits also include "Les Miserables" and "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber."

Elder, Mauer and the two female stars — Elizabeth Southard and Beth Leavel — have rehearsed together in New York. Later this week, they will arrive in Greeneville to rehearse with the young local talent.

"Those first two days, when we're getting everything together, is crazy. But somehow it just works. It melds. The kids really step up. They're great kids. They've been prescreened and their talent is obvious," Mauer said. "They're good kids and they're eager and ready and willing to work with us. We just smush it all together."

Southard, who is married to Mauer, and Leavel are new to this year's show, taking the places of Miller and DiRenzo, who had conflicts. Southard starred on Broadway as Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera," a role she also performed in the Vancouver, B.C., production and the National Tour alongside her husband. She was chosen by Harold Prince to star as Magnolia in his latest revival of "Showboat" in the First National Tour. She performed Off-Broadway as Sherlyn in Jack Eric Williams' "Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings."

Leavel has received Tony, Drama Desk, NY Outer Critics Circle and L.A. Drama Critics Awards for her performance as the title character in "The Drowsy Chaperone." She has also received Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for her role as Florence Greenberg in "Baby It's You." She recently performed the roles of Dolly in "Hello Dolly" at Cape Playhouse, Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam" at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, M'Lynn in "Steel Magnolias" at the North Carolina Theatre and the much put-upon maid, Berthe, in "Boeing-Boeing" at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

It's Michael Horsley's job as musical director to create the arrangements, working with the Broadway stars, the local youth and the Charles Goodwin Orchestra. Horsley's credits include "Irving Berlin's White Christmas National Tour 2013," "Legally Blonde," "Mary Poppins," "Cats," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Damn Yankees," "42nd Street," "The Full Monty" and "Godspell."

"I put together all of the arrangements, and I work with the band to create their charts so they can play," Horsley said. "I work with all the singers and rehearse them to put the vocals together. I work in New York with the cast. I work with the children for the benefit itself."

Horsley, Elder and McKinney met months ago to plan the show and what kind of message they wanted to create during the evening. Each show is a completely new production.

"It's not just show up and do some of our favorite Broadway songs," Elder said. "We spend a lot of time selecting the songs and the order in which they will appear during the evening, so it has a nice flow."

This year's theme is "Anything Can Happen If You Let It."

"Usually, the finale of each year really clearly sends that message out, and this year we are talking about you can do anything in your life if you let it. 'Anything Can Happen' will be the finale. It's from the musical 'Mary Poppins,'" said Horsley, who worked at Barter Theatre in 2000.

Elder said it's not necessary to know anything about Broadway in order to enjoy the show.

"If you like live performance, then you're going to love this show. We have a live orchestra. We have four highly qualified Broadway people, and we have children who auditioned for the right to be there. You don't have to know anything about Broadway to enjoy the show. Hopefully each song will be the message that we're trying to convey," he said.

Tickets to "{One} Singular Sensational Evening" are $35 and $25, and are available at or by calling (423) 638-1679. Presenting sponsors of the event are Consumer Credit Union and the Mountain States Foundation.

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