Arts & Culture

Return to the Stage to be a ‘Grand Night’ Indeed

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photo of 3 female "Grand Night" performers front of stage dancing singing with group dancing behind
web banner for 2021 "Grand Night" with photo of Michael Preacely performing

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 11, 2021) After more than a year without live performances University of Kentucky Opera Theatre will bring the 29th version of the popular musical revue “It’s a Grand Night for Singing!” back to the stage for live performances June 17-20, at the Lexington Opera House.

This Central Kentucky summertime spectacular will once again bring together UK and community’s most talented vocalists to perform beloved Broadway tunes and Top 40 hits.

UKNow recently sat down with the show’s executive producer, UK Opera Theatre Director Everett McCorvey, to find out more about the show and how excited the cast and crew are to perform before an audience after the pandemic brought a stop to live productions around the world in March 2020.

UKNow: How difficult has the pandemic been for UK Opera Theatre's mission?

McCorvey: While it was difficult, our mission remained intact, which is to be the best young artist program in the country. We had to be creative in terms of making sure that we could still deliver a quality educational experience for our students. That was first and foremost in our minds.

The other thing we had to do, which we took very seriously, was to make sure that we provided the necessary support for our students. For performers, the isolation was very difficult. We spent a lot of time just assuring the students that everything was okay, that we would be able to get through this and that they would be okay.

We also worked very hard to continue our performances, recitals and productions, but they were just all online. I really must thank the Dean of the College of Fine Arts Mark Shanda and the Singletary Center staff for really stepping up to make sure that we had the tools we needed to continue to provide a quality experience for our students.

UKNow: What ways has the program continued its educational and performance-based work over the last year?

McCorvey: Through the magic of Zoom we were able to teach our voice lessons. The students continued to have weekly lessons and weekly classes, albeit mostly through Zoom. We were able to have some in-person experiences in rooms that were large enough to facilitate us being safely distanced. Our community partner, OperaLex, stepped in to help us equip our voice studios with the necessary technology for virtual lessons.

We were also able to present our opera and “Grand Night” in a virtual fashion last year. That's the reason that I'm counting 2020 as year 28 of “Grand Night” and 2021 makes year 29! If any of our "Grand Nighters" missed last year's virtual presentation, be sure to go to our UK Opera Theatre YouTube Channel and watch "Grand Night at Home.” We would not want you to break your string!

UKNow: What made you decide “Grand Night” would be the best time to get back to the stage for a production with a live audience?

McCorvey: As we have been doing for this entire process, we have been working very hard to follow the science. I am very thankful to our president, Dr. Eli Capilouto, and the expertise of his entire team, as they worked together to create a safe environment for the students at the University of Kentucky. They took the science seriously and they gave us excellent advice in how to safely work with students, in the classroom environment and in the studios. Having the appropriate equipment, policies and procedures, made a tremendous difference in making sure we could continue to deliver a quality educational experience.

The reason we decided to present “Grand Night” this year was because people were getting vaccinated, case numbers were decreasing, and our community was becoming safer in terms of being out in the public. Once we figured out that we could safely present a production, we moved very quickly to make that a reality. 

UKNow: What modifications/difficulties have you all had to troubleshoot to make the Grand Night a reality?

McCorvey: The main modification has been learning to practice and sing behind masks. Singing behind a mask is hard enough, but then adding dancing, movement, and selling a song, all behind a mask, makes it three times as difficult!

We also had to locate larger rehearsal spaces to hold rehearsals. We trimmed the cast in half for this production. Typically, we have 50-60 in the cast, this year we have 25. We also trimmed the orchestra so that we could accommodate spacing on the stage and having everyone safely distanced.

The other thing that we did was decide to move the production to the Lexington Opera House, for this year only, so that we could be right in the heart of the city as the arts come back to life! 

UKNow: Are there any unforeseen blessings or changes made for COVID that worked in your favor?

McCorvey: The biggest change was that we could hold our production meetings in our pajamas on Zoom! That was great!

UKNow: How has it been for the cast and crew to get together to prepare for what may be their first live performance in a while?

McCorvey: We rehearse the show for five weeks. It was a very emotional experience for everybody as we met that first week to begin singing and staging the show. You are correct, for many of the students this is the first time they are back together performing, doing choreography, and putting together a live show. It's incredibly exciting and I am hopeful that the audience will be just as excited when we perform for them!

UKNow: Any special moments in the show that we can share with the audience?

McCorvey: We are delighted to have Patrick Garr as our choreographer this year. Patrick is a Lexington native and UK theatre alum, and he happened to be in town because his Broadway tour of “Hamilton” was on hiatus because of the pandemic. This made it possible for Patrick to be available to serve as the choreographer for “Grand Night!” He will be going back on tour when “Hamilton” returns to the stage in September, but we are so delighted that he was here to join us.

We're also happy to have Reilly Richardson, a Lexington native and a New York performer, back home because of the pandemic to perform with us. She said she came home for a weekend right before the world shut down thinking she would return to New York the next week and a year and a few months later, she's still here! We are delighted to have her in the show.

We have some wonderful numbers, both from contemporary theater like the new Broadway shows “Six” and “Hadestown,” and some traditional numbers from classics like “Singing in the Rain” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” Something for everyone!

UKNow: What do you hope presenting “Grand Night” live will mean for the Central Kentucky arts community and audience?

McCorvey: My biggest hope is that it will mean that we are back! The arts have suffered greatly around the world during this pandemic. There are so many artists who are out of work and so many artists who were affected both financially and emotionally by the lack of work for over 14 months. Performers receive their lifeblood from being in front of people sharing their talents and skills. An audience is to a performer as gas is to a car!

UKNow: How excited are you for opening night?

McCorvey: I am so excited I can't sleep! My day has been starting at about 4:30 a.m. as I look forward to the evening rehearsal! The reason I'm so excited is because the people involved in the show are also excited and I am receiving my energy from them!

 

"It's a Grand Night for Singing!" returns to the stage 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, June 17-20, and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, June 19-20. Because of industry regulations related to COVID-19, this year’s production will be 90 minutes with no intermission and will feature a smaller cast and orchestra than audiences may be used to. 

Tickets range from $28-$47. Additional fees may apply. Tickets will be available online through www.Ticketmaster.com and through the Central Bank Center Ticket Office. The Central Bank Center Ticket Office is located on High Street at the entrance to Rupp Arena, across from Gate 2 Parking entrance. Office hours are noon-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, for more information call 859-233-3535. 

*Per current Kentucky COVID-19 guidelines, mask use is not required for vaccinated patrons and social distancing will not be followed. 

UK Opera Theatre is part of the School of Music at the UK College of Fine Arts. The school has garnered a national reputation for high-caliber education in opera, choral and instrumental music performance, as well as music education, composition, and theory and music history. 

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.