Featuring Broadway hits Hamilton, Matilda, UK raises curtain on 25th summer of ‘Grand Nights’

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Even though this year’s show will feature music from such recent Broadway hits as “Hamilton,” “Fun Home” and “Matilda,” University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s popular summer musical revue of beloved tunes from Billboard to Broadway has a 25-year tradition of being “grand.”

It was 25 years ago that two University of Kentucky professors came up with the grand idea that would come to be known as “It’s a Grand Night for Singing!” The new director of the UK School of Music’s opera program, Everett McCorvey, wanted his students to learn how to sing and dance for musical theater, where he knew there were more jobs than in classical opera.

Jim Rodgers, then chair of the UK Department of Theatre (now UK Department of Theatre and Dance), knew how to put on a show and that his students could go farther if they could sing and dance.

So, the duo decided to celebrate early summer with a show tune extravaganza where students could learn to dance to center stage and beguile an audience with Broadway’s greatest tunes.

UK Opera Theatre’s popular musical revue “It’s a Grand Night for Singing!” turns 25 this year. (UK Now Photo)

They figured it would lose money but be a wonderful experience for the students. They scheduled one performance in June, settled on the title “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “State Fair,” opened auditions to the public, as well as students, and began their great experiment.

The opening night performance had to be held for 30 minutes as people lined up to buy tickets for the musical revue.

The rest is Kentucky musical history.

This weekend and next, “Grand Night” will have a six-show run June 9-18, at Singletary Center for the Arts. In the audience, will be some who have attended every “Grand Night” and many people who have been to a dozen or more. This year, KET, the Kentucky public television network, will film and broadcast the production, expanding the audience even further.

Loyal followers of “Grand Night” come to enjoy the seamless show, where singers and dancers betray none of the effort behind putting on over two dozen numbers. The backstage hustle with costume changes and microphone exchanges, the need to shift from carefree to solemn numbers, to transition among musical styles and over decades all disappears on stage.

Even more remarkable, the show starts anew each year. There’s no script to follow or divert from. The production team must choose the music, map the arc of the show, block out dance routines and figure out how to costume 75 or more performers each year.

Far from losing money, “Grand Night” has become an economic stalwart of UK Opera Theatre. The thousands who flock to the Singletary Center to get lost in show tunes, both old and new, help underwrite the program’s opera season.

With McCorvey still at the helm as executive producer of the show, the curtain will rise for these milestone performances of “Grand Night” 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 9-10 and 16-17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 11 and 18, at Singletary Center.

These are reserved seating performances in the Singletary Center Concert Hall. Tickets are $45 for general admission, $40 for seniors and UK faculty, and $15 for students with a valid student ID. To purchase tickets, contact the Singletary Center ticket office online at www.scfatickets.com, by phone at 859-257-4929, or in person at the venue. Valet parking will be available in the Singletary Center circle on Rose Street.

In addition, each performance will also have select seats available to UK staff for only $25. The special staff price is presented in memory of Russ Williams, the university’s first representative of the staff on UK’s Board of Trustees who died in 2009. Staff tickets must be purchased in person at Singletary Center with a valid staff ID.

UK Opera Theatre is part of the UK 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, theory and music history.

From UK Now

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