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  • Cultural Connections Abound in Hunchback of Notre Dame Choir

    The upcoming concert production of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the first time Greenbrier Valley Theatre (GVT), Carnegie Hall and the Greenbrier Valley Chorale (GVC) have formally collaborated on a project, but there are threads connecting the three organizations that go back decades.

    Some members of the chorale were associated with GVT or Carnegie even before the chorale was established 31 years ago. Barbara Wygal Lutz, the chorale’s artistic director, moved to Lewisburg to join the GVT company back in the day when the actors trod the boards in a barn near the airport. She also worked at Carnegie Hall in its very early days.

    All three organizations have come a long way since then, and Lutz is delighted that this concert version of the Disney musical will give audiences a chance to experience the professionalism and talent of the 37 singers who are making the exhilarating transition from Greenbrier Valley Chorale to the Choir of Notre Dame Cathedral.

    “In Hunchback, the extra singers are more than just a typical chorus in a musical,” Lutz explains. “The chorale plays multiple roles throughout the story. Sometimes we are simply a cathedral choir, chanting prayers. At other moments in the play, we add a dramatic vocal background to what's happening to the characters in the scene. At one point, we are shouting festivalgoers at Topsy Turvy Day! One of the most challenging pieces is when we sing the entire Entr'acte. In most shows this second act opener is played by the orchestra but in Hunchback, it's all voices.”

    Susan Adkins is finding the experience rewarding, both as a singer and as a long-time music educator and arts administrator. “I’ve always believed that collaboration is the secret success of nonprofit organizations. As a former director of Carnegie Hall, I am excited to be a part of this outstanding partnership which unites the state’s professional theatre with one of the four Carnegie Halls of the world and the Greenbrier Valley Chorale,” she says.  

    She adds, “I have sung with the chorale for over 25 years. It allows me to continue use of my musical training as well as developing lifelong friendships. The music for The Hunchback of Notre Dame is quite challenging, stretching me, as well as my fellow singers, to learn something new as well as the opportunity to sing on stage with professional singers. I applaud the three organizations for all the massive amount of work it has taken to bring this production to our community.”

    For Kara Dense, executive director of the Greenbrier Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau and a former member of the GVT Board of Directors, this production is both personally and professionally gratifying. “I’m thrilled about this incredible production between the organizations,” she comments. “Lewisburg has always been known as a thriving arts community, and I believe this collaboration will set the stage for future partnerships in the area. I’m especially excited to perform one last time with my daughter, Lily, who grew up in the Education Program at GVT and is headed to AMDA in New York City in the fall to study musical theatre. This show is a special opportunity for us both.”

    Although many of the singers are GVC veterans, a cadre of younger singers like Lily are bringing their energy and talent to the choir for this show. Kit Lindsey, Development Manager at Carnegie Hall, is among them. “My background is in theatre, and although I haven’t sung in a choir in many years, the chorale has welcomed this newcomer with open arms,” she remarks. “I’m also a transplant to Lewisburg, but even so know the great significance that this collaboration holds for our wonderfully artistic town. I think it’s absolutely time that a project of this scope and grandeur be undertaken by these powerhouse Greenbrier Valley organizations, and I’m so grateful and excited to be a part of it.”

    Several of the singers, including Larry Davis, Ginny Hinkle, Eric Fritzius, Curtis Pauley, Kelly Kemp and Bob Thompson also are GVT veterans. Fritizius also serves on the chorale’s board of directors and Kemp is a former GVC board member.

    “I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to perform in several musical productions at GVT. My experience so far with the Hunchback chorus rehearsals reminds me of the process used to rehearse for musicals at GVT. I love it! Barbara is working so hard helping us learn this difficult music,” Kemps says.

    Larry Davis adds, “Eric, Curtis, Bob and I are tenors in the chorus and have performed many times with the Greenbrier Valley Chorale at Carnegie Hall and at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre too. “Having it all come together in this musical seems like the culmination of our experiences together. It’s the chorus maxima! “

    The production definitely requires maximum effort from Lutz and the choir. “Since we stay on stage for the entire production, we sing in almost every scene, so it's a huge undertaking.” Lutz says. “The harmonies written by these Disney composers are designed to create tension, drama and even fear. It's a new experience for our singers who have committed a large amount of their summer to this collaborative project. There's no question that we're up to the task and audiences will be impressed by the caliber of ALL the performances in the remarkable production.”

    Rounding out the Notre Dame choir are Brenda Patterson, Susan Mohler, Tiffany Burns, Langhorne Preston, Martha Fleshman, Laura Tuckwiller, Barbara Elliott, Connie Jackson, Connie Hyler-Both, David Hammond, Landon Trent, Jaimee Vance, Carson Waid, David Dillon (president of the GVT Board of Directors),  Hanno Kirk, Chloe Nelson, Nicole McCormick, Jaine Schmidt Wyatt, Maria Castillo Maddy, Maddie Mohler, Lisa Darlington, Janet Miller, Mary Thompson, Carrie Neese, Brian Stewart, Matthew Bergman and Harry Wyatt. John Maddy is the rehearsal pianist.

    Performances of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, featuring nationally recognized actors and professional choreography, costumes and lighting, will take place at Carnegie Hall on Thursday and Friday, July 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. There will be two performances on Saturday, July 27, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.  Tickets are available online at www.carnegiehallwv.org, or at the Carnegie Hall box office, 611 Church Street, Lewisburg, WV, (304) 645-7917.

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