Million dollar moments

Austin Cook (center) with 2012 Camp Broadway youth at ASU Gammage in Tempe

Dozens of kids attending this year’s Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage saw Wednesday night’s performance of “Million Dollar Quartet,” then spent time with cast members and other fine folks who work on the show. The opportunity to interact with performers and other theater professionals is part of each summer’s “Camp Broadway” experience.

Camp Broadway participants enjoying lunch at ASU Gammage

Before enjoying a buffet lunch featuring cold cuts, burgers, assorted desserts and even some healthy stuff, campers in small groups of a dozen or so rotated through various stations. Three with ASU Gammage professionals who addressed marketing, technical elements of theater and such — plus another one with several members of the “Million Dollar Quartet” team.

Campers learned how the show’s set gets assembled in each city, how musicians manage tricks like playing a piano set behind them or standing on a double bass, how cast members prepare for their roles and plenty of other tricks of the trade. Also that equipment used in “Million Dollar Quartet” is all new but designed by 1950s specifications so it gives a genuine ’50s sound, and that the whole set weighs about 10,000 pounds.

Smiling faces participating in this year’s Camp Broadway in Tempe

During lunch, cast members took turns answering questions for eager campers, counselors and ASU Gammage VIPs. Each talked about how they caught the theater bug, shared a bit about where they’re from, discussed their college background and offered some sage advice.

Parents dream of moments such as these for their children — when grown-ups they admire share guidance not so different from their own, but more readily accepted because it didn’t come from mom or dad. Find your passion, team MDQ told them. Work hard. Practice. Be disciplined. Treat fellow theater folk (and all folk) with respect. Ignore the naysayers. Be yourself. Believe in yourself.

L to R: Lamont, Marie, Cook, Ferris, Presney and Krug from the first “Million Dollar Quartet” national tour during a Camp Broadway event at ASU Gammage

Kelly Lamont (Dyanne) recalled her first performance at the age of three or four. Think “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Alyssa Marie (u/s Dyanne) spoke of doing her Molly thing in “Annie” as a seven year old. Austin Cook (u/s, Jerry Lee Lewis) discussed his experience “on the classical side,” which started with an “Amahl and the Night Visitors” gig when he was 11.

Lee Ferris (Carl Perkins) admited he was all about baseball until a choir teacher suggested he try out for “Guys and Dolls” — while John Michael Presney (u/s Carl Perkins, Asst. Stage Manager) shared a tidbit from his 2nd grade performance in “Will Rogers Follies.” Seems his big entrance was popping out of a box. “I got stuck,” he told the campers, “in front of 2,000 people.”

John Michael Presney (R) with Camp Broadway campers at ASU Gammage

Stage Manager Michael Krug got his first backstage experience during a college program in technical theater. “I’ve never been a performer,” he shared, “because I can’t sing, act or dance.” After revealing that he’d rocked the Elephant Bird role as a fifth grader in “Horton Hears a Who,” Krug took some good-hearted ribbing from cast members — who pounced on his offer to show them the tape.

I was seated during lunch next to a Juilliard-trained musician named Steve, one of two music directors working with this year’s campers. The other hails from Pace University, where our daughter Lizabeth is a sophomore. He offered plenty of pearls, including one that’ll be a relief to parents who can’t afford oodles of voice lessons or private coaching for their child. Just sing a lot, he suggested, because using the muscles makes them stronger.

Camper and counselor enjoying Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage

One of the younger campers assumed I was a performer, and sweetly suggested that I sing for him. I assured him he’d be better off if I didn’t, then made the rounds to various tables — asking campers at each, “What’s the best thing about Camp Broadway?” Answers ranged from “everything” to “it’s awesome” — and lots of campers told me it was the chance to learn singing, dancing and acting in one place.

I also asked several of the campers how they’d heard about Camp Broadway. “My Nana made me come,” one told me. But that was last year. Returning this year was her idea. Another told me her mom signed her up, and that she plans to return next year now that she’s smitten with all things musical theater. There’s more to life, she says, than Beyonce and Mariah Carey.

Lee Ferris talks with youth participating in this year’s Camp Broadway

Several of the campers I chatted with described Camp Broadway as a great opportunity for self expression, adding that they feel especially free to be themselves in the theater setting. Some plan careers on stage or behind the scenes, and several expect to take lessons learned during Camp Broadway to school and community theater auditions in the coming year.

Everyone affiliated with “Million Dollar Quartet” did a remarkable job interacting with the campers. All were patient, friendly and genuinely engaged in sharing their knowledge. During lunch, they took time to talk with campers individually, pose for photos and autograph items from show programs to Camp Broadway t-shirts.

Alyssa Marie with a happy camper at ASU Gammage in Tempe

You can see “Million Dollar Quartet” at ASU Gammage through Sunday. Click here for ticket information, and watch for news of next year’s camp because slots tend to fill quickly. Following ASU Gammage on social media is a great way to get the scoop before word of camp dates and various promotions hits the streets.

– Lynn

Coming up: Broadway meets cruise ship?

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

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