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Buckley student concert focuses on Tony-winning theatrical composer

Posted 11:21pm on Tuesday, Jun. 03, 2014

Say hello to Jason Robert Brown.

Story Songs IV, an evening of show tunes performed at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on Tuesday by 10 students in a musical theater training program conducted by Broadway legend Betty Buckley, looked to be a showcase for rising talent.

It was certainly that.

But it also turned out to be a crash course in the musicals of Tony-winner Brown, whose most recent effort was the critically acclaimed, but publicly ignored, Bridges of Madison County.

The 90-minute concert featured 10 songs from four musicals by Brown, including The Last Five Years, which is currently being presented in the Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s basement series. And the singers should have been well prepared for his material. Buckley noted that Brown, who is again a nominee in Sunday’s Tony Awards, had visited the program and met with the students — such is her clout.

As a collection, the songs made a powerful case for Brown’s work. All of the tunes flowed easily while covering a lot of emotional ground, from heartache ( Still Hurting) to humor ( The Lamest Place in the World).

The rest of the program went into various corners of the Broadway canon without bumping into too many usual suspects. Instead, the set list included tunes from shows such as Little Women, Next to Normal and The Wild Party.

The performances, supported by musical director Aimee Hurst Bozarth at the piano, ran the gamut. It is difficult to subject this show to critical evaluation because, even though admission was charged, the performers are students. It hardly seems fair to hold them to professional standards, especially the very young singers in the bunch.

But it can be said that Caroline Dubberly, a senior at the University of North Texas, and Michael Salvador, a recent graduate of Trinity High School, were among the best voices on display. Both demonstrated a smooth, natural approach. Also strong was Jeni Roller, who employed impeccable phrasing in No One is Alone, by the always challenging Stephen Sondheim.

There were some nice voices among those remaining, and some that still need work. But rather than go into that here, I will leave instruction in such matters as the proper use of vibrato and the art of selling a song to Buckley. There is evidence to suggest that she knows what she is talking about.

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