Mor­gan, Pal­lotti join for show on Nat ‘King’ Cole

Part­ner­ship grew out of con­nec­tions be­tween the two schools’ per­son­nel

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Patti Res­tivo

A part­ner­ship in the arts be­tween Mor­gan State Uni­ver­sity and St. Vin­cent Pal­lotti High School in Lau­rel is giv­ing young stu­dents the chance to be part of an op­eretta this month based on the life of jazz leg­end Nat “King” Cole.

Stu­dents in Pal­lotti’s Arts Academy — Amanda Huff, Bryan Sch­midt, Robert Collin Atkins and Fran­cis Pi­cado — will per­form in the show, “There Was A Boy,” singing in the cho­rus and tak­ing var­i­ous roles in the Bal­ti­more pro­duc­tion.

The part­ner­ship has been a “lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Huff, a 15-yearold stu­dent at the Catholic school.

The show is di­rected by Dwight R.B. Cook and writ­ten by New York ac­tor James Rich, 52, who por­trays Cole in the pro­duc­tion. Saun­ders Allen, chair­man of the fine arts depart­ment at Pal­lotti, said the school’s in­volve­ment in the pro­ject “grew or­gan­i­cally” through dis­cus­sions by fac­ulty and oth­ers con­nected to the two schools.

Christo­pher Chap­pelle, 25, a vo­cal in­struc­tor at the high school who grad­u­ated from both Pal­lotti and Mor­gan, is per­form­ing in the show’s ensem­ble and helped con­nect the schools. He’s also serv­ing as shut­tle co­or­di­na­tor, driv­ing Pal­lotti stu­dents to the Bal­ti­more re­hearsals on Tues­days and Thurs­days af­ter school.

Sev­eral other Pal­lotti con­nec­tions to the show have de­vel­oped: School vis­ual arts teacher Alan Ern­stein is serv­ing as set de­signer, dance team coach Eu­crita Wil­lis is work­ing as a chore­og­ra­pher, and Pal­lotti alumni Elyssa Atkins, 19, Ni­cole Woody, 21, and Bryan Tin­ker, 34, also per­form in the show.

“It was a beau­ti­ful thing how this hap­pened,” said Wil­lis. “Like it was all sup­posed to be.”

Kelly Young, as­so­ciate cho­ral di­rec­tor at Bryan Sch­midt, 16, left, a ju­nior at St. Vin­cent Pal­lotti, sits next to Bryan Tin­ker, 34, a 2000 Palotti grad­u­ate, as they re­hearse at Mor­gan State for “There Was A Boy.” Pal­lotti, called the pro­duc­tion “a dis­cov­ery” for her stu­dents.

“The de­mands and pace of the re­hearsals is on an up­ward tra­jec­tory as far as what our stu­dents will ex­pe­ri­ence in the pro­fes­sional the­ater world,” Young said.

Atkins, 17, a bari­tone and mid-tenor, agreed that the part­ner­ship has been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. He said Mor­gan stu­dents have shared tips to help him hone his abil­i­ties.

“My vo­cal range has com­pletely im­proved,” Atkins said.

Sch­midt, 16, said be­ing part of the show has gone be­yond its ed­u­ca­tional as­pects. He said he loves “hang­ing out with the Mor­gan stu­dents, who act like our big brothers and sis­ters.”

“There Was A Boy” tells the story of Cole, the famed jazz pi­anist and singer and the first African-Amer­i­can to host a na­tional tele­vi­sion va­ri­ety show, “The Nat King Cole Show,” which aired from 1956 to 1957.

“Nat ‘King’ Cole was known for his black satin hair, pi­ano-key smile and silky smooth voice,” Rich said. “But no one ever told the story of the hu­man be­ing be­hind that im­age in this for­mat be­fore.”

The show will be per­formed 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Fri­day and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Satur­day in the Mur­phy Fine Arts Cen­ter at Mor­gan.

It in­cludes Cole songs such as “Al­most Like Be­ing In Love,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Day In, Day Out.”

The son of a Bap­tist preacher, Cole had a con­nec­tion to Mor­gan: In 1964, a year be­fore his death, he re­ceived an hon­orary doc­tor­ate from the school.

Vin­cent Stringer, di­rec­tor of opera stud­ies at Mor­gan, said he hopes the show and the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the two schools will en­cour­age Pal­lotti stu­dents to ap­ply there.

Jeff Palumbo, prin­ci­pal at Pal­lotti, said tak­ing part in a pro­gram at the uni­ver­sity level is “an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity for our kids; it gives them an op­por­tu­nity to see the next level to which they all as­pire.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Je­didiah Howard, 2, of White Marsh tries on a top hat that’s a few sizes too large for him Sun­day at the 43rd Mary­land Ir­ish Fes­ti­val at the Mary­land State Fair­grounds in Ti­mo­nium.

JEN RYNDA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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