Morgan, Pallotti join for show on Nat ‘King’ Cole
Partnership grew out of connections between the two schools’ personnel
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.”
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.