This article originally appeared in The Observer on September 20, 2018. Reposted with permission.
Tomorrow, audience members at Kristin Chenoweth’s sold-out show at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth, will expect a performance full of Chenoweth’s characteristic charm and impressive vocals.
What might surprise some ticket-holders is that eight student artists will also accompany Chenoweth for a few songs, in a rare opportunity for the students and audience members.
Savanna Morgan, Teagan Earley, Kevin Hauger, Mario Simone, Ronnie Mansour, Sydney Kraft, Sam Jackson, and Shane Dolan will provide backup vocals to Chenoweth’s stunning voice in two or three songs, according to the students. All of the students are heavily involved in the performing arts on campus, and many are members of the Gold and Blue Company, a new musical student group started by the University of Notre Dame Development Office which is often asked to perform for donors at events.
Chenoweth’s visit forms part of her tour, An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth, where the Tony- and Emmy-winning artist has been known to interact closely with attendees, often asking questions of her audience and sharing personal anecdotes onstage. A classically-trained soprano known for hitting exceptionally high notes, Chenoweth has garnered notable acclaim for her role as Glinda in the Broadway hit Wicked and won a Tony for her role in the 1999 revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Sean Martin, the Associate Director of Programming and Engagement, said in an e-mail that he reached out to Kristin Chenoweth’s agent about a possible collaboration with students after the “overwhelming success” of students performing with Patti LuPone last spring. “Her road manager replied and said that, in fact, they have a version of the performance where they utilize eight local singers for a couple songs,” Martin says. “We at DPAC are always looking for ways students can interact with professional artists and this is a perfect example of how we can make that happen. Look for students performing with the great jazz trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval, next weekend too!”
The students have rehearsed their songs for tomorrow’s performance, including Upon This Rock, arranged by Oran Eldor, and look forward to rehearsing with Chenoweth herself, junior Sam Jackson said. Chenoweth “seems to possess like a really bubbly energy,” Jackson said. “And especially as someone who is in the theatrical arts, I would love to just take everything I can from her … I would love to follow in her giddy footsteps.”
“I feel like every theatre kid was obsessed with Kristin Chenoweth at one point,” junior Savanna Morgan said with a laugh. For Morgan, a junior Film, Television, and Theater major with a concentration in voice, Wicked was what drew me into musical theatre” in the first place, she said. “The pop vocals, the action and extravagance on stage” captivated Morgan as a young actor.
Like Chenoweth, who grew up singing in her Baptist church, Morgan grew up singing gospel songs in Church until she turned to classical music and musical theatre in high school.
“Musical theatre, for a lot of kids, as I’ve witnessed and experienced it, is a place for a lot of outcasts,” Morgan said. “The weirdo kids come together and get to express all their weirdness. It’s something to be celebrated. [This concert] is a moment. I feel like for a lot of theatre kids, at least the ones that are going to be performing, it’s like, ‘Wow. Look at us. We’re kind of here now.’
Seeing this person who I’ve been listening to since middle school religiously, and making art with her—that will be super surreal.”