It sounds like something out of a fairy tale — or perhaps a musical.
At 20 years old, Kaley Ann Voorhees was plucked out of college to star as Christine Daaé on Broadway in a little-known musical called The Phantom of the Opera.
And Voorhees is one of the performers whose story and voice will be heard during the Broadway Sings concert at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim at 3:30 p.m. on April 10. Tickets will be on sale at the door.
Broadway Sings, which has visited the synagogue five times, brings together performers who are currently or have previously starred in some of Broadway’s biggest hits, from Wicked to Phantom to Les Misérables (or Les Mis, as it is more affectionately known).
“We had Broadway Sings the first time five years ago for the 50th anniversary celebration” of Shaare Shamayim, said Barry Pogach, vice president of ways and chairman of the synagogue’s Broadway Sings committee. “This kind of music is pretty broad in its acceptance, and they’ve always put on a good show. It was almost a no-brainer to have them come back again.”
It was started in 2003 by Lisa Capps and Charles Bergell, both of whom know Broadway quite well themselves.
Bergell grew up around music as the son of an opera singer, which later influenced what he wanted to do professionally. That includes donning the identity of escapee 24601, Jean Valjean, in Les Misérables on Broadway.
“Some of my earliest memories were sitting in an opera house,” recalled Bergell, who grew up mostly in Montclair, N.J., though he moved around depending on where his father was singing. “I kind of grew up with it, and then — like people do — I was doing plays in middle school and high school. I decided to make a go of it.”
After participating in a performing arts program in Montclair and graduating from Northwestern University where he created his own major in musical theater, Bergell spent time auditioning in Chicago. He became a part of the original touring company of Phantom and, four years later, joined a touring company of Les Mis.
For that tour, he was the understudy, or cover in industry-speak, for Jean Valjean, but he didn’t mind. He stepped into the role once a week when the actor playing Valjean took the performance off.
“I just wanted to be in the show,” Bergell said.
However, he soon got his chance to grace the Broadway stage as Valjean.
“I got a call saying, ‘We need somebody right away, can you come in and learn this part in two days?’ and it was for the Broadway company of Les Mis,” he remembered. “That was a thrill of my life, to get to be in the Broadway company. It felt like a privilege. It’s such a special, spiritual show.”
After this time, he started touring again for other shows, including the 25th anniversary tour of Evita, where he first got the idea for what became Broadway Sings.
“In between when I was out on the road, I got this idea to do concerts of Broadway performers,” he said. He and Capps, whom he knew from the national tour of Les Mis, started to put together a program to accomplish this.
It was a chance to bring back old friends and actors they hadn’t seen in a while — and also give them a job.
“I realized that even the best Broadway performers — people who’ve been Tony-nominated or people who do shows all the time — they all can go months or sometimes even years between big shows. It’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “So I can call people when they’re not working but it also provides Broadway people a way to help out with the rent between these big starring roles. They’ll come sing a concert like this.”
The actors also interact with the audience and talk about who they are and their backgrounds, which creates a unique connection that Bergell particularly enjoys.
“It’s not a recital where people just stand up and put their hands together in front of a piano,” he said. “The audience gets to learn a little bit about them and their lives.”
The performers involved have all been in leading roles in big-name musicals, which is an important criteria for Bergell and something he feels sets Broadway Sings apart.
“There are a lot of groups out there that feature people singing Broadway music, and even some groups with Broadway performers — the thing that’s special about Broadway Sings is that none of the people are what I call ‘wannabes,’” Bergell explained. “I usually don’t even go with anyone who’s in the chorus in the show. I always go with people who’ve played leading [roles].”
One such person is Gina Milo, a Long Island, N.Y. native who has had the chance to play her — and many girls’ — dream role: Éponine in Les Mis on Broadway.
She first saw Les Mis on Broadway when she was 12 years old and the rest is history.
“I thought, ‘this was what I want to do with my life,’” said Milo, who played Éponine in 2003 during the last few months of the show’s run on Broadway before its revival in 2014. “I knew I could always sing, I had solos my whole life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I saw Les Mis.
“Literally, it was my dream come true, getting to be Éponine on Broadway. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
She got her start touring with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Ann-Margret. Other credits of hers include touring with Spamalot — the laugh-out-loud funny musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail — in which she starred as the Lady of the Lake, one of her favorite roles.
“It’s the best show,” she said, and she could appreciate it even when she was waiting in the wings. “Even when I’m not on stage, to hear the audience laughing from a gut place, that belly laughter — it’s the most rewarding sound in the world.
“Not to mention my costumes were fierce,” she added with a laugh.
While she might not burst out into “Whatever Happened to My Part?” during the Broadway Sings performance — Spamalot songs out of context don’t always translate well — she is sure the audience will enjoy the repertoire she and the rest of the cast have to offer.
The actors will have the chance to sing the key songs from the roles they’ve played, and most are from classic musicals, so you probably won’t hear anything from Hamilton.
Milo is hoping she gets to perform “On My Own,” Éponine’s unforgettable, lovelorn solo. If not that, perhaps “One Day More,” another popular one — though it’s hard to pick a favorite, she said.
The show itself has a connection for everyone, she said, which is probably why it has remained such a timeless classic.
“I think everyone can relate to someone’s story in it,” she said. “If you’re not Éponine, maybe you’re Jean Valjean or Cosette or Marius — but everyone has someone in that show they can relate to. Particularly Éponine, I don’t think there’s a girl alive who doesn’t understand unrequited love or when things don’t come easy. Anyone who’s had any kind of struggle can identify with that story.”
Milo is currently doing regional work in Chicago, where she’s done White Christmas, Xanadu and other productions. But the love for what she does is what keeps her going, which she says is the most important part of working in theater.
“The most important thing to remember is to do it because you love it, not to get somewhere,” she advised, “because when you go in and sing from that place of love, everybody is interested. When you go and try to book a job, you lose the magic. I definitely would say to focus on just creating the role in that moment and remembering to just do it because you love it.”
She is looking forward to seeing the other performers — many of whom she knows — and letting the audience experience the magic of theater.
“It’ll be fun to sing in Philly for an audience that’s really excited to see it,” she said.
Kaley Ann Voorhees might not have as many credits to her name as some of the other performers, but her story is one that the audience will surely enjoy.
The summer before beginning her junior year at Point Park University, the Aurora, Ohio native had the chance to audition for The Phantom of the Opera by working with casting director Tara Rubin.
“The stars kind of aligned,” she said.
She went to New York to audition, memorizing “Think of Me” on the car ride. She grew up loving Phantom through the movie adaptation starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum and listening to the 25th anniversary edition of the soundtrack. While she was in New York auditioning, she saw the show on Broadway for the first time with Sierra Boggess in Christine’s shoes.
After rounds of callback auditions each week, she was offered the part.
“I ended up starting rehearsal for Phantom the same day I would have been starting my classes junior year,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be where I was at the time that I was.”
On her opening night, a memory she’ll never forget, she met a very special audience member: Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“Opening night is a complete blur to me,” she said. “It’s a very high energy, wonderful thing, but it’s very much a blur. I got to open with the most amazing cast and Andrew Lloyd Webber was in town to see Sierra [Boggess] closing so he came to see my opening. As a 20-year-old who’d been pulled out of school and who was all of a sudden opening on Broadway, it was — I couldn’t have pictured it any better. I couldn’t make it any more perfect.”
Her experience has helped her grow as not only a performer but also a person, she said, and part of that is due to not being afraid to fail — her top advice for aspiring performers.
She is excited for Broadway Sings and the chance to meet and interact with her fellow performers, including actresses who have also played Christine in the past.
“I love meeting new people in the industry and all of that, and just to get out and perform for people,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be on Broadway, just getting together and performing songs that you love and want to share with others. Always, the coolest part is getting a chance to perform and do what you love doing, and maybe impact some people around you while doing it.”
Bergell is excited to return to Shaare Shamayim, which he said has become part of the Broadway Sings family because of the many times they’ve performed there.
“It’s almost a spiritual mission to bring the arts to people who maybe don’t get to Broadway very often, and we’re bringing Broadway to them and it touches a lot of people,” Bergell said. “I hear stories of how moved they are and how much it means to them. It doesn’t get any better than that. When someone tells you that you made their day, that’s worth it all.”
The performance begins at 3:30 p.m. Tickets will be on sale at the door. Patrons: $118 (includes front reserved seating and reception with cast). Premier Reserved: $54. Reserved: $36. Student: $25.
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