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Fifth Annual Broadway Night at West Orange High School Showcases Students, Raises Money for Broadway Cares/Equity for AIDS

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The fifth annual Broadway Night, held at West Orange High School on Oct. 19 regaled the appreciative audience with students' musical interpretations of classic and lesser-known show tunes that rivaled a professional production. 

Glee Choir Director John Hellyer described the process that has helped to create a highly anticipated annual event.

How did you come up with the idea for Broadway Night?

"When we began the Glee Choir back in 2015 we only performed as part of the regular Choral concerts," he began, "and I wanted to give the students in this group their own performance."
"The Glee Choir sings either pop songs or songs from Broadway musicals. Since many of the students involved in Glee are also in the spring musical and theatre classes, I made the decision to have the group have its own night of musical theater songs," he continued.
To give the evening a less formal "coffeehouse" atmosphere, the Tarnoff Cafeteria was selected so that coffee and desserts could be served during intermission. Included in the price of admission, it became a successful component of the evening. 
"When we held our first concert in 2017, I was hoping to raise some money to buy the students new Glee t-shirts," Hellyer went on to say. 
"We had such an amazing turnout that in 2018 we decided to start a fundraiser to benefit "Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS," a charity with strong ties to the Broadway community."
No stranger to theater, Hellyer worked for years in music and theater in New York City in addition to teaching music and choir at Liberty Middle School and West Orange High School.
I've directed several musicals in West Orange over the past 15 years and now teach a class at WOHS called "History of the American Musical Theatre/Broadway Classroom," so it seemed like a natural evolution to have a night dedicated to Broadway show tunes," he noted. 
Hellyer contacted Michael Di Bianco, Director of Education and Outreach for Broadway Cares. Di Bianco provided materials and resources and the Music Boosters assisted with setup and offset the cost of the event.
How are the songs selected?
"I select the songs for full group performances," explained Hellyer.
"Sometimes we use songs we performed in the previous Spring Choir concert. It's a big undertaking to put on a full concert just five-to-six weeks into the school year, so a little "recycling" helps us out. For example, last year we filmed a Virtual Broadway Night and our closing video was "From Now On" from "The Greatest Showman." That song opened the concert this year and we changed how it was sung with different soloists, but the refrain, "and we will come back home, home again," was a really beautiful way to welcome us back into this performance space after two years away."
In addition, Hellyer may select songs for students that he feels will showcase their talent and challenge them.
"The solos, duets, and trios that the students perform are selected in several different ways. Sometimes I'll think of a song for a dedicated, talented standout and tell them about it the year before so they can get it ready. Sometimes a student comes to me with a song and "auditions" to see if it will fit the program. And sometimes I'll hear a new student and think of a song that would work for them or a small group. So, it's a combination of inspirations."
What is the rehearsal process like?
We rehearse the full Glee Choir every Tuesday after school. By utilizing some of our former songs we were able to get four full group songs together for the concert. All solos, duets, and trios were rehearsed during the lunch block and at the end of full rehearsals. The students also do a lot of work on their own.
How did the evening go? Were the kids happy with their performances?  Why do you think Broadway Night is so special?
"I think the evening was a huge success," said Hellyer.
"We successfully lobbied to ensure that it happened in person and we had a full and enthusiastic audience. The students performed so beautifully and with such heart and talent, I cried several times. The students should be incredibly proud of themselves for how professionally they performed. What I love about these students is how supportive they are of each other. Every solo, duet, and trio was met with genuine kudos from peers and audience alike."
Concluding his comments, Hellyer stated, "Broadway Night is special because it is the only thing we do all year that is dedicated to that musical theatre pizazz! West Orange has many residents who work in the theatre industry and I think that spirit trickles down to the students and they really work hard to put on a great show each year."
See the program, performers, and songs performed HERE
See all the photos from Broadway Night HERE.
Glee Choir

 Glee Choir 

Cynthia Cumming
Oct. 23, 2021