News Column

Gillas, cast, provide new 'Evening of Broadway' on cactus stage

September 28, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 28--John Gillas will produce, and perform in, another "Evening of Broadway" concert at 7:30 p.m. today, Sept. 28, at the Cactus Theater, 1812 Buddy Holly Ave.

One highlight, he said, will be the appearance of Chris Bohannon, a Lubbock native and Texas Tech alum returning to West Texas after performing on Broadway in "Phantom of the Opera" from 2007 to 2011, and in "Sister Act" in 2011 and 2012.

Not surprisingly, Bohannon has been asked to sing "Music of the Night," from "Phantom of the Opera."

Gillas, who celebrates his 81st birthday on Oct. 12, began singing professionally in 1953, while attending Indiana University. Following his professional operatic career, he later taught voice and musical theater at Texas Tech, with a number of his students going on to perform on Broadway.

He spoke about tonight's Broadway revue:

A-J: Is this a brand new Evening of Broadway, or a repeat performance?

Gillas: All of the performers have been in past shows, but they have all learned new songs. We are showcasing lots of musicals we have not used before.

A-J: How often have you been involved?

Gillas: I was involved in putting together my first Cactus show in 2006, then Broadway Christmas in 2011 and, now working with Marilyn Arnold, we put together the one in May of this year and this one. I made appearances in many other shows along the way, but just as a guest performer.

A-J: What has the reaction been like? Demographics?

Gillas: There always have been enthusiastic reactions, and concerts have continued to enjoy good sales, so I assume people enjoy them. As for demographics, that is always done by (Cactus Theater owner) Don Caldwell.

A-J: Can you talk about the process of choosing songs, and assigning them to performers? Have you received requests from patrons? Does a singer ever request a certain song?

Gillas: Marilyn Arland and I recruit the singers. I did a lot of research of musicals, matching new music to the voices I thought would sound wonderful singing it.

In earlier shows, casting was a collaborative effort with Terri and Don Caldwell, using some of their Cactus singers and some of my former students (David Gaschen, Chris Bohannon, Jill Blalock, Mike Morgan, Jana Campbell, Shannon McGee and Terry Hawkins, among others).

I never have had an audience member request specific music. It has happened that a singer wanted to do a certain number, and I always honor that if it is from a Broadway show and fits the general outline of the show we are doing. When the music is all new to the singers, as this time, I try to have it ready three to four weeks in advance. They all are very good musicians and learn fast.A-J: Mike and Mariel Morgan have been designated host and hostess. Why use a host and hostess?

Gillas: Because we are excerpting shows, I think it adds to the enjoyment of the audience if they are given a feel for the situation the music was intended, and have some sense of the time frame and history of the show.A-J: How many rehearsals are needed?

Gillas: Because performers have such varied schedules, rehearsals are arranged to suit their availability. We have as many as will assure a smooth performance.A-J: Have you stayed in touch with past students who are performing professionally?

Gillas: It is the supreme reward for teachers when their students do well in a very difficult professional world, whether major opera houses or Broadway. We are very happy at the close connections we have with former students. When it works out that they can join us for another show, it really is a great pleasure for everyone.A-J: Does one local performance stand out?

Gillas: In a 2007 show, David Gaschen, Chris Bohannon and I did the trio "Fathers of Fathers" from the musical "Closer Than Ever." (Gaschen had performed in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway and in Europe.) David was so impressed with Chris' singing that he recommended him to the "Phantom of the Opera" people. We taught Chris the music (vocals) for the role of Piangi. Chris flew to New York to audition, got the job and, about one week later, he was on stage on Broadway. I guess I was proudest of David's generosity to another performer, and it certainly was a dream come true for Chris.A-J: Do you have a favorite Broadway classic? Any favorite shows since 2000? Do you prefer the older shows?

Gillas: Of all the shows I have done, and there have been many, somehow "Brigadoon" is at the top of my list. I liked "Avenue Q," particularly since I got to see (Tech graduate) Ann Sanders do it on Broadway. I tend to prefer older shows because they gave more scope to the beautiful human voice, which is my passion.A-J: Name some of your students on Broadway, please.

Gillas: David Gaschen, Ann Sanders, Chris Bohannon, Leslie Thurman Alexander. And dancer Jennifer Smith, Diana Moore's student who appeared in "Finian's Rainbow," our very first production at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, has made a wonderful Broadway career.A-J: is there anything else you'd like to say about the Broadway revues at the Cactus Theater?

Gillas: I think the Caldwells and the Cactus provide wonderful opportunities for the people of Lubbock and the surrounding area to experience live performances of all kinds of music at a very high level. I hope the theater will go on for many more years.

william.kerns@lubbockonline.com

-- 766-8712

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