For lovers of Broadway-style song and dance, Dr. Everett McCorvey, the director and executive producer of University Kentucky Opera Theatre, has been bringing a little piece of New York City to Lexington for 20 years as of this summer. “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” is not only a well-known Rodgers and Hammerstein tune, it’s a stage spectacle presented annually by UK Opera Theatre.
Grand Night features a new program of 30 songs each year, chosen after the creative and production team screens around 300 Broadway, Hollywood and Billboard hits. The program is based on a theme, usually a salute to a composer or genre.
“The challenge [when we began] was to give ourselves four weeks and a completely clean slate, and see if we could put together a full show,” McCorvey said.
The first year, McCorvey recalls he was overwhelmed by the number of people who attended the first Grand Night. He remembers being informed by his stage manager before the show began that there were still 200 people lined up to buy tickets. They postponed the start for 20 minute so everyone could get in and find a seat.
Today, what was formerly a one-night production has grown into six performances over two June weekends each year, routinely selling out each of the 1,500 seats available at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
Though the show was originally made entirely of UK students (only 16 in its inaugural year), it is now what’s called a “town and gown” production, in which 30 to 50 percent of the now 63-person cast of performers are UK alumni or Lexington residents. Some editions of Grand Night include children’s numbers, giving young members of UK Opera Theatre’s Broadway Bound program a chance to perform on the big stage.
Many cast members find the experience so rewarding that they return to auditions year after year.
“Everybody absolutely loves what they do out there,” said Alexandra Harper, a UK alumna and past performer in Grand Night. “Once I finish graduate school next May, I plan on being in it every summer after. I’ve missed it so much. It’s torture, not being able to be in there, doing what you love.”
Even with a great group of friends in the cast, preparing for Grand Night is not easy. Rehearsals are held Monday through Friday, 6 – 10 p.m., with some Saturdays, through May and June, often involving several hours of dance practice each day after the first week of practice.
“It’s the best workout you could ever get – what’s better than singing and dancing?” Harper said. “You figure each song is three to four minutes … and for that three to four minutes, you’re in full-out, going-strong, choreography.”