Nonprofit flies in Broadway stars to perform alongside GISD students
The energy in the theater is palpable as Broadway star Raymond McLeod confidently strides center stage and faces a group of kids standing excitedly on the bleachers. “Ray’s Rule number 1,” he says. “Always do your best, and never go halfway.”
Over the years, Raymond has created an illustrious career, performing at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and starring in Broadway shows such as Evita, South Pacific, and Jekyll & Hyde. He’s been a voice artist for more than 400 film scores, including Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast. But for a few days in April, his attention will be focused on Georgetown I.S.D. students from first through twelfth grade as he teaches them the skills necessary to create a successful and lucrative career in fine arts.
These master classes are put on for the students free of charge by Angel Fountain Educational Endowment, a local nonprofit that provides fine arts opportunities to students, and are offered three days after school. The classes lead up to three On Broadway performances featuring GISD high school students and a handful of Broadway stars who fly in from New York City.
For Danielle Payne, a GHS graduate who participated in Georgetown’s inaugural On Broadway experience in spring 2016, the training and advice she received during master classes with Raymond were life-shaping.
A high school senior at the time, Danielle was torn between entering college as a nursing major and pursuing a degree in vocal performance. After attending master classes with Raymond and being one of five vocalists hand-selected to sing solos on stage with a flesh-and-blood Broadway cast, her decision became much easier.
“I’ll never forget when Raymond McLeod looked my dad in the eyes and said, ‘Do not let her be a nurse,’” Danielle recalls passionately. “He made me feel like if someone this successful could have this much faith in me, then maybe this is what I need to be doing.”
Alex Poole, an East View graduate who is now attending the University of North Texas to pursue a double major in education and vocal performance, says that Raymond’s advice revolutionized the way he enters auditions.
“He taught us a lot of tricks to appear confident—like if you’re walking into a room, never look at the ground, and when you’re performing, try not to take steps backwards. Little things like that can give your performance an extra push,” Alex explains. “I actually just finished a bunch of auditions at school, and all the judges really liked me and complimented me on my confidence.”
On Broadway is the brainchild of Georgetown resident Beth Baker and her best friend from high school, Raymond McLeod. Beth had the idea to give Georgetown ISD students complimentary access to master classes, mentoring, and experiences performing with real-life Broadway stars.
Beth and Raymond have been friends for 46 years, when they first met in choir, and they make a dynamic duo. Beth brings to the table her knack for business, entrepreneurship, and legal matters—in 1982, she formed the first freelance paralegal service in the state of Texas—while Raymond brings his extensive knowledge of vocal performance and vocal coaching, and a Rolodex heavy with Broadway performers’ contact information.
“You’d be surprised by how many people on Broadway are grateful for the people who helped them along the way,” says Raymond. “I can say, ‘We’re doing this concert and we’ll pay you for it, and you’re going to mentor one of the students, and it’s not only a concert but it’s also an educational outreach. The money we raise through the outreach and the concert will benefit the arts programs in Georgetown.’ I’ve never had a single person turn me down. These are my friends.”
This April, On Broadway will be putting on its second student/Broadway show, which will feature bands, choirs, orchestras, and dance teams from both GISD high schools, as well as four selected high school vocalists who will perform alongside Broadway performers Jennifer Hope Wills, Carter Calvert, T. Oliver Reed, and Raymond McLeod.
These Broadway performers are stars in their own right. Jennifer, who began her career at age one as the baby in Rumpelstiltskin, is now famous for her portrayals of Christine Daaé from The Phantom of the Opera and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Carter is known for her work on the Tony-winning show Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues and is performing nationwide with Sally Struthers in a two-person show called Always . . . Patsy Cline. Tim (T. Oliver) has done nine Broadway shows, including Sister Act and Mary Poppins; he’s now in a revival of Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close.
“To give you a sense of the caliber of the performers we’re bringing in,” says Beth, “last year, Lawrence Clayton was starring on Broadway with Jennifer Hudson in The Color Purple. He came off the Broadway stage at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, left New York at 6 a.m. on Friday, got here at 10 a.m. on the morning. We picked him up, took him to Georgetown High School for a five-hour tech rehearsal, and he was on stage performing with the students later that night.
“He went back to New York on Monday morning and two weeks later won a Tony Award. These are the kind of people that we are getting to come to Georgetown to work with these kids. People in Georgetown pay $20 to see this man at our On Broadway performance; three days later, he’s singing on the Broadway stage, and tickets are over $300.”
The line-up of Broadway performers has changed since last year, when Sandra Joseph—the longest running Christine Daaé—Ron Bohmer, and Lawrence Clayton took the stage beside Carter Calvert and Raymond McLeod. This partly has to do with the performers’ availability; but the variety is a good thing, says Beth. It allows students who have participated during a previous year to have access to different teaching techniques and performance styles each year they’re in high school.
This year, Beth’s goal is to sell 3,000 tickets for the three nights, which will allow Angel Fountain Educational Endowment to award in excess of $30,000 to the Georgetown Performing Arts Alliance/GISD Fine Arts Department. The money will serve all fine arts departments in Georgetown public schools.
“The children are who this whole thing is designed to help,” says Beth. “There are many students in this school district who are very interested in the arts and participating in them, but not all of these students can afford to take paid classes. This is an opportunity for them to work with this level of performer, and they don’t pay for anything. Everything is taken care of by Angel Fountain.”
On Broadway performances will be held April 7th and 8th at 7 p.m. and April 9th at 2 p.m. at the Klett Performing Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased directly from GISD fine arts students and staff or at the angelfountain.org website for $20 in advance of the concert or at the door for $25. Master classes are free to all GISD students and will be held from 4 till 6 p.m. April 3rd, 4th, and 5th at the East View Theatre at East View High School. Visit www.angelfountain.org or www.facebook.com/angelfountainEDU for more information.
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