After 20 years as a resident of The Woodlands, I guess it should not surprise me to discover ever-newer levels of excellence here. Such was the case last Friday evening when I accepted an invitation to attend the impressive student recital of Deanna Peden’s Vocal Studio. Presented in the beautiful Grace Presbyterian Church on Woodlands Parkway, the concert featured talented young ladies and gentlemen through high school age, and was accented by early evening sunlight streaming through the abundant and elegant windows of this beautifully designed house of worship. Even more impressive was the music that would follow.
Ms. Peden, wisely keeping the focus on her protégées, made her opening remarks brief as she mentioned the studio’s emphasis on voice, language, stagecraft, and ensemble scene work. All were evident in this polished performance, and Ms. Peden made things even more meaningful for the audience by preparing a printed program with an excellent synopsis of scene for each of the varied works presented. This, combined with brisk scene transitions, the use of simple props, and outstanding (but never intrusive) piano accompaniment from Rae Moses, allowed the program to proceed at a very smooth pace.
The tongue-twisting opener, “Sunny Spanish Shore,” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, was great fun, though the snare drum competed unfavorably with the fine voices of Jennifer Barnes, Mical Whiteman, Ryan Holiday, and Connor McCollum. The echoes of the high-ceilinged church interior would also be an auditory drawback, but the singing would be glorious throughout the program. Laura Estrada and Ian Ramirez gave fine performances in a scene from Verdi’s “Falstaff” that also included nice work from Elizabeth Porter, Emily Weir and Giuliana Kendall. There was joyful delight from Megan McCollum, Maya Srinivasan, and Miss Weir, in a well-staged “Three Little Maids” (from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”) that featured a flawless Girl’s Chorus. A more formal presentation from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem,” featured a focused, richly expressive, and well-trained ensemble chorus, highlighted by the dreamy delicacy of solos from Georgia Wilkinson and Natalie Keiller. Miss Srinivasan followed by fearlessly walking into the audience during a nice solo of “Amazing Mayzie” from Flaherty’s “Seussical the Musical”; and Miss Porter and Morgan Lewis delivered a spirited “Sensitivity,” from Mary Rodgers’ “Once Upon A Mattress.”
A romantic and thoroughly enchanting duet followed with Emily Woller and Ryan Holiday singing a charming “Only Make Believe” from the Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein musical, “Showboat.” I suspect Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson would have heartily approved. Kelly Brown as Mimi and Ian Ramirez as Rodolfo made for another passionate pairing in Mimi’s dramatic and touching death scene from “La Bohème.” The scene was further enriched by the solid vocal work of Srinivasan, Lewis, Connor McCollum, and Alex Woller.
Miss Estrada, dressed in elegant wine-red velvet, and armed with velvet voice, returned in a scene from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” that featured fine singing from the Three Spirits, sung by Elizabeth Castillo and Misses Weir and Wilkinson. In a strong solo turn, Estrada brought confident vocal control and graceful movement to the “Jewel Song” from Gounod’s “Faust.” Along with Brown (flashing his wide smile), Lewis, Porter and Mr. Woller brought fine singing, elocution and articulation to a quartet from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.”
Gilbert & Sullivan fans were further rewarded with a stately, and skillfully performed number from “The Gondoliers.” Barnes, Srinivasan, Holiday and Mr. McCollum were quite at home with the frantic number’s complex counterpoints. There was additional G&S fun with a fine finale that featured an extensive scene from “Pirates of Penzance,” and Ramirez’ voice carried very well even amid the acoustical difficulties. Other featured singers were Kendall, Barnes, and Misses Woller, Whiteman, and McCollum. With a superbly joyful ensemble, this segment would be a charmer in any theater. Talent overflowed the stage, and I was fortunate to witness it.