Every story-teller knows the importance of finding the core–or ‘spine’ of the tale they’re attempting to relate. This is the same whether they be writers, actors, singers, comedians or any other kind of artist. To clarify, the “Spine” being referred to is the purpose or motivating force to a story, character, or work that defines it, gives it depth, and drives it forward. On Saturday evening, April 16, the town of Anaheim CA, got a lesson in how a true Icon of the stage finds that ‘spine“ or determination for the latter half of their life, and makes it work for the good of everyone. That night, “Theater Hall Of Fame” Inductee Carol Channing paid a special visit to the city’s Heritage Forum for “Back Where You Belong” a one night only benefit concert in celebration of this awesome lady’s 90th Birthday.
Produced and Directed by David Green, the man once called “The Johnny Appleseed of Young Talent” for his ability to nurture aspiring artists and provide them with the training needed to succeed in a theatrical career, the program featured “The Kids Next Door”–a song and dance troupe of dynamic young performers from Southern California’s “Musical Theater University“ (www.musicaltheatreuniversity.com). In addition, several members of the Anaheim Ballet also danced, during which Ballerina Samantha Bell practically defied the laws of physics with an astonishing piece in which she managed a quick triple time step–En Pointe (–And Honest! Hand to God! She pulled it off!)
The theme of the concert paid homage to “Matinee Idols” of stage and screen. Just a few of the numbers presented were “Movies Were Movies“ from Jerry Herman‘s “Mack And Mable“, which saw the cast acting out a Charlie Chaplin-esque silent film; “The Little Mermaid‘s “ Academy Award winning “Under The Sea“, and “You Can‘t Stop The Beat“ from “Hairspray“. “Star-To Be” Soloists, Jim Mulligan belted out a vibrant version of “Out There”, from Disney’s animated “Hunchback Of Notre Dame” while Kendall Mauvezin similarly electrified the crowd with a sultry rendition of Kander and Ebb’s “Maybe This Time”.
Among the Special Guests of the evening were several outstanding members of “The Great White Way‘s” professional community who highlighted and encouraged the work these amazing kids undertook. Among them were Rex Smith–star of both the revival and screen adaptation of “The Pirates Of Penzance”, and Tony Award-nominated Jonelle Allen, herself well-known from the original casts of “Hair“, “George M” and the rock musical, “Two Gentlemen Of Verona”. Also on hand were two alumni from “The Musical Theater University”–Kamilah Marshall, who has gone on to play in “Rent” and the original cast of “Hairspray”, as well as Krysta Rodriguez who recently created the part of ‘Wednesday’ in “The Addams Family”. (In fact, here Rodriguez delighted audience members by singing “Pulled”–her number from that show.)
Proceeds from this event went to “The Anaheim Performing Arts Center Foundation”, “The Dr. Carol Channing & Harry Kullijian Foundation For The Arts” and “Musical Theater University“. According to Linda Knohl, President of the APACF, “The three organizations that produced ‘Back Where You Belong’ embody all that should be right in America. We continue to work tirelessly to improve quality of life by making the arts available to all of society.”
Miss Channing’s appearance occurred in the second act where she and husband Harry Kullijian took to the stage explaining something about the work of their particular organization while stressing each one’s commitment to importance of restoring arts –of all kinds–back into local school curriculums. Told as only the woman herself could, she then went seamlessly right into her final act one soliloquy from “Hello Dolly”–the show that has arguably brought her the most fame. This is where Dolly Levi, speaking directly to her late husband Ephraim, asks him to ’give her away’ and allow her to ’rejoin the human race’.”
Ironically reported to be the very last addition to this now-historic musical before the script was completed, the actress further explained how it was only after she understood and addressed this particular aspect–or ’spine’– of her character that she was at last able to fully realize who the woman, Dolly, would be. This was directly followed (as “Dolly” does in the show,) by the classic “Before The Parade Passes By”. There are few genuine “some day we’ll get to tell our grandchildren about this’ moments in life, but this was certainly one of them! The legend, in person, reciting the most legendary moment of her most legendary role…the impact was spectacular.
How wonderfully fitting too that, given the message she and Mr. Kullijian are trying to convey was put directly into action by providing both a reason and support for the enthusiastic and dazzlingly talented young people who entertained in such a blue-ribbon showcase. What better way to drive the point home that education in the arts really does give every student that ’spine‘ they need to be informed and insightful individuals!
More importantly, There are few gems more precious than a well-rounded education, and though for many years she may have told us “Diamonds’ are a girls best friend“, Channing and Kullijian are fast proving themselves to be a student’s best friend through the important work of their foundation. “Wow-oh-wow, fellas–look at the ol’ girl now” indeed! For more information, check out: www.channingarts.com
Special Thanks to Lance Perkins, Publisher of “Lance Magazine” (www.lancemag.com) For his gracious assistance with photos and Linda Knohl of The Anaheim Performing Arts Center foundation, Joel Aragon, General Manager of The Heritage Forum Theatre, and to Mr. Harry Kullijian and Miss Carol Channing For making this story possible.