The Scene:

"They wiped any trace of cynicism off these New Yorkers' faces"
By Chuck Taylor ('84)

Review singers take a bow as composer Jeremy Beck shakes hands with librettist Patricia Marx.

"Review" singers take a bow as composer Jeremy Beck shakes hands with librettist Patricia Marx.

The setting for Jeremy Beck's satiric mini-opera Review, is a booze-soaked dinner party, where haughty guests delight in dishing about those not present to defend themselves.

Based on a short story written by former Saturday Night Live scribe Patricia Marx that appeared in The New Yorker, the opera dotes on a theme voiced by one of the characters in the line: "The only reason to do anything is to talk about it afterward."

Ironically, the audience of 200 attending the Center for Contemporary Opera's benefit in New York Feb. 19, where 12 undergraduate and graduate students from JMU's Opera and Music Theater program staged the performance, could be regarded as the very blue-blood crowd that Review pokes fun of.

Nothing doing. Despite a world-class setting at the historic Gramercy Park-based National Arts Club — oozing regal oak woodwork, splendid crystal chandeliers and Victorian-era charm — attendees of the gala were high-spirited, filled with judicious laughter and captivated by the youthful vigor and skill that the cast brought to the big city.

New York broadcaster Midge Woolsey, who hosted the event, noted at a reception afterward, "This is what CCO is all about. What a great turnout for the magic of opera. These students brought a wonderful energy to the piece, from Harrisonburg to New York, where audiences can be ruthless. It just proves that young people are fearless."

Jim Schaeffer, general director for the CCO, also raised a glass to the professionalism of the production. "I'm very impressed. New York audiences can be critical, and they were delighted with the students," he says. "I watched as the cast wiped any trace of cynicism off of these New Yorker's faces."

Among those attending were 50 or so JMU alumni now living in New York. "It's exciting to see a production from JMU here in the heart of the city," notes Todd Grogan, a 2000 media arts and design major. "When I was at JMU, I participated in a few plays and took a directing workshop. It was a great experience to be in a smaller environment, which prepared me for the artistic community in New York. The students in Harrisonburg may think they're far from the bright lights, but it's a great primer for the big city."

Review music director Andrew Austin, who spent the last decade directing and conducting at theaters and universities nationwide before recently returning to JMU as a master's in music candidate, reveled in performing the satire for an audience that possessed more than a hint of the characters' aristocratic air: "Here we are in this beautiful building with everyone in their designer clothes … it's a little different from performing in Wilson Hall. But when we walked onstage, we were so prepared, it felt like we were united with the audience."