Suburban natives add voices to Porchlight's now-virtual 'New Faces Sing Broadway'
Even during a global pandemic, art finds a way.
Of this, musicians, dancers and theater artists are certain.
"One of the things about artistic folk of all sorts, we are all so incredibly hopeful and resilient," said Hoffman Estates native Tim Foszcz. "We continue to find ways to keep going. When you're part of a community of humans that are so hopeful for a future we don't let that sit there. We don't say that's the end."
The Barrington High School graduate was among the many theater artists whose shows were canceled in response to the coronavirus. The canceled shows included Porchlight Music Theatre's "New Faces Sing Broadway," which showcases Chicago-area up-and-comers performing Broadway hits from a specific year. For Foszcz, Anna Marie Abbate and Isabella Andrews, the showcase, originally planned for April, was to be their Porchlight debut.
Abbate was performing in another show last November when Porchlight offered her "New Faces."
"I was floored sitting in the dressing room, reading the email," said the Park Ridge native. "Finally, I'm going to work with Porchlight."
Until COVID-19 upended those plans.
The bright spot, said Andrews, was that director Christopher Pazdernik and music director/arranger David Fiorello assured the 10 "new faces" that the show was postponed, not canceled.
Andrews, a Northbrook native and the daughter of two-time Joseph Jefferson Award-winner Mary Ernster, said while she's naturally optimistic, when the creative team suggested the show would unfold differently, she hesitated because she was unfamiliar with the streaming format.
"When they told me their plan, I was immediately reassured," said the Glenbrook North High School graduate.
That Porchlight persisted in streaming the show online affirms not only that theater will survive the pandemic, she said, it also hints at "how much we have to look forward to."
"A lot of us haven't made a big splash on the Chicago theater scene," said Andrews, who's performed with First Folio Theatre and the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. "It reminds the audience that there's so much new talent in Chicago."
"That's why I love what they do," she said. "It reminds you theater is not dead by any stretch."
The show consists of songs from blockbusters such as "Les Miserables" and "Into the Woods" and lesser-known tuners including "Smile" and "Starlight Express" that played on Broadway in 1987. The similarities between then and now are not lost on Andrews, who points out that the late 1980s were marked by broad political schisms as well as a global pandemic, AIDS.
Foszcz, who's performed at Paramount and Drury Lane theaters, says the current pandemic adds resonance to some of the songs featured in the "New Faces" revue.
"You see hope. You see trial. You see error ... loss of direction, of self, of identity. It's in all of these musicals," he said.
"A lot of the songs are going to bring people to this tender spot they didn't know they had," he said.
Performances were filmed over two days last month on-site at Chicago's historic Studebaker Theatre, built for vaudeville and located in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue.
"It is one of the best places we could have filmed," said Abbate, a veteran of Evanston's Music Theater Works, describing the theater as gorgeous. Still, she said, "it was a little heartbreaking not performing for an audience."
Performers and crew kept physically distanced from each other and wore face coverings, which performers removed to sing.
Ultimately it was worth it, Abbate said.
"There's something in us that needs to be shared," she said. And while nothing can replace the special feeling that comes from being in a theater with audience members, "New Faces" offers a reminder of what awaits.
"Yes, this time was different, but I know we'll be back some day," she said. Until live performances resume, theater artists will find different ways to share stories.
"We'll always come up with a new, creative way," Abbate said, "it just takes time."
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"New Faces Sing Broadway 1987"
When: Through Nov. 29
Where: Streaming at porchlightmusictheatre.org
Details: (773) 777-9884