The Glenbrook Middle School Variety Show

On Thursday afternoon, June 5th, the students of Glenbrook Middle School put on a Variety Show that was more of an extravaganza. To a standing-room-only crowd of fellow students, parents and relatives, these ambitious kids pulled off a first-rate revue of almost twenty acts, with a running time of well over an hour.

As the audience settled and the house lights dimmed, the follow-spot fell on the curtain center stage. Immediately, a trio of young ladies appeared. These were three of the show's emcees. There were eight of these girls in all. They were quite a talent in their own right, providing introductions, clever skits, and pratfalls ala Lucille Ball as the stage crew scurried behind the curtain, setting up for the next act.

Vincent Yu was the opening act. A ten-gallon talent in a pint-sized container, he marched out to the edge of the proscenium, took a full bow, and strode confidently to the grand piano. I checked below, and his feet did touch the floor. His song was called "Cat and Mouse", and I expected sort of a juvenile novelty piece right out of the John Thompson series. Not! Vincent waded right into a blistering series of two-handed scherzandos that ran up and down the full keyboard several times over. Master Yu's sense of dynamics was a delight. The song ranged from full fortissimo to pianissimo, with hard staccato following up directly on lilting legato passages. The poker-faced pianist fooled the audience twice with false finishes, garnering himself a full three rounds of applause for one ambitious performance. Bravissimo! Encore!

Thus, the bar was set pretty high from the get go. Not a problem. The revue was an eclectic mix of classical piano followed by girl dance groups followed by string ensembles, gymnastics, juggling, a jazz ensemble, and some excellent young divas. There were five solo pianists in all. Yu's piece was a complex and dissonant number. Ben Freedman mounted the piano like a Harley-Davidson and took Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" on a wild ride, much to the audience's delight. Jason Guo did a sensitive reading of what sounded like a Bach gigue or fugue. The two female pianists did admirably as well, with Michelle Sorkin performing "Dance of the Little Swans." The perennial favorite "Fur Elise" was rendered in a personal style by young Mia Bsat.

There were two string ensembles. One was billed as fiddle/cello [Mike Barnett & Jesse Tzeng] and the other as cello/violin [Alexa Ciciretti & Juliet Wu]. Both ensembles' performances were technically excellent, with cello and violin giving way for each other as each instrument took the melody part. String instructor Kristi Hancock solved the fiddle vs. violin mystery after the show. She explained to me that the piece performed by Barnett & Tzeng was "Appalachian Waltz" and was an authentic old fiddle tune.

Then there were the girl groups. Excellent acrobatics were provided by the team of Stephanie Dionisi & Brittini Peck. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture due to lighting conditions. They did nice work, as did Brittany Merrill in her energetic and ambitious gymnastics routine. Catherine Flint and her dance troupe gyrated jumped and spun their way through the theme from "Charlie's Angels"; only to be followed later by Madeline Kearing and troupe strutting their stuff to "Bootilicious", no less. What about those lyrics! Two other dance groups followed. The emphasis seemed to be on urban R&B, as Jamie Gerlach and group performed to what sounded like a number by Babyface, and the Meghan-Natalie-Lisa troupe did "Dirty Pop." The audience was rapt during all performances, only to erupt in thunderous applause as each act finished their set. There did seem to be, in some points, a possible awareness rift between the youthful ingénues and the more "mature" urban lyrics they were dancing to. And that's probably a good thing, mom and dad. Tipper Gore would have probably wanted all the lyrics printed out on the programmes! The juxtaposioning of these fresh-faced ingénues dancing somewhat naively to the sultry urban lyrics made for an interesting dynamic. Unlike their scantily clad MTV counterparts, the Glenbrook girls looked like they were fresh from the GAP. In fact, the entire show could have been sponsored by the GAP. Not a bad idea, in fact.

Then there were the divas. The diva phenomenon seems to be in full bloom these years, with young females aspirants of all stripes seeking to emulate the vocal styles of pop goddesses like Maria Carey, Brandi and others this old guy hasn't even heard of yet. Thankfully, the trashy looks and likes of Madonna or Britney Spears have [finally] given way to more respectable and enduring icons like Celine Dion.


Who was the first diva? Good question. Maybe Sophie Tucker or Kate Smith. Marilyn Monroe was certainly a diva. A better question would be, who will be the next diva? Well, Glenbrook has its share of possible candidates. Jennifer Burton & Sara Li did a version of "God Bless the USA" that blew the roof of the place. The diminutive diva sang "from the toes" as they say on 52nd Street. The vocal trio of Meghann Fahy, Jen Levy and Sara Beith did a soulfully precocious version of "Miss Independence" that oozed teen angst. All the must-have vocal inflections were there as well. Very, very nice. Claire Calderon & group danced and also sang "Chain of Fools", an old R&B standard, with a fresh approach and clever choreography.


Noticeably missing in the lineup was the traditional guitar-based rock group, which was a staple of the sixties and decades to follow. The times they have been a' changing. The basic band format attributed to blues legend Muddy Waters consisted of lead, rhythm, and bass guitars, along with drums and lead vocalist. It was his formula that the Beatles and Stones adopted. The rest, as they say, is history. Since the mid-sixties, when the bands were a boy's club and the girls were mainly of the go-go variety, pop culture has undergone some radical changes. The Glenbrook Variety Show represents, in a way, the new paradigm in pop musical culture. Kurt Vonnegut called it 'youthcult'. The female component has come a long way, baby. The timeless elements of classical and folk still endure. And then there's jazz!

An indigenous American art form, jazz was well represented by the young group called "Quintet" at Long Meddowe Days, now called Paul Brinnel & Group. Their choice of material was right on the money, doing a swinging rendition of a Lester Young standard. "Lester Leaps In" is a deceptively simple tune, with a hook-filled melody line over basic chord changes based on a twelve or sixteen-bar blues form. The task of creativity for the jazz performer is to inject his or her own interpretation during solos. The two young sax players pulled it off well, even matching Lester's style. The bass player, who played an actual 'bull fiddle', took a solo that looked like two notes. But what gusto he put into those two notes! He even spun the bass around in the old rockabilly fashion. The crowd erupted! Driving rhythm in the style of Gene Krupa was generously supplied by young drummer Nick Cadirov, whose meter was 'in the pocket' as they say on 52nd Street. The pianist played an upright with the top lid thrown open. The piano was placed with the back to center stage for better sound projection. The piano player in this type of ensemble is often faced with a relatively thankless task. While he has sacrificed the visibility enjoyed by the horn players and other 'front men', the pianist has to work in concert with both bassist and drummer to provide a rhythmic foundation for the tune, while at the same time keep it interesting. This pianist showed quite a degree of artistic maturity in his approach as he 'pounded them horse teeth', as they say on 52nd Street. They said a lot of things on 52nd Street in the olden days of Jazz, when the likes of Bird, Dizzy, Monk and a young Miles could be heard nightly in the smoky old jazz clubs. The old haunts are long gone, but the legends are all in place. The bebop and swing, which infused the music, language and dress of that generation has been rekindled in young groups such as this one. The torch has been passed for future generations of hipsters. As Count Basie so succinctly put it "Give it to me one more once!"

Back at Long Meddowe Days, I saw a girl group called 'Sack Food'. They were excellent in material and presentation. I chatted with them after their performance, extolling their talents and at the same time exhorting them to learn to read music and get a good musical foundation under their belts. One of the divas, a fresh-faced young thing with a mouthful of braces and a heartful of hope, told me about the Glenbrook Variety Show and literally pleaded with me to come see the show. A knack for self-promotion is almost better than the ability to read music. When you get them both in one package, the sky's the limit. 'Chutzpah' as they say on 52nd Street.


Closing the show was young diva Sophie Skelton, the aforementioned from 'Sack Food.' The closing act is a tough spot, and Sophie pulled it off in fine style. The young girl did a relaxed and soul-infused version of a pop R&B ballad. I don't know what it was, but I know it was good because I liked it! Unlike the other 18 acts, she was alone up there. She's got a smile that can lignt up the room and I was looking in my pockets for my shades. Her voice carried all the way to the back rows, as well.

It was a Variety Show that was just excellent from start to finish! 'Boffo', as they say on 52nd Street.



The variety show was not a contest. Well, actually it was because the acts had to audition to get into the show. I would venture to say that the talent I witnessed in a wide variety of formats was the result, in large measure, of extracurricular effort. The school provided all the necessary peripherals, including a nice wireless sound system, lighting and sound engineering by band director Chris Unczur, advisory and organizational help from teachers Traci Bongo and Gail Meehan. String coach Kristi Hancock was quick to point out that a lot of the funds necessary to support these activities and buy and maintain equipment are raised independently by bake sales, band concerts, and the like. The grand piano was not a new Yamaha or Steinway, but an older Knabe. It was not in perfect tune, but was usable and looked like it had been carefully cared for. In all, it looked like the school had done the best anyone could do to conserve funds on the one hand, while at the same time prolonging the life of its assets through care and preventative maintenance. You can't ask for more than that.



There are many more pictures of the Variety Show available in larger, downloadable format in the Longmeadow Chronicles Annex!

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