The Great American Songbook: A review of Broadway’s greatest hits

UConn students perform at "The Great American Songbook" in the Benton Museum on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2017. (Lucille Letterfield/The Daily Campus)

UConn students perform at "The Great American Songbook" in the Benton Museum on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2017. (Lucille Letterfield/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut voice and opera students entertained a full house of all ages at their annual Songfest.  This year’s theme, “The Great American Songbook,” showcased a Broadway experience drawing on a diverse collection of Broadway’s best-known musical numbers.

“That’s Entertainment!” from the 1952 comedy-musical “The Band Wagon” opened the program as the full cast emerged beside the audience in a lively and welcoming spirit, inviting everyone in for 90 minutes of exciting, romantic and comedic numbers to follow.

The program featured students from all degree types, ranging from the bachelor’s to doctoral of musical arts (D.M.A.) programs, as well as emcee Grace Carver, and piano accompanist Allan Conway, to help bring the musical numbers to life.

The first half featured many well-known Broadway numbers, including “Heart” from the 1955 production “Damn Yankees” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”

One of the hits with vocalist Sandra Marante was her comedic number  “Who’ll Buy?” from the 1949 “Lost in the Stars,” which left audience members booming with laughter.

Closing the first half was D.M.A. student and co-program coordinator, Spencer Reese.  He took the stage with another lively and comedic dance number, “All I Need is the Girl,” from the 1959 musical “Gypsy.”

This year’s Songfest left many first-time attendees pleased with the performances from early on in the program.  Sophomore Jacky Montville said she “didn’t know what to expect, but it was great,” and said she was most impressed that the students were given the opportunity to “pick their own song [to perform] and do their own dance or minor theatrics.”

Although the audience was filled with many students in attendance to support their classmates, the event also brought out locals from the area who said they were pleased with the performances.

“The students were really fun to watch,” Storrs resident Kristine Thorson said.  “[They] get into the character well and are enjoying it themselves too, which is really important.”

After a brief intermission, the second half featured romantic and lyrical pieces such as “A Flower is a Lonesome Thing” by Billy Strayhorn, as well as “Over the Rainbow” from Harold Arlen’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

The program closed with Reese returning to the stage with fellow students Luke Powers and Troy Frey performing “New York, New York,” the opening theme to Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town,” reminiscent of the magic of Broadway and New York City.

“[The program] got more cheerful as each song went on, exuding joy and excitement,” Kara Secker, another local from the Storrs area, said.  “It was a good mix of romance and joy, and a good mix of voices.”

The mix of voices and talents is something that has always been a vital feature to this event for both coordinators, Reese and Dr. Constance Rock.

Songfest involves “all levels of students to participate and work together on stage with [other] students of all ages, between degrees, which is something that doesn’t happen often,” Reese explained.

“[It’s] more relaxed, and requires different use of voice,” Dr. Rock mentioned.  “It also brings new talents, like dance, which I didn’t know they had.”


Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.