Chaplin: The Musical
Review by Doug Sturdivant, D-FW Theatre Critic
My thoughts on on Chaplin: The Musical by Christopher Curtis at Ovation Academy or....these kids did their homework.
Nothing pleases me more than watching students perform their hearts out and that’s just what I witnessed at Ovation Academy’s production of Chaplin on Saturday night. As I sat there enthralled by the story of Chaplin and the lively score of the musical, I kept thinking how lucky these young people were to have the opportunity to participate in a production of this scale in a beautiful venue. The just right set by Wendy Rene'e Searcy, the gorgeous costumes by Angi Burns and Gypsy Ingram, Will Varner’s music direction ( loved the violin ), the mood enhancing lights of Kennedy Smith, and the exciting choreography of Ania Lyons were all first rate. The dedication of everyone from the crew and cast to making this a fine musical was apparent.
I found myself charmed by the entire ensemble from whom skilled director Angi Burns has nurtured many outstanding performances. There are a few people in the cast I want to single out for special kudos. All those amazing, high kicking young women dancers looked like they stepped right out of Moulin Rouge. Senior Brandon Carty was a strong Chaplin. He was equally adept handling the humor and the pathos of Chaplin’s story and did a very convincing job of transitioning from the young to elder Chaplin. Emma Kelly, also a senior,
was a remarkable Oona, going from coy, uncertain young woman to steadfast loving wife. She had beautiful vocals as well. Sophomore Adrianna Kellaway was a dynamic Max Sennett, spitting out directions and garnering many laughs. She knows how to command a stage. I was perhaps most impressed by Corbin Ross as Sydney Chaplin. I could not believe it when I read that this young man is a freshman at Ovation. He has an uncanny resemblance to a young Ashton Kutcher, is blessed with a most pleasing voice, and has poise, charisma, and stage presence to spare. Director Burns gave everyone in the cast their moment to shine and they all came through to create a great evening’s entertainment.
I have nothing but admiration for Ovation Academy. It is obvious they are providing excellent training in the performing arts and giving these talented young people the foundation for success. If this is the quality of productions going on in the burbs, I may find myself heading up 75 to McKinney more often.
Review by Barry Yandell, local anime star, actor and theatre adjudicator.
What an ideal performance space for Ovation Academy to share this charming musical! While experiencing a few sound challenges*, mainly in Act 1, there were definitely some stand out performances. Charlie Chaplin portrayed by Brandon Carty, Young Charlie- Chloee Rae, Hedda- Myah Durham and Charlie’s first wife Mildred- Averly Belle Burns come to mind. The aging nuances and special moments of Charlie’s mother played by Kailah Wright, were so touching. The stellar standouts were Charlie’s brother- Corbin Ross and wife Oona- Emma Kelly! Stunning voices and performances!! Finally, the final number featuring an angelic ensemble singing “This Man” was truly heart-stopping ! Not a dry eye in the audience. So incredibly moving and probably one of the best moments in DFW theatre, both amateur and professional!!
Little Women: The Musical
Review by Doug Sturdivant, D-FW Theatre Critic
My thoughts on Little Women at Ovation Academy of Performing Arts…or the 21 day miracle.
Upon entering the theater at Ovation, Director Angi Burns informed me that the previously announced production had been cancelled because of difficulties and that Little Women had been produced in three weeks. Three weeks! You couldn’t put on a musical using professional actors in that amount of time, much less using high school students who have studies, jobs, etc. However, anyone who was lucky enough to attend Little Women will tell you that miracles can happen in McKinney.
I don’t have a happy history with Little Women. I attended the first public performance of the musical and thought it was overblown with a meh score. Even Sutton Foster and Maureen McGovern couldn’t draw me in. Ovation had two big advantages over the Broadway production. First, staging the play in a black box theater with only piano accompaniment turned it into a chamber musical giving it the intimacy and immediacy that this simple story needs. Second, having actors who are so close in age to the March sisters play the parts, made it realistic, effective, and even touching.
It was apparent from the performances of the young cast that they were a unified group dedicated to putting on the best show possible. Everyone had a chance to shine even with face masks on. I would be remiss not to single out two people who elevated the show with their star turns. Averly Belle Burns, although a high school junior, was an outstanding Marmee. She was totally convincing as the mother of the March clan, displaying strength and tenderness with a lovely voice. Everything about her performance was spot on with nary a glimpse of the teenager beneath that shawl. Ms. Burns also served as the choreographer of the production and got some surprising hoofing out of the cast. Indeed, the dancing was a real treat here. Grace Everett, a graduating senior, was a sensational Jo. Hers was a power house performance. As the central character, Ms. Everett displayed a range that was nothing short of remarkable, moving seamlessly from comedy to anger to pathos. She also has a dynamite singing voice, especially in the act one closer “Astonishing”. This is a kid to watch out for as she is already an award winning playwright.
Director Burns, Music Director Christina Dragoo, and accompanist Kelley Poché Rodriguez are to be congratulated for giving these multi-talented teens the chance to pull off the 21 day miracle.
Thank you to those who have shared your stories. Names have been removed due to the personal nature of their stories.
I am extremely thrilled to work with these exceptional instructors and
students yet again. The professionalism, knowledge and experience I gained last year has
truly changed me, not only as a performer, but also as a person.
Ovation Academy of Performing Arts truly made me fall in love with the art of displaying a
meaningful story to an audience through acting, singing, and dancing all over again. I
learned how to push the limits of my comfort zone and explore the range of my talent. I
realized that performing was “nothing to prove, only to share”. My all time goal is to
have success in the broadway/film and television world is starting to be accomplished.
Over the past few years I have worked to train and improve my singing, acting, and dance
skills. Utilizing my experiences at Ovation Academy of Performing Arts to further my
knowledge of vocal technique, music theory, acting skills/methods, and many different
styles of dance every day from 8am-4pm has helped me book work and opportunities I would
not have previously had.
Ovation Academy has taught me to always have a positive attitude, not to make excuses, and
try my hardest even if it is not my best performance. I have very high energy, love to
help others constantly, and have just an overall fun, over-the-top personality. So many
exceptional opportunities have been offered to me this past year including a lead in a
pilot television show, acceptance and training in a broadway level training program
located in NYC, networking events, exposure to casting agents and college recruiters, etc.
Art has always inspired me, even in the toughest of times. By the age of 7 my parents had
gotten a divorce and my mother gained sole custody of my older sister and me. Due to
certain events involving my biological father, I was ordered by the court to attend
counseling at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Plano. I didn’t think anyone could
understand me until the counselor gave me a canvas and paintbrush and asked me to paint my
thoughts and emotions; I believe this was the moment I knew art was my home and safe place.
Ovation Academy is a better fit for me than any other program I have been a
part of. I have been to 7 different public schools within the past 8 years and every one
was very similar in the way they did or didn’t handle bullying and learning disabilities.
I struggle with ADHD which makes it difficult for me to focus and comprehend certain
lessons. The public school system did not make this much easier on me. I was told
countless times by a specific teacher that since I did not get 504 accommodations in
college that I should not get them in an 8th grade Algebra 1 class. By the end of the
semester my grade was below passing, which took me out of the school musical, where I was
one of the leads and prevented me from competing in All-Region Choir. My mother and I
ended up in a long battle with the school district where ultimately they agreed that my
teacher did not provide me with my accommodations which led to me failing her class.
At Ovation Academy of Performing Arts has provided me with all the 504 accommodations I
have needed and my grades have improved tremendously. By the end of 8th grade in public
school my grades ranged from low C’s to high B’s in my academic classes. However, by the
end of freshman year at Ovation, my grades were all B's to A's and now as a Sophomore I have straight A’s!
My choice in education is life or death. You may not be able to understand that concept but I hope by sharing my truth you will come to believe it because I am not the only one. I am not a special case. But I have a story that has ignited a fire within me to do better. To be better. And to inspire others that they can do the same. That’s exactly what I would be doing with Ovation Academy of Performing Arts if I were to be granted a scholarship for my Senior year. Although, I feel it is only fair to express my past regarding the public school system and my present life with Ovation, my new home.
The Public School System is founded on comparison and competition. On my first day of school, I was tested and divided between different level reading groups with my classmates. At that moment the hierarchy was established. Next came the great big question: “who do you want to be when you grow up?” I just wanted to be me. But of course, I didn’t say that. Rather, I went for the much more mediocre “an astronaut” response. After all, I was simultaneously being judged by an “all-knowing” teacher whose credentials gave her the authority to rank my personality and behavior. I couldn’t risk standing out even more with my morbid reality than I already did with my “flamboyant” personality.
Unfortunately, my cover-up wasn’t convincing enough to hide my fabulous runway walk. Besides, my “America’s Next Top Model” binge-watching had to go to use somewhere. Simply stated, I wasn’t the best at playing the straight white male like I was supposed to. Instead, I only played dress up with the girls during recess, while I recited Fergie’s “Glamorous”. With perfect pitch, of course. Despite my confidence, and what I believed to be the next Super Bowl Halftime Show Performance, my teacher wasn’t so pleased. Neither were my parents when every teacher conference involved the infamous repeated words from Kindergarten to 4th grade: “Your son is bright, but he just doesn't act ‘right’ during recess and he’s encouraging vulgar behavior on our campus”. So, I assimilated.
I traded my barbies for hot wheels, my mom’s high heels for dad’s work boots, and my individuality for contentment. It is a horrible feeling to go to a place of “safety” and feel like your the only person in the school halls without a bulletproof vest. I couldn’t be too much myself or my ivory skin word learn the consequences as insecure bruises painted me black and blue. I was a 5th grader who was willing to take my own life before I even knew basic algebra. My teachers and guidance counselors would steer blame away from their perfect classrooms and point the finger at an “evidently broken home”. I tried speaking up about the bullying, but then they would just blame my boisterous personality for putting a target on my back or that I was being selfish for expecting everyone to ‘tolerate’ my abnormality. I was a specimen to be locked up and examined down every dark hallway. My geography of scars illustrated a map of my truth but was simply seen as a sign of weakness to ignorant eyes. This rather gloomy appearance continued all the way to the Sophomore year of high school. Then, came Ovation Academy of Performing Arts.
The idea of Ovation Academy of Performing Arts was the equivalent of someone telling me I was to be featured in an episode of Fame or Glee for the rest of my life. Trust me, for a gay theatre kid that’s a dream come true. And for once, everything that a teenager thought and imagined, was absolutely true. Ovation was my home for Junior year of high school and I can’t imagine where I would be without it. The students have been completely supportive and behind my back since day one, in school and out. These students come from every walk of life and I feel as if I’m seeing the world for the first time and not just a majority-white suburb. The staff is incredibly brilliant as well. Through them, I have gained a piece of knowledge for what I love that I never knew possible and it has transformed me into the person I always wished I could be. Ovation is a tight family full of individuals who have strived to be better artists and better people and I have witnessed the growth with my very own eyes. The magic that flows through our hallways is intoxicating as it radiates with positivity and unity.
I wanted to go to school. I fought for my education every day and I strived to be greater every second I was granted in those hallways. For once, I felt safe to be myself and trust those around me full-heartedly. I still don’t wear my bulletproof vest, but that is because I have traded it in for the Ovation logo. That’s what protects me. My school. My community. My family. A place where artistry is no longer ostracized but celebrated and encouraged. Each of us has our own gift and Ovation gives us the opportunity for our voices to be heard in an unforgiving world. Although, the thing I am most thankful for is Ovation bringing me back to life.
When I was at Ovation this past year, I felt alive for the first time in 10 years. I now want to live. I want to cherish every breath and embrace every moment that I am given in this world. Losing Ovation without the opportunity to finish my education there is the equivalent of my death. That may seem like a dramatic teenager’s excuse for attention, but maybe you would understand if you lived your entire life being told you weren’t good enough as you are. That you have to become someone else for the world’s comfort. And then you walk into a building and you are greeted with acceptance. Not an excuse for further segregation but the unification of lost souls. That is Ovation. The students are my blood, the staff is my muscles, and I am my own heart and mind. I am no longer a configuration of societal norms but an elaborate human expression of my very own uniqueness.
By attending Ovation Academy of Performing Arts I have blossomed into a stronger version of myself that can take on this cruel world and even harsher career field. This program has already done so much for me in the past year. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the lifelong friends and lessons that I have been granted. I have been lost in a school system that neglected me for years. Ovation is not just another school. It is a community and family that celebrates love and appreciation for the performing arts. Most importantly, it is, and always will be, my home.
My director and teacher, Angi Burns, has always said that she strives to build a home for blooming performers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But I can honestly say, she has already created a loving and open home for everyone.
One fateful summer day, I auditioned for Ovation Academy of Performing Arts, and took a blind leap of faith, jumping into a new situation and place with everyone else. It was one of the best years of my life. I spent my days working with these amazing teachers, learning how to create beautiful art that meant something in the world. I studied with talented young performers, who strive to succeed. I was pushed on so many levels, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and I know I am a different person than the girl who originally walked through those doors and introduced herself for her audition. I've grown into a more mature young performer, and I can say with confidence that I have learned more about my art and how to pursue it successfully and in a way that will make me happy. My entire outlook on certain things has changed, and I can say I owe it to the incredible people of Ovation.
Change. It's not always positive, and it can be seen negatively. As a pessimist, I can genuinely say I hate change. But the transition into Ovation was simple and painless. The environment of the school has always been a positive one. Even as we faced hardships of the dreaded tech week, or even moving buildings, we continued to stay positive and support each other. Respect is a two way street, and in order to keep our school in balance, we have to give to receive. That's what I love about my school. I am treated with respect as I treat others with respect. It's a well balanced machine that operates smoothly.
The average public school enrollment is 526 students. Ovation has a dramatically lower amount of students. This could be seen negatively, but in Ovation, I am able to get the one-on-one teaching experience I might need. Teachers genuinely care for the students, and care for their academic and professional needs. Mrs. Angi, or who we all like to affectionately refer to as Mama Burns, is very much a mother to our school. She works for us every single day and puts in so much effort and love to help us succeed. The school is referred to as a family, and students actually look forward to going to school every single day.
I would do anything to continue studying and learning how to perform and how to make a difference in the world. I love my school. I really love my school, and I don't ever want to miss out on the experience of it, and I don't want anyone to have to miss the experience even once. Ovation really is a home for all of us, and I have no idea what I would do without it. It's provided me with an amazing family and incredible friends and amazing teachers who I can always count on for anything.
I have never been the type of person that felt like I completely belonged anywhere up until one night my youth theatre director told me about the dream she was going to into action next year. Growing up in a predominantly white area I was always trying to change myself in a desperate effort to fit into a clique that didn't want me. However, all my efforts didn't give me the happiness I longed for. No matter how straight I pressed my hair or how "urban" I changed my voice to be, I never truly felt black enough for the black people or white enough for the white people. It seemed "the uncomfortable in-between" was destined to be my home, whether I wanted that or not. Then came the place that was destined to be my home. Through Ovation Academy not only did I get exposure to competitive acting opportunities, but training opportunities as well. Not only have I grown as an artist but I met some of my best friends. No one has understood and accepted me to the extent that my Ovation family has. Our differences ceased to exist where art was born. No matter the color of our skin or the neighborhoods we are from, we respect and understand each other in a way I had never been respected or understood and I know many of my best friends would say the same thing. Angi’s leap of faith has changed the course of our lives professionally and personally and I don’t think she will ever know how grateful I am for that. One day I hope I’m successful enough to be a sponsor of Ovation myself and teach classes, however, that is not today and today I need help. This school can and will keep helping artists in our area but some of us need financial help for it to do so. We have had bumps along the way but all of them we have overcome them as a family. Ever since Ovation began I didn’t have to walk through life feeling like I didn’t belong. I did not have to be content with "the uncomfortable in-between" because I found my home with other young artists and mentors who have accepted me with open arms. Last year was my Junior year and I had been acting for a few years at this point but I never really believed I was strong enough to be a professional actress. Angi pushed me to enter the August Wilson Monologue Contest which is a competition centered around the work of August Wilson, a playwright who wrote for the urban communities and mainly people of color. Growing up in Prosper, TX I had never really been exposed to his work or any theatre that exemplified people like me. I could never have been the protagonist in the story where I came from. I was always the minority. In Mr. Wilson’s plays people of color were prominent characters with real and raw stories to tell. I selected a monologue and after a few months of coaching myself and several other students from Ovation competed in the contest. Four Ovation students made the state semi finals and three of us advanced to the Regional Finals. I was fortunate enough to win the Regional finals and get an all expense paid trip to compete at Nationals in New York City where I made the top 15 in the nation. From that experience I was offered a college scholarship to SMU and gained the confidence to pursue acting in college. I shared the stage with students from across the country who had already been accepted to Juilliard and NYU among other top performing arts colleges and I felt equally prepared and talented thanks to my training at Ovation.
I never thought that academics, performance art, and genuine fun could all coexist, but I found Ovation and I’m still in disbelief that I am a member of such an amazing family!!
I have always known that I wanted to be a professional performer. After booking more and more jobs that required time missed from school, and having to turn them down repeatedly in an effort not to be marked truant, my family and I realized something. Public school is not an incredibly supportive environment for students that want to work professionally, so as I’ve started booking bigger acting jobs, it started to become more of an obstacle that we needed to find a way around. We actually transferred to Ovation at the start of the Spring semester, and online school combined with the arts classes provided by Ovation worked incredibly well for my learning style and my work ethic!
I started my first Ovation Community Outreach production, Little Women, when I was still in public school. Even though I did not attend Ovation Academy at the time, I was welcomed with open arms and caught up on all of the warm-ups, inside jokes and scheduled gatherings (including many pre-rehearsal Taco Bell runs). Not only did I feel welcomed, but I was encouraged and built up by my fellow castmates, even before my family had decided that Ovation Academy would be my new school starting in January.
After I’d found out I would be attending Ovation, but about a month before I actually started there, I received the incredible news that I’d booked a short film shooting in North Carolina for about a week at the beginning of March. I did not expect such an outpouring of support from my (future) classmates, but as soon as I was able to announce it on social media, my inbox was FLOODED with positivity. I was honestly shocked—I’d expected some bitterness! It only seems normal when you put a bunch of performing arts kids into a school together that they’d be envious of each other’s successes. Not at all!! Everyone was so kind and supportive of my accomplishments, and the same things have happened when my classmates booked television pilots, short films, plays, musicals, etc.! Everyone has celebrated each other’s accomplishments instead of envying them; we see each other as a team, not as competition. That’s the greatest thing about Ovation.
My friends at Ovation are honestly my siblings. I can talk to them about absolutely anything, judgement-free, and they not only listen, but they understand!! There is so much support at Ovation and my classmates have been with me through my highest highs and my lowest lows. I absolutely can’t thank them enough.
Ovation has such caring and understanding staff members as well!! They are so understanding, and will spend however long is needed to build somebody up and ensure that they are feeling well enough to continue their day. Everyone is passionate about everything they do, and it shows!!
Mrs. Angi is incredibly supportive of everyone’s professional endeavors, and sends us out on so many performances and auditions that it’s almost unreal!! She’s been with me since pretty much the beginning of my acting experience, and she’s seen me grow through so much as an actor and as a person. If I ever need advice (on character development, dramaturgy, academics, or even just life), she’s one I know I can go to and count on.
Mrs. Linda has been my rock throughout my transition to Ovation. She will not only talk to any student about anything they need to get off their chest, but she has taken so much time out of her day to help me set up my website, my demo reel, auditions for jobs on Backstage, etc. for no benefit other than knowing that she is helping me!!
Bottom line: I am so incredibly thankful for Ovation Academy. I doubt it would be an exaggeration to say that Ovation has saved my passion for performing. Ovation is the best academic experience, the best arts experience, and the best social experience to have ever made its way into my life.
I am Ovation!!
Let’s start where my Ovation journey began. When my family was going to watch a musical at a community theater, a friend that was part of the show was telling my mom what plans they were doing for this coming year. They were planning to join a new college preparatory performing arts academy called Ovation. I had never heard about Ovation but my friend was so excited about it. My parents and I decided to find out more about it and I knew instantly why she had been so excited!
The reason I joined Ovation is I'm passionate and serious about my craft in the fine arts. Instead of aiming for 100%, I aim for 110% and put my best foot forward into the projects I'm a part of. In my previous school we would waste a lot of time in class because the teacher was having to discipline students who had no interest in taking a theatre class and so we only really got to do theatre for half the class. I enjoyed my school and my classes but I wasn’t learning or growing in my craft. I also have been a dancer for many years but in school I was only offered Drill Team. I am a boy so that was not really an option. Or we could take Aerobic dance; whatever that is. Ovation offered high level training in ballet, tap and hip hop along with other forms of dance. I was in!
The difference that Ovation has made in my life is the friends I made and the instructors lessons. Everyone at Ovation has a common goal: to make performing arts our careers in the future and give back to our community with our talents. In the 1 year Ovation has existed I feel we have made huge strides towards this goal. I booked my first modeling gig and was able to perform for college scouts who seemed to really take an interest in me already and I was only a Sophomore.
What I'm excited about being at Ovation is stepping into the building everyday getting ready to learn and train in the profession I want to be in. And what excites me about my future at Ovation... being part of something I'm proud of: Ovation Academy of Performing Arts.
The performing arts is what has kept me going for the past sixteen years. In my lifetime I have been through many hardships and many changes, but the one constant was musical theatre and dance. My father passed away several years ago and ever since I have helped to raise my younger siblings. My mother has recently remarried and things are beginning to look up for us but I still never felt whole again until I found Ovation Academy. Ovation has given me the platform to express myself through my art. The staff and students have essentially become my family over the past year. Growing with them in my craft has been the best thing to happen to me. It has allowed me to continue to grow as a person and in the field I want a career in. The training that I'm getting here is more detailed than all of the other training I've gotten anywhere else. It genuinely feels like my home away from my home, the place where I feel most free. I have learned so much in such a short amount of time. Ovation has not only taught me the skills I need to work in the business but this school has taught me how to love unconditionally, how to “share not compare”, how to earn your spot by using your strengths and to appreciate it if you are fortunate enough to have earned it and most importantly how to give more than I take from this world. I cannot remember getting life lessons like this in my 10 years of public schooling. These people are my family. This school is my home. I finally found my tribe. I will continue to work hard and grow as a person and an artist at Ovation.