Monday, March 16, 2009

Broadway leading man Hugh Panaro visits Musical Theatre Conservatory Class



On Wednesday, March 11, Imagination Stage's Musical Theatre Conservatory (Junior Class) received a visit from Broadway leading man Hugh Panaro, in town to sing with the NSO Pops' salute to the music of Jerry Herman. Hugh was most recently seen on Broadway in the title role in the Phantom of the Opera.

Hugh was incredibly generous with his time and experience. After a quick tour of Imagination Stage, he sat down with the class for a question and answer session. He shared his journey to the stage as a young middle schooler who discovered his love of music learning to play the organ. At 12 he was playing 5 services at his church every Sunday! At 13, his parents took him to see his first Broadway musical, starring a young girl from his Philadelphia neighborhood. The girl was Andrea McArdle; the show, Annie, of course! From the moment the curtain went up, it became what Hugh wanted to do.

He advised the students to perform whenever and wherever they got the opportunity. Through his teens, he worked non-stop in the cluster of dinner theaters in the Philadelphia area, as well as in community theaters. Hugh shared the fact that he was not cast in any of his high school plays - including a production of Oklahoma! at an all-girls' school. He went on to study Music at Temple University. After graduation, he moved to New York and began to audition. His first Broadway role was Marius in Les Miserable.

The conservatory students got up to sing for him - all just a bit nervous, especially Derek and Abby, who not only went first, but performed "A Little Fall of Rain" from Les Miz! Another pair, Jackie and Lydia, sang "Who will love me as I am?" from Side Show. (Hugh was in the original cast on Broadway) For each group, he had specific observations and praise. Most of all, he encouraged them to follow their instincts and not hold back!

Another bit of advice I especially liked was to learn your music 200%. When you get on stage, the first 100% goes out the window with nerves, and you will need to rely on what's left!
We ended with a big group photos, lots of camera phone shots and an autograph session. The class gave Hugh an Imagination Stage drawstring bag complete with an IS baseball cap, water bottle, pencils and keychain. We hope he wears it proudly as he heads out to Seattle to take on a new role: George Seurat in Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George. Hugh headed back to his hotel; he had an early rehearsal with the NSO, and needed to spend time learning the difficult role in the Sondheim show.

Many thanks to Dan Villar who accompanied our students, Janelle Albert, who photographed us, Lone Knuteson who video taped the class and Marcy Berger who help with transportation.

--Jeanne Hisle

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