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Ellington ‘takes the A train’ to PS 30 in Jamaica

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Students at PS 30 in Jamaica got a taste of Broadway Friday as “Sophisticated Ladies,” a musical performance capturing the life of celebrated jazz musician Duke Ellington, was performed at the school’s Rachel C. Ramley Auditorium.

Beaming with glee, the students enthusiastically welcomed the four-member “Inside Broadway” cast as it went through its routine with zest, performing deft swing dance moves reminiscent of the 1920s. The audience, including Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, seemed delighted.

Not structured like a flashy Broadway show, the show depicts the atmosphere of the heady 1920s and 1930s. The portrayal of American icons Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, and the renowned Josephine Baker were brilliant.

As the actors/dancers brought the Jazz Age into focus, they did so with a direction that embodied growth and changes. As a new and emerging group of African-Americans from the South headed north, the show focused on their stop through Harlem. In addition, there were people from the West Indies and Africa in search of better economical opportunity. Each of these ethnic groups contained writers, composers and dancers, all of whom eventually transformed Harlem into an oasis for creative freedom.

Ellington, originally from Washington, DC, immersed himself in music and set a high artistic standard, which the actors were able to present positively. They performed some of his hits, including “Take the A Train,” “Solitude,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Sentimental Mood” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” The actors transformed the stage into a scenes from the now-legendary Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater, and the exclusive Savoy Ballroom. As the students surveyed Ellington’s accomplishments, his seemed to make an impact on the students, some of whom were seeing such a performance for the first time.

“I think I want to be dancer,” beamed Travis Deering, one of more than 200 students who attended the performance. A second grade student, he admitted in front of his peers that the dancing and acrobatics were those he liked best.

Apart from the dancing, the trio of musicians—a bass player, drummer and pianist—that accompanied the actors were equally able transport the students into a past world. Although the songs appeared to be foreign to the children, the lesson they learned was invaluable.

“They should bring these more often,” remarked Tresica Moore, an 8-year-old second grader. “I liked it, especially the dancers,” she said with a big smile.

Nick Salo, company manager for “Inside Broadway,” said he enjoys the opportunity to perform in the schools. “There are many students who are unable to attend live theater, so this is wonderful way for them to learn about their own people,” he said.

The group, founded in 1982, performed for more than 60,000 New York City public school students last year.

According to “Inside Broadway” Executive Director Michael Presser, “There is nothing like the Broadway experience to expand and enrich the imagination of a child.”

Helen Marshall, who said she used to be a dancer at the Savoy Ballroom, thanked Principal Althea Tyson for making the show possible.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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