The Westminster Christian High School (WCS) choirs performed in the first annual “Arts for Autism” benefit on June 20 at the famous Gershwin Theater in New York City.
WCS is one of six student groups from North America who were selected by audition to perform alongside professional performers from some of Broadway’s most popular shows. The benefit raised $36,000 for Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism awareness and outreach organization.
Tony-award winner Kelli O’Hara hosted the show. The Doo Wop Project, comprised of singers from Jersey Boys, Beautiful, and Hairspray performed between the student sets. Cast members from Pippin, Newsies, In the Heights, Wicked, and other Broadway shows sang with the student performers.
The 90-minute performance on the Gershwin Theater stage came to life with the professionalism of a real Broadway show. The audience of nearly 1,200 applauded each number with enthusiasm and raved about the production at its conclusion.
Students sang with a professional pit orchestra and director, with professional lighting and sound just as is done in Broadway shows. Their excitement for this unique experience showed in their Hairspray performance as they maintained a very high energy level of singing and dancing and were rewarded with thunderous applause at the conclusion of the set, which featured ten WCS soloists.
The show finale featured a high school graduate with autism who sang, If the World Only Knew, in collaboration with others students with autism. The poignant lyrics of this song sent a clear message about the importance of this benefit:
“If the World only knew what I could do, they would be astounded. If the world only knew what I could do, I would be surrounded. If the world only knew what I could do, maybe I’d be free, if they could see there’s so much more in me.”
During the trip, the WCS students did more than perform on Broadway. They visited Radio City Music Hall for a behind-the-scenes tour, and rehearsed with Broadway professionals at the Alvin Ailey Dance Studios, and at Pearl Studios with Broadway star Dwayne Cooper who worked with them on their Hairspray medley.
“He said that our singers were quite well prepared and was very complimentary of our choreographer, WCS alumna Taylor Clarkson Barker ’05,” said Paul Whiting, WCS choral director. “He commented that our choreography had more complex moves than some of the songs he had performed on Broadway in Hairspray.
Before taking the stage at Gershwin Theater, they were treated to a matinee performance of Wicked. The WCS students were excited that the next day they would be on that very same stage performing.
“The students also had the opportunity to mingle with Broadway cast members and observe directors, choreographers, lighting and sound designers collaborate,” Whiting said. “Most of all, they learned that those with autism have a voice that needs to be heard and understood — that struggles can be overcome and the world needs to be a place where we encourage those with difficulties to succeed.”
The students rounded out their visit to New York City with a stop at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, a visit to the “Top of the Rock,” a stroll through Time Square and Central Park, a harbor tour of the Statue of Liberty, and a time of reflection at the 9/11 Memorial.
For more information about Westminster Christian School, visit www.wcsmiami.org.