Brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein brought to life in tribute show in The Villages

Leonard Bernstein made classical music accessible and entertaining for the masses, and you might say Maestro Bill Doherty does the same thing in The Villages.

Victoria Sexton and Devin Eatmon were part of the Leonard Bernstein Central Florida Lyric Opera tribute Thursday at Savannah Center.

Bernstein was a certified musical genius, composing such stage and film classics as “West Side Story,” “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.” He became a television personality, conducting “Young People’s Concerts” on CBS-TV from 1958-72. He also wrote a host of classical compositions.

The year 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth – he died in 1990. Doherty – with some help from Central Florida Lyric Opera company – celebrated the best of Bernstein on Thursday with an exhilarating tribute.

Doherty has a knack for finding and nurturing talent, and Thursday’s concert was filled with bravura performances. Singers Devin Eatmon, Victoria Sexton, Scotty Tomas, Angie Rose, Michelle Struhar and Heather Ard more than lived up to Doherty’s expectations and Bernstein’s high standards. They revel with musical passion and it was on full display on the Savannah Center stage.

“Leonard Bernstein made classical music come alive to young people,” Doherty said. “He paved the way for classical music in theater. He was not a crossover artist, but a bridge for people who loved classical music and people who love popular music.”

The cast of Thursday’s Leonard Bernstein tribute show at the Savannah Center joined forces to sing ‘Somewhere’ from ‘West Side Story.’

That was evident early on during the 90-minute concert.

“Tonight,” a landmark song from “West Side Story,” featured the full cast. Then, Rose, who narrated the event, stepped away from the podium to sing the comic “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” from “Wonderful Town.”

Eatmon and Tomas teamed up for a rousing “New York New York” from “On the Town.”

Eatmon is a previous winner of the Harold S. Schwartz Music Scholarship from the Opera Club of The Villages. The young tenor continues to blossom and grow as an artist and performer.

“When Devin sings, I get goosebumps; he has so much talent and he has come so far,” said Gerri Piscitelli, president of the Opera Club of The Villages.

At left: Scotty Tomas offers a song from ‘West Side Story’ during the tribute to musical genius Leonard Bernstein on Thursday night at the Savannah Center. At right: Angie Rose narrated and also performed in the show.

Eatmon nearly turned “Maria,” from “West Side Story,” into an immaculate prayer. He was equally powerful on “A Simple Song” from the musical “Mass,” and just as strong on “It Must Be So,” from “Candide.”

Jackie and Roy Ullrich are members of the Opera Club and huge fans of Leonard Bernstein.

“This is a wonderful tribute,” Roy Ullrich said. “The music just flows and it’s beautifully performed.”

Maestro Bill Doherty plays piano as Victoria Sexton sings during the Leonard Bernstein tribute show Thursday.
Heather Ard, left, and Michelle Struhar sing a duet.

Bernstein had an innate ability to combine a variety of musical styles, including classical, pop and jazz.

“There is such diversity in his music,” said Jackie Ullrich, a former president of the Opera Club of The Villages. “You could hear tonight by these wonderful young singers.”

Struhar and Tomas combined for some fun with a Latin beat on “I Am Easily Assimilated.” Victoria Sexton charmed with a vivacious glow and soaring vocals on “Glitter and Be Gay,” also from “Candide.”

Composer Leonard Bernstein made classical music accessible to a wide audience.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to “West Side Story,” and Ard led the women in a rambunctious version of “America.” Struhar took center stage for “I Feel Pretty,” while Sexton and Tomas hit an emotional peak on “One Hand One Heart.”

The entire cast closed the show in style, joining with an uplifting and inspiring “Somewhere.”

“This was outstanding,” said Villager Jane Shen, who attended the concert with fellow Villager Len Alt. “Leonard Bernstein opened up classical music to a whole new audience of listeners – especially young people.”

Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.

Villagers Len Alt and Jane Chen say they have long enjoyed the music of Leonard Bernstein.
Opera fans, from left, Gerri Piscitelli, and Roy and Jackie Ullrich, thoroughly enjoy the music of Leonard Bernstein.