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Broadway numbers done with Broadway energy

On Broadway there is an excitement that pulses through hit shows. Performers work grueling hours and train for years, buoyed by the hopes of one day making it big.

For two hours, 86 teenagers wove youthful passion and commitment to create their own theatrical hybrid, Broadway 96. The students, members of the Musical Theater Project of Tampa, culminated three weeks of intensive training with Saturday's performance at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

The show, a medley of Broadway hits, was a fast-paced exploration of a range of emotions. At times wacky and at others poignant, cast members drew on their MTPT experience of 12-hour workdays and exhaustive rehearsals to produce a rounded performance.

The company established an energetic tempo with a rousing performance of Applause. High schooler Nyra Staples' mature rendition of Play the Music for Me from Jelly's Last Jam highlighted her commanding stage presence and wide range.

Guest instructor Jeff Calhoun's tap-dance choreography, with its rhythmic cadences and showy steps, focused on cast members' ability to keep pace with complicated moves.

MTPT founder and artistic director Anne Reinking's twist on the poignant ballad At the Ballet from A Chorus Line turned male cast members into prima ballerinas and female cast members into shrews. It was a delightfully zany departure from the piece's standard performance.

The tongue-twister dialogue from a scene in My Cousin Vinny was a humorous departure, as was the operatic chirping of Boni Smith, who sang Art Is Calling to Me from The Enchantress. She trilled, "I want to be a prima donna, donna, donna," in an impossibly high soprano and threw deadly serious glances.

The ensemble's performance of Fables was narrated with childlike warmth and breathed a sense of intimacy into such fairy tales as The Tin Soldier and The Nightingale.

The revue also had its serious moments. A heartwrenching monologue intuitively explored homosexuality and unrequited love. This theme was intensified when four cast members sang of broken-hearted anguish in I Who Have Nothing from Smokey Joe's Cafe. Their performance was soul-stirring, with powerful refrains and gripping solos. The quartet seemed committed to conveying the heavy-hearted mood of the song.

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