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YOUNG TALENT BURSTS FORTH

One of the underappreciated treasures of the Tampa Bay area performing arts season is the annual showcase performed by students of the Broadway Theatre Project.

Every year, scores of the finest and most serious aspiring musical theater performers come to Tampa from all over the United States (and even beyond) for an intensive three-week regimen of classes and rehearsals. They work with some of the best and best-known pros in the business. It all culminates with a fast-paced and spirited revue at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, with choreography and vocal arrangements by BTP faculty.

Every year, the showcases are stunning displays of talent and showmanship. This year's showcase, titled Musicals: The Old and the New, is no exception, and may rank as one of the strongest offerings in the series. Saturday's two shows were this year's only performances.

The natural inclination is to couch praise for the show in terms of the performers' youth (they're in their late teens and early 20s) and relative lack of experience. But there's no need to temper enthusiasm: This was simply phenomenally entertaining. A more seasoned cast probably wouldn't have made it more so.

These students work together cohesively in a show that was put together quickly.

The work of the pros in this year's show is just as impressive. BTP co-founder Debra McWaters provided dazzling choreography to three of the show's 29 numbers. Sandra Robinson created the dance for a lovely staging of Very Warm for Spring. And the playing of the 11-piece pit orchestra was tasteful and spirited.

By far the most beautiful music in the show came from Tampa composer Wade Williams. A haunting number called Two Prayers from his show Warsaw featured two fine soloists backed by a stunning chorus, arranged by Wade. The lyrics were, unfortunately, difficult to discern. But the music evoked the poignant and profound sorrow of the Warsaw ghetto.

As the title implies, Musicals: The Old and the New challenged the cast to excel in a variety of styles. Some songs came from decades-old shows (Singing in the Rain, The Pajama Game, Hair); others were written specifically for the showcase by BTP students and faculty. The revue also featured world premieres of two songs from a new show called Alice by Frank Wildhorn.

The cast was up to the challenge, performing all kinds of music and all styles of dance with confidence, commitment and a stunning level of talent.

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