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Students get new take on old classic

Artsbridge program brings orchestra to area schools

Photo by Michael Kelly Children respond as they are asked a question during the American Pops Orchestra performance of "An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" at Warren Elementary School Monday morning. The show by the American Pops Orchestra was coordinated by Artsbridge. The Washington D.C., orchestra and acting ensemble are touring Mid-Ohio Valley schools this week, winding up with a public performance of "Live, Laugh, Love" at West Virginia University at Parkersburg Friday night.

The folks at home might have been surprised to hear their Warren Elementary School students humming a few bars of a tune by Cole Porter or some other classic American songwriters when they came in the door Monday afternoon. If so, American Pops Orchestra conductor Luke Frazier’s strategy was a success.

The orchestra and a cast of Broadway actors is spending the week touring elementary schools in Washington County and nearby West Virginia counties. Led by Frazier, a Parkersburg native who has assembled a group of first-class musicians, actors and writers, the group is presenting its new production of “An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” for kindergarten through second grade students.

As the guitarist, bassist and drummer of a nine-piece orchestra warmed up the room – the gymnasium at Warren Elementary – with “Night and Day” by Cole Porter, the students filed quietly in, gradually filling up half the floor. The rest of the gym filled up when students from Little Hocking arrived.

“You are in for a double-scoop treat,” Artsbridge programs coordinator Kathy Reeder told the students. She introduced Frazier, noting that he was a graduate of Parkersburg South High School.

“That shows you that you never know what you might grow up to be,” she said.

Photo by Michael Kelly Actor Kevin Rose invites children to participate in the American Pops Orchestra performance of "An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" at Warren Elementary School Monday morning. The show by the American Pops Orchestra was coordinated by Artsbridge. The Washington D.C., orchestra and acting ensemble are touring Mid-Ohio Valley schools this week, winding up with a public performance of "Live, Laugh, Love" at West Virginia University in Parkersburg Friday night.

When Frazier explained that the show would be “An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” one student cried out, “I have that book at home!”

But this was not your standard recital of the fly-spider-bird-cat-dog-goat-cow swallowing. Two brothers, played by Evan LaChance and Kevin Rose, are preparing for opening night of their new restaurant. Rose, who has the warmth of a favorite uncle, shares a secret with the students to start the show off: He has hidden his pet cow under the lid of a chafing dish. LaChance, more reminiscent of that crazy cousin, ushers in the first guest, Hilary Morrow, the old lady of the tale.

The great pops standards of American music are used to introduce each of the increasingly large critters Morrow consumes – “Anything Goes” for the spider to catch the fly, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” for the bird, which happens to be named Argentina, Simon the narcoleptic cat makes his entry to “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and “Que Sera Sera” introduces the old lady’s dog, Ruth Barker Ginsberg, which happens to be in her purse.

Questions to the children cued each stage. When the accumulated creatures got wedged in the old lady’s system, LaChance and Rose asked, “What’s good at pushing?” The goat, of course, brought in to the tune of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The big windup, the disclosure of the hidden Sheila the Rescue Cow, came as Morrow sang Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 hit, “I Will Survive.”

Before yanking out the animals, strung together surreptitiously by Morrow under the prop dining table, seven children were recruited by LaChance and Rose to wear signs indicating each animal, and the audience was consulted as they arranged them in order.

Photo by Michael Kelly Musicians in the American Pops Orchestra play during a performance of "An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" at Warren Elementary School Monday morning. The show was coordinated by Artsbridge. The Washington D.C., orchestra and acting ensemble are touring Mid-Ohio Valley schools this week, winding up with a public performance of "Live, Laugh, Love" at West Virginia University at Parkersburg Friday night.

“Luke and I have worked on two or three kids’ shows together,” writer Clay Elder said after the show. “It’s part of the orchestra’s mission to save these classic American songs. The idea is that the kids will hear them and remember them.”

It was the second performance of this show, the only other have been done in Washington, Frazier said.

“It’s all about integrating classic American music, weaving in those songs. We’re really happy with the kids’ response,” he said.

First grader Gavin Erb said the highlight for him was the end.

“I liked it when she pulled the string and all the animals came up,” he said.

Photo by Michael Kelly Actors, from left to right, Kevin Rose, Hilary Morrow and Evan LaChance sing for Warren and Little Hocking elementary school students during a performance of "An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" at Warren Elementary School Monday morning. The show by the American Pops Orchestra was coordinated by Artsbridge. The Washington D.C., orchestra and acting ensemble are touring Mid-Ohio Valley schools this week, winding up with a public performance of "Live, Laugh, Love" at West Virginia University at Parkersburg Friday night.

“I liked it when she swallowed all that stuff,” said Jozee Hadfield, another first grader. “I loved all of it.”

Kindergarten teacher Anne Weihl said the response of her students was “fantastic.”

“We have a deaf student who seldom reacts to anything, and this is the first time he’s really paid attention,” she said. “He can hear some things, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. That’s amazing. I give it two thumbs up.”

Reeder said Frazier is committed to giving back to his home communities.

“It’s exciting to have them back,” she said, noting that the orchestra came last year to perform “A Very Silly Vaudevillie” for students. “The children like it, but they don’t have the experience to recognize the quality of these performances.”

Artsbridge, an arts education program backed by the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and several local and regional foundations and individual donors, coordinated the scheduling for the orchestra’s performances, and the orchestra provided funding for the tour.

The orchestra is scheduled to perform Tuesday through Thursday for schools in Wood, Jackson and Ritchie county schools in West Virginia. It’s Mid-Ohio Valley visit will conclude Friday with a public concert, “Live, Laugh, Love” at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. Tickets to that show are free but need to be obtained through Artsbridge. Anyone interested in attending can call 304-428-3988.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

American Pops Orchestra performances this week:

• 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Blennerhassett Auditorium, for Wood County school students.

• 9 a.m. Wednesday, Belmont, W.Va., Pleasants County Schools students.

• 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Ripley, W.Va., Jackson County Schools students.

• 9 a.m. Thursday, Ellenboro, W.Va., Ritchie County Schools students.

• 7:30 p.m. Friday, West Virginia University at Parkersburg, “Live, Laugh, Love,” free public performance.

• Secure free tickets to Friday’s performance by contacting Artsbridge at 304-428-3988.

Sources: American Pops Orchestra, Artsbridge.

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