Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They may fly through the air like Batman, have smooth moves like Michael Jackson or be a stranger lending a hand at just the right time. Walh Performing Arts Studio in Buffalo, New York, honored both famous and ordinary heroes with a recital theme of “Heroes and Legends.”
Co-owners Katie and David Walh, both successful musical theater performers and educators, opened their studio in 2002. Because they offer lessons in dancing, singing and acting, their production was sprinkled with vocal numbers and acting scenes, giving this performance a musical-review feel. “We wanted it to be entertaining for every age,” says David.
Students performed three shows—two on Saturday and a Sunday matinee—with as many as 50 numbers in each, all choreographed and arranged by the studio’s nine faculty members. To ensure that each class got its time in the spotlight, every performance was completely different, save for the opening, closing and “Big Hero” numbers.
The studio has a real-life hero of its own. Nine-year-old Gianna Pezzino was diagnosed with Type E leukemia just two months before the recital. Eventually, Gianna had to drop out of her recital numbers while undergoing daily chemotherapy.
But on recital day, she and her parents came to watch sister Alexia perform. “Her parents had to carry her to her chair,” says Katie. “I went backstage and told the kids about it before the show; it elevated the performance’s purpose.” Today, Gianna is a cancer survivor. She is dancing again and is also involved in acting and modeling.
The Walhs’ program note begins, “We need a Hero…Our show celebrates many of our favorite childhood superheroes, legends of theatre and song, but more importantly, the heroes and legends in our everyday lives… A Hero lies in you.”
Music: “Don’t Stop Believin’”—Journey
Level/Genre: Advanced—musical theater (audition-only class)
Costumes: Students wore their own nice dress.
Choreography: In this “stand and sing” number, à la television show “Glee,” basic stage movement and song brought the curtain up like a Broadway opener.
Big Hero Number (Closes Act 1)
Music: “Holding Out For A Hero”—Bonnie Tyler (mixed with themes from Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Rocky and Austin Powers and finished with a revival of “Holding Out For A Hero”)
Level/Genre: Ages 13–18—musical theater/vocal
Costumes: Girls—short, red trench-coat-style dresses. Boys—black pants and black button-up shirts.
Choreography: In each 30- to 40-second vignette, groups of two to eight students dance to different superhero themes. The Austin Powers segment featured ’60s-style movement; the Indiana Jones group performed lots of running, jumping and thrilling leaps; in Star Wars, two boy dancers were silhouetted and used light-saber props with kung-fu acrobatics and stage combat.
Music: “Eye of the Tiger”—Survivor
Level/Genre: Ages 9–12—tap
Costumes: Red hoodies and red boxing gloves.
Choreography: Dancers mixed tap choreography with boxing moves. This number featured a face-off section in which half of the students went down, while the other half delivered the “knockout.”
Tip: Make sure the students know where their gloves are going so no one actually gets hurt.
Music: “On the Good Ship Lollipop”—Shirley Temple
Level/Genre: Ages 3–5—ballet
Costumes: Pink, sparkly leotards and tutus.
Choreography: The audience smiled and aww-ed as these baby dancers re-created the moves of iconic Shirley Temple.
We Are the World
Music: “We Are the World”—Michael Jackson (demo version)
Level/Genre: Ages 9–12—lyrical
Costumes: Blue, flowy dresses.
Choreography: This lyrical number, danced to the music of the legendary Michael Jackson, featured passionate and expressive movement meant to stir the audience.
Music: The original 1960s “Batman” TV show theme music
Level/Genre: Ages 9–12—jazz
Costumes: Girls—yellow turtlenecks with black dresses. Boy—Batman costume.
Choreography: “POW!” This theatrical number featured the class’ one male student in the role of Batman. The girls formed a clump and Batman exploded through it. A little stage combat mixed in with the jazz steps gave this a comical feel.
Music: “Smooth Criminal”—Michael Jackson
Level/Genre: Ages 13+—pointe
Costumes: White leotards with black stripes and long, black skirts; one white glove and one black glove.
Choreography: No hero would make their mark without an arch nemesis. These ballerinas modified the signature “Smooth Criminal” hat move by rolling over their pointe shoes, looking down, with a jazz hand over their head.
Music: The original 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV show theme music
Level/Genre: Ages 6–8—jazz
Costumes: Red-white-and-blue sequin dresses and gold sparkle bracelets.
Choreography: These Wonder Women performed basic jazz movements with lots of crossing fists to show their power and strength.
Music: “Will You Be There”—Michael Jackson (Free Willy soundtrack)
Level/Genre: All—musical theater
Costumes: The students each wore the costumes from their last piece.
Choreography: The curtain opened on the youngest dancers. They moved forward as the rest of the students danced in. Everybody sang; sign language and “arm-ography” brought the house down in an inspiring full-cast closer.
Make It Flow
With approximately 175 students in each show (and 10 to 25 dancers per piece), transitioning quickly between numbers was important. The Walhs didn’t use blackouts and each number flowed into the next, so that the show could be done in two and a half hours.
Rehearsals for the mid-June show began in January, so that the numbers were clean and well-rehearsed when they got to the theater five months later.
Save Some Dough
The Walh Studio set the stage with a scrim, enabling them to make lighting the primary mood-setter and cutting the cost of having a set. The Walhs estimate that their budget was $10,000, including the cost of space rental, audio and sound equipment and a few professional staff. They relied heavily on the support of volunteers.
Other Songs Used
* Dance Numbers
Little Red Riding Hood—medley of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”
“Mr. Bojangles”—Jerry Jeff Walker
“Everything I Know”—In the Heights
“Men in Black”—M.I.B. theme song
* Vocal Numbers
“The Greatest American Hero”—theme song from 1980s TV series
Walh Performing Arts Studio’s Past Recital Ideas
“Work and Play the American Way”—Dances focused on school, sports and vocational themes.
“Smile”—Dances were comical and lighthearted.
Photo by John Umlauf, courtesy of Walh Performing Arts Studio