As I sat watching and listening to the seven extraordinary singers who performed in Saturday’s Songbook Academy All-Stars concert at the Palladium I thought to myself “This would make such a spectacular television special or recording.” In many ways, witnessing it live, was a once in a lifetime experience.
Named Songbook Ambassadors, the uber-talented singers, all of whom have won the Songbook Academy vocal competition were: Julia Bonnett (2009),of Carmel; Annie Yokom (2010) of Chicago: Nick Ziobro (2012) of Manlius, N.Y,;Julia Goodwin (2013) of Baldwinsville, N.Y., Maddie Baillio (2014) of League City, Texas, who recently played Tracy Turnblad in the NBC production Hairspray Live!. ; Lucas DeBard (2015) of Lebanon, Ind., who is student at I.U.’s Jacobs School of Music:Brighton Thomas (2016) of Burbank, Calif., who will perform throughout the U.S. over the coming year.
With recently appointed Songbook Academy V.P. Chris Lewis, who also masterfully directed and produced the concert, serving as emcee, the All-Stars were accompanied by an outstanding three piece band. Led by Michael Feinstein’s music director Tedd Firth on piano, the other,musicians,were Art Reiner on drums and Steve Dokken on bass.
It was especially gratifying to see all the gregarious singers together on one stage for this first ever concert. I have covered the Songbook Academy since its inception and have interviewed and become acquainted with each of the performers. It has been a pleasure measuring their individual growth from master classes to finals each year. And with great interest, I’ve observed them transform from neophyte performers into seasoned entertainers, enjoying successful professional careers.
Playing to a near capacity crowd, the All-Stars sang music from the American Songbook, which they all referenced with love and appreciation, during remarks made by each at the beginning of their individuals performances. During Act 1 each sang two songs and Act 2 saw several of them teaming up for duets.
Just when you thought the concert couldn’t get any better the performances just kept coming as the dynamic singers, all of them in possession of voices that are almost other-worldly in their quality, exhibited flawless showmanship and showed dynamic stage presence as they interpreted music which they have all committed to preserving and promoting.
With each turning in winning performances, they all had their moments. A pure beauty,with a rich voice, Carmel resident Julia Bonnett was stunning in her version of Meadowlark from The Baker’s Wife. Sure to one day become a sought after Broadway musical comedy star was Annie Yokom in A Tisket, A Tasket, made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. She also displayed her considerable dramatic talent when she sang the Judy Garland hit, “The Man That Got Away.” Crooner Nick Ziobro who comes closer than any singer I have heard to emulate Frank Sinatra, was captivating when he sang What Kind of Fool Am I. Julia Goodwin, who has come a long way since she won the competition as a 15-year brought chills when she sang a moving rendition of Hallelujah.
Maddie Baillio, the best known Ambassador, due to her wide-exposure playing Tracy Turnblad Hairspray Live!, gave evidence that her fame will be anything but short lived, when she, paying tribute to Edye Gorme, sang If He Walked Into My Life with stirring passion. Singing You and The Night and The Music, in a nod to Ol’ Blue Eyes, Lebanon native Lucas DeBard commanded the stage of the Palladium, a venue he once dreamed of performing in. Lastly, 2016 current Songbook Academy Youth Ambassador Brighton Thomas demonstrated she could give Barbara Streisand a run for her money when she expansively sang Happy Days Are Here Again.
As far as duets, Ziobro and Goodwin, who are both from upstate New York and have known each other since they were children, shined in Stormy Weather/When The Sun Comes Out. Based on their beguiling performance, the attractive duo has solid potential to become a popular entertainment attraction.
Had the All-Stars mentor Michael Feinstein been present (he stayed away because he wanted the focus to be placed on his proteges) I can only assume that he would have been bursting with pride knowing that his Ambassadors are keeping his beloved American Songbook alive but also bringing positivity to a world sorely in need of hope and inspiration.
For information about the Songbook Academy visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.