The first major change we learned of revolved around the Finale performance venue. The organizers of the event originally stated that the competition would take place at the world famous Radio City Music Hall. The kids were understandably excited for the opportunity to perform at such an incredible and historic location. The excitement was doomed not to last.
The V’s shared the news of the change of venue before our trip started. The kids were disappointed, of course, but probably not as disappointed as their parents. The new host site was the Hammerstein Ballroom. The announcement elicited a collective “Where?” No one had heard of the place. We didn’t realize at the moment that we were in store for more disappointment by the end of the week’s events.
Friday afternoon we unloaded the equipment and got our first look at the Hammerstein Ballroom in the Manhattan Center. It was a bit underwhelming at first. The stage area was on the same floor level as the audience. The seating area, which did not have permanent seating, gently sloped upwards towards the back. To most of us, it seemed like an odd set up. To me, it seemed on the smallish side compared to Radio City Music Hall. To the kids, they were going to be performing in New York City.
Our group had to get up bright and early that day for morning performances at two different locations in Manhattan.
The first performance was by the entire Bishop Dwenger choir at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The choir performed beautifully.
The second round of performances were two solo competitions that were part of the Finale program and part of a day of seminars for the kids held at the Marriott Marquis located in Times Square. The first solo was by one of the top male performers in Summit Sound, a junior named Jimmy. He did a version of “Sara Lee”, a song recorded by stage legend Liza Minnelli. Jimmy did a fine job with the song. It was the song he had performed at several solo comps during the show choir season. It may have been his best job of the year on the song, but to my admittedly untrained ear it had a sense of “Been there, done that.”
The second solo was by one of Abby’s best friends, Rachel. Rachel was a sophomore with an incredible voice. By the end of her second year at Dwenger she had established herself as one of the two best voices that I of the untrained ear had heard in four years of attending these things. Rachel sang “Anyway”, a Martina McBride song that I was not familiar with. She nailed it. The beautiful message of the song resonated with me to the point that I was almost in tears long before she finished. The Dwenger crowd in attendance erupted. A woman standing nearby asked me for Rachel’s name. She told me she had seen most of the soloists that morning and that Rachel was by far the best of the lot. It was a good finish to the morning.
The Saturday show choir performances may have been the best of the year for both groups. Elegance, the all-girl group, performed first. I went against character and sat with most of the Dwenger crowd for the Elegance show, which meant sitting as close to the performers as possible. The unusual setup of the stage and seating made it difficult to get the pictures of Abby that I was hoping for. Far too often my little angel was blocked from my view by the mothers sitting in front of me. I managed to get a few of Abby, but not enough.
While the Summit Sound crew was doing its thing to get ready for the performance I looked for a better vantage point for taking pictures. I noticed that the balconies were largely unoccupied so I high-tailed it to get a better seat. It was the perfect spot to get some good shots of Maggie, Elaine, and the rest of the group. Their opening number, “Puttin on the Ritz”, was the perfect song for New York City and set the stage for the rest of the show.
The kids had been hopeful that one of the soloists or Summit Sound would make it to the evening finals, but the day’s experience had soured most of them on that. They were ready to go home… after a shopping spree at Times Square.