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After experiencing one of the finest concerts I’ve ever attended in Helena on Dec. 27 — the Grandstreet Theatre Holiday Benefit concert — I felt compelled to write this letter in support of one of Helena’s artistic treasures.

The sold-out concert featured the music of Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown. Some very talented actors, singers, and dancers who are alumni of Grandstreet Theatre were accompanied by two of Helena’s finest classical/jazz/pop pianists, Kurt Crowley and Fred Cobb. Crowley, a Grandstreet alumnus who currently resides in New York City, has risen to the top of the Broadway musical world, and Cobb, a Helena resident, has created incredible musical “magic” as the multi-talented musical director for many of Grandstreet’s productions. Some of the incredibly talented performers in the benefit concert were Bella DeLong, Kevin Mathews, Jeff Downing, Gretchen Mundinger, Lysa Fox, Mary Middaugh, and Katie Wright. I have no hesitation in saying that their performances, as well as others who performed in the show were comparable to Broadway performances of the same music. If Jason Robert Brown himself had been present, he would have been thrilled with their performances of his music.

How fortunate we are to have such a high-quality artistic venue in Helena, which includes a fine theater school led by Marianne Adams. The theater school attracts and develops young talented local performers, many of whom (the people who were in this Holiday Benefit show as well as others) go on to very successful theater arts careers as actors, actresses, professors of theater arts, directors, choreographers, writers and lyricists when they leave Helena. Some examples of Grandstreet Theatre alumni who have left Helena to pursue theater arts careers are Bella DeLong (graduate of University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts, actress in Los Angeles), Josie Adams (actress, TV commercials in L.A.), Anne Adams (actress, theater productions on cruise ships), Erin Ortman (actress, director of stage productions in New York City), and Mia Crivello (actress, writer of stage productions in New York City).

Crowley (Harvard University graduate), one of the accompanists for the show, is currently the associate musical director of one of Broadway’s most successful shows, Hamilton: An American Musical. He’s been conducting the show on Broadway for the past five years and has conducted over 1,600 performances! In 2016, Hamilton was nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards and won 11 of them, as well as numerous other significant theater awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Prior to Hamilton, Crowley was the musical director for the touring company of "In the Heights," another highly acclaimed Broadway show.

The people primarily responsible for developing Grandstreet into a community theater that is second to none in Montana are Kal Poole (Managing Director), Jeff Downing (Artistic Director), Marianne Adams (Director of Education) and Paige O’Neill (Technical Director). Each of them is highly qualified to run a theater such as Grandstreet by virtue of their theater degrees and the incredible wealth of experience they have in their chosen field. They are doing fantastic work!

One of the ways Helena residents can show their appreciation to Grandstreet, other than through financial contributions, is to attend a play or musical to experience first-hand the amazingly talented local actors/actresses, singers and dancers who perform on the Grandstreet stage. Attending “live” stage productions is certainly one way we can contribute to the goodness and positivity in the world. According to psychologists, experiencing “live” theatrical performances can result in significantly changed lives, which in turn help to make our world a better place. Why not take a chance and attend one or more of these events, even if you’ve never been to one before, to see for yourselves what a tremendous contribution Grandstreet makes to our community? You won’t be disappointed!

As Robert Shaw, the world’s greatest choral conductor, has said on occasion: “The Arts are not just a luxury, but a necessity. They bring sanity and wholeness, and purpose and perspective to a society.”

Dr. Steven Michelson, D.M.A. in Choral Conducting

East Helena

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