Globe West arts

Something new to sing about

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Denise Taylor
Globe Correspondent / June 12, 2008

I n a rehearsal room in Waltham, the Reagle Players cast for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is burning up the dance floor like it's opening night. They jazz step, shimmy, and twirl as their chorus of voices rises for the finale of the song "Go, Go, Go, Joseph." And then, there it is. One clear, lush, show-stopping voice rings out above it all, singing the lines, "Ahead of your time! Ahead of my time!"

It's Ayla Brown, 2005 "American Idol" finalist and Wrentham native, who makes her musical theater debut with this afternoon's opening performance of "Joseph" in the key role of the Narrator. But the voice is not the beginner's soprano that got Brown all the way to 13th place on the network television reality show, even without formal training. It's a richer, more mezzo and mature vocal sound that's more than ready for the musical stage.

"It's a real belt sound, but she's got a pretty sound as well, and that's exactly what the role calls for," said the troupe's founder, Robert J. Eagle, who tapped Brown for the part.

In this production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic, 19-year-old Brown will not have to stand alone before an audience of 30 million, as she did on "Idol." She plays opposite Eric Kunze (Joseph), who has starred on Broadway in "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon," and "Damn Yankees." Eagle sums up his vocal ability in just two words: "It's exceptional."

Also sharing the stage are a cast of Broadway denizens and local talents, as well as a 70-voice children's choir. A full orchestra will be in the pit to play the score, which is a genre-jumper, leaping from Western to rock to French ballads and calypso. But what else is different about "Idol" and this show?

"This is so much funner," Brown said. "When I was on 'American Idol,' I was so inexperienced. I had no idea what I was doing on stage. I even had to have someone explain, 'Hey, when that red light flashes, that means the camera is on,' " she recalled. "Now, I feel so much more confident, and rehearsing with other people is such an amazing experience."

Brown's growth as a performer has truly been trial by fire. Since "Idol," her life has been rife with opportunities for very public on-the-job training. She has performed numerous concerts, and sung the national anthem at many high-profile sporting events. In 2006, she recorded her first album, "Forward," which had a title track that peaked at No. 34 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. She expects to release another album soon, and she's thrilled to finally have a singing role on stage.

"I've always wanted to do a musical, and I really regretted not doing one in high school. I was always interested, but basketball always took up all my time," said Brown, who is heading into her junior year at Boston College on a full basketball scholarship.

Basketball still dominates her free time. Even in the summer, she spends mornings training with her college teammates. So despite her excitement when the role came up, Brown wasn't sure at first that she could handle another commitment - especially one that would have her singing in 16 scenes for each of the run's eight shows, starting today at 3 p.m. at Waltham High School's Robinson Theater. But finally, she simply didn't want to miss out.

"I don't want to regret not doing anything in my life," said Brown. "I don't want to look back and say, 'Oh, I wish I'd done that musical or that concert or that charity event.' "

She picked a good show to start with. Reagle's kid-friendly production, which kicks off the Waltham-based troupe's 40th anniversary season, has all the snazzy original costumes from the Donny Osmond "Joseph" tour, as well as the same big dance numbers as tweaked by choreographer Susan Chebookjian of Waltham.

The rest of the Reagle Players season promises more "Broadway-in-the-burbs" dazzle. "Annie" runs July 10-19, with a gifted ensemble led by Broadway leading lady Sarah Pfisterer of "Les Mis" fame. Then, the 1925 classic "No, No, Nanette" hits the stage Aug 7-16 with all the Roaring Twenties glitz of the original.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" opens at 3 p.m. today, with shows tomorrow through Sunday and June 19-21, at the Robinson Theater, Waltham High School, 617 Lexington St. Tickets: $34-$49; youths $25. Group discounts for 10 or more. Free parking. 781-891-5600,

SHARP-EDGED BENEFIT: If you thought "The Vagina Monologues" took on the last conversational taboo, you haven't seen "The Black Jew Dialogues."

In a whirl of one-liners, videos, skits, and even some puppetry, this two-man comedy takes on racism and religion, all without ever stopping for a glance at the PC rule book.

The show, which makes a stop at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury for a benefit performance Saturday, stars improv comedian Ron Jones, who has led two number-one world-ranked improv troupes, and actor Larry Jay Tish, who can be seen in an upcoming BBC production, "Brothers at War."

The two Bostonians lead the audience from ancient Egypt to the present as they compare notes on everything from prejudice to chicken livers. Black and Jewish history and stereotypes are skewered with wit, all in the hopes of creating a little understanding.

"The Black Jew Dialogues" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Congregation Beth El, 105 Hudson Road, Sudbury. Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at door. Includes after-show reception with live music, raffles, dessert and wine cash bar. All proceeds benefit Congregation Beth El. 978-443-9622.

COMMON GALA: Covering 125 years of art in one exhibition is mighty ambitious, but Zullo Gallery in Medfield has never been one to shy away from challenges. Its "Survey of New England Artists 1860-1985" seeks to illuminate every "ism" that popped up on the regional art scene in those years, such as luminism, fauvism, regionalism, as well as the biggies like expressionism and cubism. Offering even more insight next week will be art collector Jim Lyons, who holds a free gallery talk 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Zullo's nonprofit, volunteer-run organization, created by the Medfield Council on the Arts, is in the midst of another monumental task: a five-year, $500,000 renovation that will transform its 100-year-old building on Main Street into a full-fledged art center. A snazzy roof deck and gallery renovations are complete, but the gallery is still raising funds to cover the next phase of renovations and keep the center open all week; at present, the gallery is open just Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

An opportunity to help will surface on Saturday, when Zullo hosts its inaugural Common Art Festival. Starting at 7 p.m. with cocktails on the new deck and exhibition viewing, the gala will include Jerry & Jeri Bergonzi's Jazz Quintet performing under a tent on the Medfield Common. Small works donated by area artists will be auctioned, and area restaurants are providing appetizers and refreshments as part of the fund-raising festivities.

"Survey of New England Artists 1860-1985" is on display through July 6 at Zullo Gallery and Center For the Arts, 456A Main St., Medfield. Hours: noon-5 p.m., Saturday-Sunday. Free. Gallery talk 7 p.m. Wednesday, with Jim Lyons. Free. Common Art Festival is 7-11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $75. 508-359-3711, Have an idea for the Arts column? Please contact westarts@

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