Demetria Joyce Bailey may be a veteran performer in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s annual Summer Music Fest concert series, but this year feels like a brand new experience.
For the first time, in order to safely bring the beloved tunes of film and theater to patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also raise much-needed funds after months of a dark stage, BRT is offering the 25-year tradition virtually. Beginning July 1, music lovers can enjoy the hits of Andrew Lloyd Webber and more from the comfort of their couch.
“It’s been a little bit of a learning curve because everything you thought you knew, throw it out the window,” Bailey said of the digital format. “It’s a completely different ballgame, but it’s really exciting.”
The series commences on Wednesday, July 1, at 7 p.m.; Friday, July 10, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, July 12, at 3 p.m. with From Phantom to Mame, which features songs by Webber and Jerry Herman, including “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, “Memory” from Cats and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.
Vocalists are Bailey (Sunshine Boys), Rebecca Robbins (Triumph of Love), Keith Spencer (Summer Music Fest), Sean Thompson (Cabaret) and Donna Vivino (Next to Normal), all led by artistic director Keith Baker and the BRT Band.
Next up is A Night at the Movies on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 7, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 9, at 3 p.m. This show will celebrate favorite songs from Tinsel Town’s greatest musicals and movies, from Casablanca to Goldfinger.
For the grand finale, BRT closes with the annual Broadway Summer Spectacular on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 7 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3 p.m. Viewers will enjoy Broadway’s best from composers Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
According to Bailey, each show is a mixture of live and pre-recorded segments. Baker will host Summer Music Fest in real time from his living room. For the performers, all solos will be sung live during the first night of each show, and any duos, trios and full cast songs will be pre-recorded. The additional two dates will be a recorded broadcast of the first performance.
“If you look at television, if you look at the news, how they have the weatherman at home and then someone at the news desk in the office, it’s that idea,” she explained. “It’s going to be like we’re there in the living room talking to you saying, ‘Hey, this is the next tune. Give it a listen.’ ”
Rehearsals have all been via Zoom, and the entire cast has worked well together while apart. Baker said he’s thrilled that the concerts, unlike the canceled mainstage shows Cabaret and A Leg Up, are still going on.
“We wanted to find a way to keep a connection to our audiences,” he said. “I hope our audiences continue to enjoy our Summer Music Fest, this time from the comforts of wherever they are. This will be an adventure. I wish I could have everyone in the room. Our performers are super talented. I can’t wait to see what they do with this format. The show must go on, and we can’t thank everyone enough for their ongoing support of our work.”
Incoming co-producing director Ken Kaissar shared Baker’s excitement.
“The new virtual format for Summer Music Fest will be like watching a live show on television with pre-recorded video segments,” he said. “Think Saturday Night Live – the host is live, but then the cast may do a music video that was recorded beforehand. The concerts are designed to bring people together for a live, shared experience of beloved songs and fun spectacle. Since we can’t host a show in person this year, we wanted to create a live, shared, fun spectacle, and Keith as host will definitely help make it a memorable night for everyone.”
Bailey applauded Baker and BRT for finding a creative way to keep the highly anticipated tradition of Summer Music Fest alive at a time when an escape is needed most.
“Everytime I see someone put out something, whether it be a solo, a duet, orchestra. It doesn’t matter. It gives me a sense of hope and it literally makes my day. I know that sounds corny, but it’s the truth,” she said. “You see the resilience in people. You see how we start to utilize technology. We’re turning a corner and we’re actually learning a new trade, a new way of giving out inspirational pieces to others.”
Tickets from Summer Music Fest will help keep BRT’s doors open and raise funds to help the theater reopen later this year. Tickets cost $35, or you can subscribe to all three for $90. After each purchase, the buyer will be sent a YouTube link prior to the performance. Tickets are available online now at brtstage.org or 215-785-0100.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org