Fairfield County students take the stage with Olivier-winning actress at Palace Theatre gala in Stamford

The future is "in their hands": local students perform with Olivier-winning actress at gala

STAMFORD — Local students shared in the spotlight as they took to the stage at the Palace Theatre in Stamford for a one-night-only performance with three-time Olivier-winning actress Maria Friedman.

Friedman performed selections from Broadway icons Marvin Hamlisch ("A Chorus Line"), Michel Legrand ("Yentl") and Stephen Sondheim ("Company") that were featured in her sold-out concert, "Legacy," at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. An acclaimed theater performer and director, Friedman is behind the upcoming Broadway revival of Sondheim’s "Merrily We Roll Along" starring Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" fame.

While the original "Legacy" show included students from London’s Royal Academy of Music, the local gala featured a chorus of local students from Westport's Staples High School, New Canaan High School, Darien High School and Stamford's King School as well as students from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. 

The performers from Fairfield County high schools are, "I can say in full confidence, among the most talented young individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Friedman said in a statement. “It is thrilling to see not only their level of preparedness for this concert evening, but to see how much they clearly love these songs.”

Producer Terre Blair-Hamlisch, wife of the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, said she was grateful for Friedman’s willingness to mentor local students, in a “once in a lifetime” chance to rehearse and perform with an internationally renowned professional.

“It's like they're having a master class with a musical legend,” she said before the performance. “I feel very happy and fulfilled that it's Connecticut students that are going to get this opportunity, and it makes me very proud of my community.”

Westport's Staples Players served as an onstage ensemble throughout the show. All of the students joined Friedman on stage to sing “In Our Hands” from Hamlisch’s musical "Smile" for the show’s finale.

Jasmine Skowronski, a senior at Darien High School, said sharing the stage with Friedman was “a little intimidating,” but she ultimately chose to embrace the experience as she prepares for college.

“You want to go out with a bang,” she said. “Instead of holding back, I wanted to just throw myself right into it as much as I can.”

Fellow DHS senior John Raskopf said he nearly forgot his lines when he took center stage next to Friedman, one of five students chosen to write their own monologue about what music means to them.

"I would say surreal, but that's an understatement," he said before his fellow students pulled him into a group hug. "It's crazy to think I got to be a part of that."

“I’m probably going to get emotional during the show seeing all the kids,” Darien Public School Music Director Colleen Thompson said after watching her students rehearse. “The moment when the professionals on stage are going to hand the music off to the next generation, that's going to be pretty powerful.”

Thompson did wipe away a tear as Blair-Hamlisch welcomed the educators onstage for their own recognition.

Blair-Hamlisch said it was “inspiring” to see young performers embrace her husband’s music and interpret it in their own way. 

“I can at least speak for Marvin and most of the composers, they're writing notes that are in their heads and hearts into the page,” she said. “The person that’s singing it is really the vehicle that drives it to the audience. So it's incredibly important to hear their voices.”

“It's really about the future being in their hands,” she added.

The show also marked the debut performance of Orchestra Lumos, formerly known as the Stamford Symphony.

Orchestra Lumos CEO Russell Jones said the gala was a fitting way to introduce the rebranded symphony to a wider, more inclusive audience.

“Because this isn’t a classical orchestral concert, we are attracting a lot of people who love theater music,” he said. “It very much fits into the Lumos mission now, more things to more people and more accessible to more members of the community.”