Baker camp trains young performers with 'My Favorite Year'

Many young performers dream of making it on Broadway. But how do you get there, especially from Kansas? The punchline of the old joke — "practice" — is a piece of it, but training is important too.

That’s where Baker University’s “Broadway at Baker” program comes in. It’s a partnership between Baker’s theater department and Music Theatre for Young People.

“We’ve been collaborating with Baker since 1991,” says Cary Danielson-Pandzik, director of the program.

Music Theatre for Young People began in Wichita in 1984. A Kansas City branch opened in 1990. Both are very active in their respective cities in addition to the Baker camp.

“It’s a preparatory training program for young people interested in careers in professional theater,” Danielson-Pandzik says.

All of the company’s camps are a week long. Students ages 12 to 18 begin on a Sunday, learn an entire Broadway show over the course of the week, and put on a performance the following Sunday.

“The most interesting thing about it is we don’t (pre-)audition for them,” Danielson-Pandzik notes. “We don’t know what we’re going to get. The kids enroll, and, on the first day of camp, they audition, and we assign parts that night. They start rehearsing the next morning.”

And just because they’ve only got a week to put it together doesn’t mean MYTP is going to cut any corners with the material.

“We teach the music as it is scored,” Danielson-Pandzik says. “We use whatever orchestrations it calls for. Everything is performed as it is written.”

Of course, putting on a show in a week’s time is no easy feat. Students stay in Baker’s dormitories and eat in its cafeteria, so they can be onsite 100 percent of the time and receive near-constant instruction.

That instruction comes from professionals.

“We have a huge staff,” Danielson-Pandzik says. “We bring in professional choreographers and music directors from New York. Many of our staff are graduates of the program, who’ve been working professionally.”

Danielson-Pandzik’s latest group has been laboring furiously this week on “My Favorite Year” — the 1992 musical based on the 1981 film of the same name.

“Their music fits very well in the voice ranges we have to work with,” Danielson-Pandzik says of composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who also created “Seussical: The Musical” and “Ragtime.”

Like the movie, the show is set in the 1950s on a fictitious version of Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows” — “The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade.” Washed-up movie star Alan Swann is guest-starring, and junior writer Benjy Stone (based on a young Mel Brooks) is given the unenviable job of baby sitting his childhood hero and keeping him out of trouble.

“There are lots of big chorus numbers and lots of singing and dancing,” Danielson-Pandzik says of the show.

But how well do modern kids understand an early 90’s show, based on an early 80’s film that tells the story of 50s-era television?

“The first night we sat them down and showed them clips from the old comedy shows,” Danielson-Pandzik says. “Sid Caesar, Milton Berle — we wanted to give them an idea of what TV comedy was like and how it’s changed.”

The campers get to demonstrate just how much they learned in a 2:30 p.m. performance Sunday at Baker’s Rice Auditorium. Tickets are only $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 12. Call the box office at 785-594-8478 to reserve or purchase at the door.

“It’s really good family entertainment,” Danielson-Pandzik says.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.