CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – The closure of Nighttown in 2020 likely meant different things to music fans who regularly frequented the iconic Cedar Road venue. For musical theater students at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, this meant that an opportunity to gain experience performing in front of a Nighttown audience in a cabaret setting would no longer be available.
As news surfaced that Nighttown is planning to reopen under Gregg Levy’s new ownership in 2022 and once again feature food and jazz music, BW’s young performers have also recently received some good news in this regard. that they will once again have a place, another in Cleveland Heights, to hone their skills.
BW is known for its premier musical theater program, under the direction of Victoria Bussert. For many years, the majority of graduates from the program were signed by a theater officer, an enviable fact for other theater programs across the country. The availability of representation has meant that BW graduates have gained immense experience touring Broadway, off-Broadway and nationally in a company where such experience is difficult to obtain and very valuable.
Bussert noted that several of his former students, many of whom performed at Nighttown, are actively working (or about to do so, as theaters begin to emerge from their COVID-forced disruption) in shows, including Waitress, Book of Mormon, North County Girl, Tina, Hamilton and violin on the roof.
But, before reaching such heights in musical theater, BW students need a place to perform under the professional conditions that Nighttown offers.
Luckily, and through connections, we learned that such a place existed, also in Cleveland Heights. Beaumont School has the “black box” theater room that BW students need and will allow BW to use this theater.
Beaumont, 3301 N. Park Blvd., is home to a 147-seat black box theater – usually a square room with black floors and walls – that comes with professional lighting and sound equipment.
Beaumont President Wendy Hoke readily agreed to allow the use of the school’s theater by BW students, emphasizing the importance of American musical theater and the Great American Songbook.
“We are truly delighted to welcome Baldwin Wallace’s musical theater students to Beaumont School,” said Hoke. “For Beaumont, I think it’s a wonderful way for us to be a resource for the community to help continue to provide a venue for talented young professionals to perform. “
Bruce Hennes, CEO of Hennes Communications, and fan of theater and the BW program, was instrumental in putting Bussert in touch with Hoke, whom he has both known for several years.
“I have known Vicky Bussert for a long time,” said Hennes. “After seeing her (direct) In the woods in Cain Park probably 25 years ago, I took my youngest son and he fell in love with it. We then went to see about 14 different productions over the years, and hers was always the best. That’s because she runs probably the best musical theater program in the United States. And the Clevelanders have no idea it’s right in their backyard.
About 10 years ago, with Nighttown as a client, Hennes approached Bussert to bring Broadway, show tunes, a cabaret, and the Great American Songbook to Nighttown, which only hosted jazz performers.
“She loved the idea,” said Hennes. “We established a formal relationship between the school and Nighttown, and Nighttown became part of the program. She wanted her students to do shows at a little club like Nighttown with the waiters making noise and the customers going up and down, because that’s what they’re going to deal with. Every year, we did the Senior Showcase there, the show for agents and promoters to see the students perform.
After Nighttown closed, Hennes said he was speaking to Hoke and spoke about BW’s dilemma. “She (Hoke) said, ‘We have a black box type theater.’ And I said, ‘What?’ I’ve been (Beaumont) a million times and never knew it, and that’s how it happened.
Jim Wadsworth and his JWP productions are also part of the move to Beaumont, which has handled all music at Nighttown and has produced music events at various venues in Cleveland and Akron since Nighttown closed. Wadsworth noted that the move to Beaumont continues the Nighttown-Baldwin Wallace tradition and once again brings these students to the eastern part of Cleveland.
Without wasting any time, Baldwin Wallace-Beaumont’s first production is slated for October 4 at 7 p.m., when the upper class of the BW Musical Theater Department will present his all-Disney show, “BWMT Does Disney,” featuring hits. from Lion King and The beauty and the Beast To Hercules and Frozen. Wadsworth said it was a kid-friendly program, but one that will appeal to audiences of all ages.
Hennes said he has yet to speak with the new owners of Nighttown about the possibility of returning the BW shows there. In the meantime, he has stated that at least one future BW concert will take place at Beaumont, Kyla Jean Baptiste’s annual concert on February 21. Two more shows will follow, but the venues for these shows have yet to be solidified.
The Oct. 4 show in Beaumont will provide the local audience with the opportunity to see a new group of Baldwin-Wallace theater professionals before starting their careers on the national stage. Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, cost $ 15 per person and can be purchased here. For group sales (10 tickets or more), call 216-978-2047.
Due to COVID restrictions, written proof of two vaccinations must be presented at the door. Unvaccinated children must remain masked at all times.
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