Some Enchanted Evening

Frost school of music alumni with dean
Frost School of Music alumni took a night off from their Broadway shows to reconnect for a special University of Miami Alumni Awards Ceremony in New York honoring Hank and Corinne Greenberg, Class of 1949.

Peals of laughter and snippets of Broadway show tunes floated in the air during a late afternoon rehearsal at the Metropolitan Club in New York City in April.

The source of the happy sounds: Frost School of Music alumni Ken Clark, B.M. ’10, Barrett Johnson, B.A. ’11, Trent Saunders, B.M. ’13, plus four-time Grammy nominated pianist and dean of the Frost School Shelly Berg.

As they gathered around the piano to rehearse classics such as “Stardust,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “So in Love,” they were all smiles as event planners, florists, and a large sound crew set up for a special event that evening to honor University of Miami Class of 1949 alumni Hank and Corinne Greenberg with the Edward T. Foote Alumnus of Distinction Award, hosted by the University of Miami Alumni Association.

The music alums were there with Dean Berg to do a special musical tribute to the Greenbergs. “They were so eager to get back together that they asked to be excused from their Broadway and touring shows for a day to make it happen,” says Berg. Nostalgic show remarks were written especially for the event by John Softness, A.B. ’55, narrated by Bryan Llenas, B.S.C. ’10, national correspondent for Fox News.

Ten years ago, when Berg was in his “freshman year” as dean of the Frost School, he bonded with this troupe of then-student singer-actors, along with Jenna Rubaii, B.M. ’13, who couldn’t join them for this alumni event because she was making her Broadway debut in the opening week of Groundhog Day

“These brilliant young alumni were “my troupe” as undergraduates, and we spent a lot of time together.  Today I am brimming with pride to see how accomplished and successful they are,” says Dean Berg.

Frost school of music alumni performing

To fill Rubaii’s spot, Berg invited recent jazz vocal grad Veronica Swift, B.M. ’16, a top finalist in the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition who moved to New York after graduation.  She fit in quickly as the group sang Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” adding her improvisatory scatting talents to the mix. Berg, bassist Josh Allen, B.M. ‘11, and drummer Evan Hyde, M.M. ‘15, accompanied them.

Current students at the Frost School of Music also regularly perform with Dean Berg and other Frost faculty members at community special events, dedication ceremonies, and fundraising galas. They, too, will likely reunite down the road at University of Miami events, or through professional networks.

Ken Clark is an original Broadway cast member in the 12-time Tony-nominated Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 which opened a year ago and features a score that mixes rock, pop, soul, and electronic dance music with classic Broadway. Sporting a beard that he grew for the role, he says he “really loves the show,” but has lost over 20 pounds since it opened. “I have a hard time keeping my weight up,” he says, recounting how while on stage he runs up and down large sets of stairs, singing with a guitar in tow, virtually every night of the week.

Vocalist Barrett Johnson recently signed with an international talent agency, performing full time in a large band that plays major venues such as Madison Square Garden, and for upscale events primarily in New York, London, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. Also a songwriter, she spent some time in Nashville and booked her own band for several years, but says she’s “found her niche now.”

The weeks before they graduated in 2013, Rubaii and Saunders were both cast in the touring show of Green Day’s American Idiot and spent the next year on the road together.  Rubaii then toured in Saturday Night Fever, and Saunders was cast in Disney’s Broadway production of Aladdin as an understudy for Aladdin. The latter runs an average of eight times a week, some days with both a matinee and evening show.

Saunders has performed in Aladdin over 1,500 times in his four years there, and says he loves the show because the “cast and crew are close, and have stayed together for a long time.” He is also the show’s fight captain, coaching and ensuring actors’ safety during sword sequences. His brother Heath Saunders, B.M. ’12, also works on Broadway in The Great Comet, and their two sisters Alanna, and Claire, are also in the business.

“I was a mess on the inside when I was in school,” says Saunders, and adds with a laugh, “It’s the best place to be a mess.” Now, after maturing on Broadway, and some heart-to-heart conversations with casting directors, comes the awakening of the types of roles that will serve him best going forward.  “I’m tall and perceived by casting directors to be a leading man. I don’t read as an underdog, or a young person, so I won’t be cast as the permanent Aladdin. But I’m fine with that. I’m in all the rooms I need to be in right now,” he says confidently. 

When Clark first graduated from Frost he performed in the national tour of La Cage aux Folles, followed by a regional premiere of Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical. He married UM Frost alumna Logan Nelms, B.M. ’11, whose career today includes “lots of improv, television and commercials,” she says backstage before the UMAA tribute event for the Greenbergs.

 “It takes time and energy to curate these kinds of special event tribute performances,” says Berg who gets involved whenever his schedule allows. The events bring together students and alumni from across a wide swath of the music school—from classical, jazz, opera, and rock. “Frost School musicians interface with our trustees and major donors, and get to network with hundreds of UM alumni. They learn how to put special events together from the ground up. It’s a win-win all around.”

Watch a video from the event.