Early Lessons in Hard Work and Harmony

<i> Janet Kinosian is a free-lance writer. </i>

They are 19 Orange County preteens whose heroes are not Madonna, Guns N’ Roses and Ice-T but, rather, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Lena Horne.

A couple of them even want to be operatic divas.

The group is known as the Allard Singers, founded in September, 1989, by Maurice Allard, and their next public performance is a Broadway revue this Sunday in Orange.

“You can tell right away by looking at these kids that they have a different edge,” says Bill Brawley, director of the group. “And I think it’s the result of some of the things we teach and stress here. Like comradeship. We work as a team. In the entertainment field, you might have a lot of talent, but if you’re not easy to work with and lack compassion, you usually don’t last long. So we stress, ‘Be kind.’

“And we say, ‘Support each other while on stage.’ We talk a lot about focus, energy level, ‘playing up'--looking up high and singing straight out, proudly. Let people know what it is you’ve got to give.”

Allard, who resigned as director of the Orange County Master Chorale in October, 1987, says his aim is to give children the opportunity to master their own talents and dreams. He has schooled children in the theatrical arts since 1977.


“What’s so special about working with these kids is their uniqueness,” Allard says. “They care about their talent, and care about developing it. I’m always amazed at the freshness they bring to what they do. They’re amazing kids.”

Another lesson stressed in the teaching of Allard Singers, according to Brawley, is dedication.

“This place is very disciplined,” Brawley says. “To keep up with the program, they have to be very with it--it’s the survival of the fittest. If they don’t make it, they have to leave. So, as a result, we only have the top kids in the area.

“The whole atmosphere is one of gentleness, love and support, but I throw a lot at them fast; a lot of steps, a lot of staging, a lot of concepts. I do it with loving care, but it’s a lot, fast. So what happens is they get quicker and quicker, more intelligent in the area of entertainment and confidence. And then it spills over into other areas of their lives.”

During one recent afternoon rehearsal, the singers were darting around with the energy of fireflies, running through the stage show they will perform for the Matsushita Corp.'s Irvine grand opening on Friday. They appeared relaxed, displaying a nimble sort of grace for their age.

Among the dozen or so Broadway standards performed--"Over the Rainbow,” “Mame,” “Nothin’ Like a Dame"--one little girl with blueberry eyes left an indelible impression with her rendition of “Home,” from “The Wiz.”

Her name is Adrienne Stiefel, and she just finished two runs as Annie, one here at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Bette Midler--one of her heroes--came incognito twice with her own daughter in tow.

How, one wonders, does a 13-year-old cope with the pressures of performing for large audiences?

“I really never get nervous,” Stiefel says. “Really, never. I sang the national anthem recently at Dodger Stadium. And I thought I’d be nervous. There were 45,000 people, you know. But when I got up to sing, it was all OK. I really wasn’t nervous at all.”

Says Meshell Dillon, 12: “So often at school, people put on false personalities to be cool and be in the right cliques. But we get to forget all that. You just get to have fun and be yourself here, because no one cares about phony things. I love it. I get to go crazy and have fun and learn what’s really inside of me.”

Meshell Dillon, 12, says she wants to be a singer-dancer-actress-operatic diva-movie star.

“It’s a goal, but if I’m not (famous), I won’t be heartbroken. I’ll just get on with my life. But I’ve learned . . . that you’ve got to work hard to put your dreams into practice, because no one’s going to just plop it all in your lap.”

Who: the Allard Singers in a Winter Session Concert.

When: Sunday, March 17, at 7 p.m. (5- to 8-year-olds sing “Songs from the Silver Screen” at 3 p.m.)

Where: St. Joseph Center Auditorium, 480 S. Batavia St., Orange.

Whereabouts: Take the Garden Grove (22) Freeway to the Main Street exit. Go right onto Lavita Street and left onto Batavia.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to Call: (714) 641-2030.