For a second year, the opening of the fall season on the coast featured a performance by the students of Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), rallying parents, friends and arts advocates alike for a Saturday evening dinner and show on the beachfront lawn of Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.
Some 30 talented young artists from various performance conservatories (there are 15) at OCSA joined the show’s 2018 headliner, Broadway singer/actor/dancer/composer David Burnham, for an upbeat variety stage presentation, taking the audience from pop to rock to folk and, of course, to Broadway and the classic American Songbook.
Headliner Burnham, a seasoned stage veteran with credits including “Wicked,” “A Light In The Piazza,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” became something of a pied-piper with his troupe of singer-dancers. The young performers clearly loved being on stage, working with a pro. When they all came together in what was certainly a polished, rehearsed and choreographed set of numbers, they rose to semi-pro stature.
Immersion in an arts environment hopefully prepares these students for the reality of show business, in its many diverse facets. With a decades-long, Emmy-nominated career in television behind me, I am clearly not objective on the subject.
A few years ago, my wife and I attended a summer concert at the Hollywood Bowl with close Newport friends Patti and Bill O’Desky. We shared a box adjacent to actor Danny DeVito and several producers, one of whom I knew.
Following our group conversation with the celebrity box next door, Bill asked me, “Do you miss your show business career?”
“It can be the most ruthless, mean-spirited, emotionally wrenching business on the planet, but I loved every minute of it,” I replied.
In retrospect, that was a clever soundbite, but not totally accurate. What I did love every minute was the opportunity to work in a creative world with exceptional people of talent. And that is what OCSA offers young dreamers — a chance to learn, explore and experiment in what might be termed a creative cocoon.
With all of my worry over the future of what these kids will face, Carole Pickup, a member of the family that owns the Balboa Bay Resort, and the honorary producer of the OCSA fundraising gala, shared another view.
“I have a young man in his 30s who works for the resort,” she said. “He did not have the opportunity to attend a school such as OCSA. If he had, given his innate talent, his life might have had a very different course. So, you see, OCSA means so much to these youngsters and their families. The school is a treasure, for it opens doors not so available in the arts offered at other public schools.”
Pickup reminded that OCSA is a public school, with competitive admission based on a talent and passion for an arts-based education. The curriculum also includes all other academic courses California requires in grades 7-12.
Pickup was joined in underwriting the end-of-summer gala by a couple of stand-out Newport philanthropists, Harriet and Sandy Sandhu, serving as executive producers. The Sandhu name is synonymous with significant gifts to education, the arts and medical and technical research. They are also the grandparents of an OCSA graduate and have remained steadfast supporters of headmaster Ralph Opacic and his vision.
Others behind Opacic’s goals include gala sponsors Eric Choi, James and Ali Hall, Greg McCollum, Jeff Van Hoosear, Carol and Larry Tannas Jr., Penny LaRue Robertson, Ken Robertson, John and Sonya Kwon, and the Doug Schulein, the Saar Swartzon, Gary Malis and Dan Miller families.
The crowd filled tables on the resort lawn facing the OCSA stage, with Newport Harbor as a backdrop. Balboa Bay Resort executive chef Rachel Haggstrom prepared a dinner featuring a pork tenderloin and jumbo prawn duet entree accented with arroz congri, baby corn, corn relish and red pepper coulis.
Show production staff, who deserve considerable accolades, were led by directors Karen Rymar and Scott Barnhardt, who also served as choreographer. Music directors Jarod Sheahan, Daniel Sr. Marseille and Melissa Wackerman, vocal director Jamond McCoy, band leader Calvin Anderson and creative director Cindy Peca, along with assistant Quinn Barraza, made it all happen, with the evening ending in thunderous applause.
To learn more about OCSA, visit ocsarts.net.
B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.