By Sue Moore
Singing in the Vicksburg Rotary Club Showcase chorus has been a big commitment for male singers for many years. This year they have been joined for the first time in the show’s 67-year history by 10 women who will lend their voices to the all-new melodies.
Rehearsals began in January and will go right up to the opening curtain on Friday, February 28 at 7 p.m. in the Vicksburg High School Performing Arts Center. Although the addition of women in the chorus is bucking tradition, those who are putting in the rehearsal time say it’s a long overdue addition.
Buff Coe, who has a leading role in the show as well as singing bass in the chorus, said, “I like it. I’ve argued for years that we should do this. It involves more people and makes sense for a whole lot of reasons.”
Dani Carpenter Litel, who sings in the alto section, exclaimed how happy she was to be getting to sing in the chorus. “I love the music.”
The music is challenging and beautiful. It was chosen by new director Wendy Wheeler to have a broader appeal to generations who would recognize it as more modern. “We are trying to build a bridge to all of our audience,” Wheeler commented. “We were concerned that the Showboat-type songs didn’t have a broad enough appeal while still keeping the Battle Hymn of the Republic as the finale.”
For instance, Wheeler has selected tunes from Disney, Queen, the television show “Glee” and the theme from the Bugs Bunny show. “There are strong harmonies in the songs with a good blend of the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts. This is fun music, it’s fresh, with even a new version of the Battle Hymn for the chorus to learn.”
Cheyenne Lehmkuhl, a Vicksburg high school junior with a beautiful soprano voice, has been chosen to sing the solo part in “A Million Dreams from the Greatest Showman.” “I’ve wanted to sing in the chorus ever since I was in eighth grade when I first saw the show. It’s great that they are allowing women this year.”
The Gordon and Bonnie Oswalt family members have a long tradition of singing in the show. Gordon had many acting and singing parts in the 70s and 80s. Then his sons stepped in to sing and even his grandsons, Joe and Cameron, were in the chorus at one time. Dan Oswalt sang bass for several years and now his brother Scott has taken his place in the bass section for the last six years. “It’s a tradition in our family and this is a good change, because my sister Kathy can now be an integral part of the chorus.”
Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe was one of the first women soloists invited to sing in 2019 and now she is back with a solo part while lending her soprano voice to the chorus. “I have been around the show growing up. My parents would have sectional rehearsals at our house for the basses. I learned to sing the bass line from them.”
The script for the Showcase features the Late, Late, Late Show, a takeoff on the old Johnny Carson program. There are soloists and the chorus as part of what is more like a variety show, said Larry Forsyth, the general chairman.