December 15, 2022
Celebrating the Roberts Theater in a Night to Remember
How do you capture the magic that occurred in the Roberts Theater over the past 50 years? That was the tall order posed by The Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation to KO last June. An eclectic grab bag of riveting musical performances to world-class Baird Symposium authors defined the theater and all that happened in its half-century.
But first, a little history.
The Roberts Theater, established in 1972, was the dream of Ann “Sunny” Roberts, who met her husband Ned while acting in a play with the Mark Twain Masquers, the longest-running community theater group at the time. When she learned that KO planned on constructing a new science and arts building for the newly merged schools of Kingswood and Oxford, Ann proposed a partnership between the school and the Masquers, who also needed a theater space for their troupe. With her transformative gift through the Roberts Foundation, KO built the most advanced facility for arts and sciences in the area, and the Masquers had a home for their performances. Other arts organizations also benefited and continue to benefit from the largess of the Roberts Foundation, including the Bushnell, Theaterworks, and Real Artways.
Fast forward to the spring of 2022, when Lisa Curran, executive director of the Roberts Foundation, reached out to KO’s Advancement Office to understand KO’s performing arts program. Curran suggested KO brainstorm ways to honor the first 50 years of the theater and its connection to the Roberts Foundation while identifying theater improvements to enhance the space to raise the bar. Over the summer, Performing Arts Chair Todd Millen, Michael Bane, tech director, Steve Mitchell, choral director, and Kyle Reynolds, theater director, put their heads together to flesh out plans for the celebration and the needs of the theater. The Advancement Office wrote a grant proposal that spelled out the concept of the concert itself, which was to celebrate the history of the theater, including an archival display. The second element in the grant proposal delineated improvements to the theater, such as a new stunning crimson curtain and lighting upgrades for special lighting effects. KO submitted the application in early August and learned mid-September that the Foundation approved the grant.
The program in December featured speeches from representatives of KO and the Roberts Foundation and songs performed on the Roberts stage over the past 50 years. Some of the performances were conducted in their original form, such as Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F Major K.370 by Ariana Strings. Many pieces were reimagined to reflect the current direction of our performing arts program by incorporating dance (a modern choreography piece by Savana Jones danced to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”) and a mash-up of different musical styles. All in all, this eclectic and dynamic program blended together perfectly.
After Head of School Tom Dillow’s welcome to the brimming crowd, office administrator Lindsay Perkins sang a pared-down version of “Day by Day” from Godspell, one of the first performances staged at the Roberts Theater. Upper School music teacher David Zucker ’88 accompanied Perkins on the piano. This delightful start was a harbinger of the treats that awaited the audience.
The Faculty Jazz Combo featuring bassist Nat Reeves was composed of Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason on tenor sax, Millen on trombone, Zucker on piano, and Upper School music teacher Dr. Wayne Pierce on drums. The combo played a tight and solid version of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Caravan,” and the crowd was visibly impressed to see their colleagues and teachers in a new klieg light.
Current and former students took center stage next. Frank Pu ’22 and Anna Tippner ’24 reprised their elegant dance performance of “Have I Mentioned Day” from the recent Choreographer Showcase. The volume turned up as blues guitarist extraordinaire Jake Kulak ’18 wailed on the fretboard with The Jake Kulak Band, performing a blistering mash-up of “California Dreaming” and “Red Clay,” one of the songs Kulak performed on the Roberts stage as a student. He performed a self-penned number, “Give Me a Second,” a total crowd-pleaser.
And if all this talent weren’t enough, two-time Tony Award winner Kate Baldwin, magnificent in a gold lame gown, performed the classic “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly! with a vocal nimbleness and clarity that few can surpass. As the song ended, the curtain parted to reveal the KO Concert Choir singing a sublime medley of Stephen Sondheim’s “Our Time/Children Will Listen” with Baldwin. This emotional number, carefully crafted and conducted by choral director Steve Mitchell, was a perfect end note to the evening, a powerful reminder of adults’ impact and words on the impressional young: “Careful the things you say/Children will listen/Careful the things you do/Children will see/And learn.”
“I’m proud of our work in the Roberts Theatre and what we bring to the stage,” Millen said. “I’m excited by the direction the program is going in, and I’m excited by the caliber of people KO brings in. It raises the prestige of the school and the theater. In the next 50 years, I want to be known as ‘KO, that’s where you want to work and perform.”
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