Debra Da Vaughn and husband Christopher Simmons will perform Sept. 29.

South Surrey duo to perform for fundraiser

A Night on Broadway on Sept. 29 benefits the Surrey Food Bank

If there is such a thing as a win-win proposition in the arts, it’s Debra Da Vaughn and Christopher Simmons’ upcoming A Night On Broadway fundraiser for the Surrey Food Bank.

First win, the popular Surrey-based husband-wife/ tenor-soprano team said, is that this year’s show  – coming up Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Surrey Arts Centre mainstage, in both a 3:30 p.m. matinee and, 7:30 p.m. performance – has received full sponsorship from Envision Financial.

That makes a huge difference to the bottom line of the concerts the couple have presented annually for the food bank since 2007.

“The thing that audience members may not understand is that 100 per cent of ticket sales go to the food bank,” said Da Vaughn.

“While people are being entertained, they’re also contributing to the cause.”

“That’s what having Envision involved has done for us – we’re thrilled that they’re on board as sponsors,” said Simmons.

The second win is that lovers of the Broadway tradition – and great singing – can expect a great show.

In addition to the vocal talents of Simmons and Da Vaughn – well known and valued in Vancouver operatic circles and in Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society productions – the upcoming A Night On Broadway also brings together a splendid panoply of performers to salute favourite and lesser-known selections from the rich history of musical theatre.

Sharing the spotlight will be two accomplished and versatile classical artists – mezzo-soprano Tamara Croft and baritone Joel Klein – plus celebrated musical theatre singer/comedienne Cathy Wilmot, guest soprano Vanessa Coley-Donohue and several ensembles from the award winning White Rock Children’s Choir family of choral groups, under the direction of founder Sarona Mynhardt.

All-important piano accompaniment will be provided by bright emerging talent Wen-Wen Du, in a program that will highlight everything from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s witty and inspired Candide, to Andrew Lloyd Webber favourites from Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Jesus Christ Superstar, to Broadway classics like Brigadoon, Evita, My Fair Lady and even reaching back into the `20s for a little-heard gem by Cole Porter, Tale Of An Oyster, from Fifty Million Frenchmen.

The material provides plenty of challenges and ample scope for all the singers, including Glitter and Be Gay, a showpiece aria from Candide for Da Vaughn, and  Heaven On Their Mind, Judas’ opening song from Jesus Christ Superstar, which will show a relatively unseen side of Simmons – rock singer.

“I used to sing in a rock band,” he confesses. “There’s a bit of a Carl Anderson influence there – and my second eldest brother used to share an apartment with a (then) unknown singer named Ted Neeley.”

While Surrey Food Bank executive director Marilyn Herrmann was instrumental in securing Envision’s support (after five concerts, she’s virtually kith and kin, the couple quips), it’s important to remember the shows are a first and foremost community inititative, Simmons noted.

“This is not a food bank-produced event,” he said. “This is not their mission – but we’re glad they believe in it enough to put their logo on it.”

If both of the day’s shows sell out, the event could raise as much as $20,000 for the food bank, Simmons said.

“Last year we came close,” he added. The couple note that support is even more crucial this year – with the current economy, food bank resources have already been stretched to the limit prior to the usual pre-Christmas low ebb in October.

Simmons and Da Vaughn said they count themselves particularly fortunate with the current show not only in having the support of Envision, which sent out some 11,000 cards advertising the event to customers, but also Thornley Hayne Creative, which contributed all the promotional and graphic design work.

And they also say they feel blessed to have the services of  Lyn Verra-Lay – who has a great deal of experience producing for FVGSS, as well as booking rental productions for Surrey Arts Centre – as producer and publicist.

“The event is actually becoming what we hoped it would become,  an annual event that, someday, will have a life beyond our efforts.”

It’s been a joyful year all the way around for the couple who welcomed their first child, Cassandra, on May 5.

She’s already taking an interest in all of their activities, they report.

“She’s definitely been exposed to music,” Da Vaughn said. “We’ve found her sitting in the living room singing along with us while we’ve been rehearsing Handel.”

Also a busy singing instructor (Coley-Donohue is one of her students), Da Vaughn started teaching only two weeks after Cassandra was born, and went back to it full time this month.

She and Simmons are lucky to be able to work from home, she adds, as well as being able to find an exemplary nanny for Cassandra.

“Making commitments to roles is difficult at the moment, but we will get back on stage in shows eventually,” Simmons said.

“Concert work is nice for now.”


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