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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
The musical theater Jazz and Cabaret workshop hadn’t even started yet, and Matt Perri was already playing piano. For the next two hours, his fingers only ceased gliding across the piano keys when a new student vocalist was giving him their sheet music — if they had some.
The professional musician is in Ketchikan for a few weeks as an instructor for the First City Players Jazz and Cabaret festival. Rehearsals for the festival began this week, and dozens of local singers are showing off what they’ve learned in performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Jan. 20. There is also a family performance at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21, and all will be held at Ted Ferry Civic Center.
Perri is one of three musicians FCP brought to the First City this year to lead vocal workshops, along with Matt King and Anne Phillips. Two other musicians, Paul Meters and Christian Fabian, are arriving on Sunday to play in the band at the performances. They will also go to Schoenbar Middle School and Ketchikan High School to play with their jazz bands this week.
Workshops taught this year include solo, group, duets, ensembles, Broadway and more. The class Perri was teaching on Tuesday was musical theater, where the eight participants gathered for their first workshop in the Kayhi choir room.
Participants were tasked with selecting one song of their choice from the musical theater repertoire. In the coming days, students will work on integrating all of the fundamental skills required to deliver a compelling performance of a theater song such as acting, vocal technique, music, storytelling, physical life and stage presence, according to First City Players.
“The instruction of the class will be tailored to address each student’s strengths and areas of growth in a fun, supportive, but challenging environment,” FCP information states.
That held true on Tuesday night, after FCP Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson took the time to introduce Perri.
“It’s going to be a miserable couple of hours for everybody,” said Nelson, who has known Perri for 14 years. “You are going to be really sorry you signed up for this class. He is mean, he is not kind, he will tell you everything the way it is.”
“And everything you’re doing wrong,” Sarah Fitzgerald, a student in the class, chimed in.
“And everything you’re doing right as well,” Nelson finished.
In all seriousness, Nelson said it’s a pleasure to have Perri back in Ketchikan teaching the class, as the last time he was in the First City was in August of 2014. She said she’s been thinking about Perri coming here again for about a year.
Perri said his bread and butter is working as a Broadway conductor, pianist and music director. This year he worked on the show “Bandstand,” after being chosen by its director-choreographer Andy Blankenbeuhler, who also choreographed the production “Hamilton.”
“Let’s sing,” he said, taking the attention off him.
He asked who wanted to sing first, and Fitzgerald’s hand immediately sprung up in the air. Twenty minutes before the class even began, she was in the choir room singing for Perri, who ultimately helped her choose a song — “I Dreamed a Dream,” from the musical “Les Miserables.”
Fitzgerald didn’t bring sheet music for this song for Perri, because she didn’t know she would be signing it. In this case, it wasn’t needed — Perri’s fingers took to the piano keys and began seemingly floating across them.
For her entire performance, Perri watched her intently; partly because he didn’t have sheet music to watch, and partly because he was listening as her voice clung to the music.
“The music is sad, it’s down,” Perri said. “... It could be really helpful to find an opposite moment of that, to just give it another color so it’s not just all one note. … It’s great when we have a piece like this to interject, to try and mess it up a little bit.”
Next up was Kelly Burke, who brought three songs to test out with Perri. At the end, he asked what her inside voices were saying for which song to choose — and which one she felt the most gravity towards.
Burke said either “I’m Not Afraid of Anything,” from the musical theater production “Songs From a New World,” or “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” from the musical “Avenue Q.”
“I’m also just thinking in terms of our overall program, it would be nice to have something a little aggressive,” Perri responded.
“I think it would be nice for you to do something a little aggressive, even though I’ve never met you,” he said as the rest of the room erupted in laughter.
Perri said his inside voices were telling Burke to sing “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” — and the group agreed, as Burke brought a lot of personality and spunk to the tune.
“Our inside voices agree with your inside voices,” Nelson added.
“Yayyyyyy,” the class said simultaneously.
“I’m around kids all the time, so ‘Yayyyy,’” Perri laughed.
Following Burke was Alex Brown, who was a bit nervous for the whole ordeal.
“You know that moment when you walk into lunch on your first day of school and you don’t know where to sit, those are the feelings that I’m getting right now,” Brown said as she made her way to the front of the choir room.
“I like that,” Perri said. “What’s your worst fear? Describe to us the worst possible outcome of the next two minutes.”
“That I totally fail,” she said, presenting him with the sheet music for “Out tonight,” from the musical “Rent.”
After she finished the rock musical piece, Perri asked her if she made a lot of mistakes, to which she replied “Oh God, yes.”
“Nothing happened,” Perri said. “I want that to sink in for everyone, nothing happened.”
Her newfound confidence of singing in front of a crowd led her to encourage the rest of the night’s singers — Clare Bennett, Paul Kortemeier, Elizabeth Nelson, Amanda Glanzer and Jadyn Lewis.
“Well, hey guys, you’ll be fine,” Brown said with a smile on her face.