Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

October 7, 2012

Lockport student could sing for Tony winner

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —

A Lockport High School student has an opportunity this week to sing for a Tony Award-winning composer.

Lauren O'Brien, 17, will serve as an alternate for a special masterclass to be taught Saturday at Amherst High School by Jason Robert Brown. Brown won a Tony for his work in Parade, which was produced at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Six local high school theater and music students will take the class and perform for Brown. If there's time Saturday or if a student drops out, O'Brien will have a chance to sing for the award winning composer.

O'Brien was chosen after a September audition. She had heard about the opportunity from Robert Pacillo, a music teacher at Lockport High. 

"I'm really excited," O'Brien said. "They told me to be prepared, there's a chance he could have me sing too."

A senior, O'Brien has performed in shows at Lockport, such as "Once on This Island," "The Miracle Worker" and the school's widely popular performance of "The Phantom of the Opera." She has been involved in shows and musicals since her days as a seventh-grader at North Park.

With plans to study musical theater in college next fall, an opportunity to sing in from of a Tony Award-winning composer was a great one.

"He is an amazing pianist and has some great arrangements, I can't wait," O'Brien said.

Brown's trip to Buffalo ties in with the opening of the musical, "The Last Five Years." The show is being produced by New Buffalo Productions, a company run by two Western New Yorkers, Christopher Wietig and Leah Schneider. 

The Last Five Years will run at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Alleyway Theatre on Main Street in Buffalo. There is also a VIP reception Friday with Brown.

Schneider said the show is a two-person performance with Wietig playing the male lead, Jamie Wellerstein and Schneider who plays the female lead, Catherine Hiatt. In the story, the two give an account of their five-year relationship with Catherine starting at the conclusion of it when she finds a letter from Jamie ending the relationship and Jamie starting the show at when they first met. They meet in the middle when the relationship was wonderful, but at the end of the show, Jamie is saying goodbye to her while Catherine is recounting when they first met.

Wietig received a bachelor’s of music in vocal performance and a performer’s certificate from SUNY Fredonia in 2004. He also has an master's in business adminstration in marketing and consulting from the University at Buffalo and works in marketing and strategic customer management at Rich Products Corporation.

Schneider is a graduate of the renowned Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. She owns Main Stage Studios in East Aurora where she teaches private voioce lessons and is also on faculty at The Academy of Theatre Arts.

This is New Buffalo Productions' first show, which was quite the learning experience, Schneider said.  

"We learned a lot," she said. "Getting the crew and staff together, finding the right people for all of the roles. How to budget a successful show."

To be able to produce a show locally was an added benefit, Schneider said. As was giving high school students a unique opportunity to work with a composer as successful as Brown. It's something New Buffalo would like to continue, Schneider said.

"It's important, because the arts are alive and well, we need young people to continue making art," she said.

WHAT: "The Last Five Years," a performance produced by two Western New Yorkers, Christopher Wietig and Leah Schneider of New Buffalo Productions WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, at Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo ALSO: In addition to the run of the show, New Buffalo Productions is bringing Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown to Buffalo to attend a performance and conduct an educational class for six local theatre and music students. Lauren O'Brien of Lockport High School is an alternate for the class. TICKETS: Online at www.newbuffaloproductions.com

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.