New and Seasoned Performers Shine at Arts Collective@HCC’s ‘Coffee House Under the Stars’

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Arts Collective@ HCC began its 20th year on Friday night with an old tradition. The Collective used the format of the Coffee House, put it out on a beautiful patio at the Horowitz Center and used it to present new students, alumni and community performers in a more “relaxed venue.

Photo by Janelle Broderick.
Photo by Janelle Broderick.

Under the leadership of Valerie Lash, Executive Producer, and Susan G. Kramer, Producing Artistic Director, the Collective has been a treasure in Howard County. Ms. Lash is responsible for not only developing the Arts Program at HCC but for getting the Horowitz Building erected. The building is a wonderful model for small colleges who want an arts center for their own students and the community they serve. “It’s a gift to see and be a part of someone’s journey and growth,” said Ms. Kramer. “Everyone is learning from everyone else,” stated Grace Anastasiadis, Associate Artistic and Managing Director.

Chris Sisson and Nate Elman. Photo by Jillianne McCarty.
Chris Sisson and Nate Elman. Photo by Jillianne McCarty.

The two emcees, Anthony Scimonelli and Emma McDonnell, delightfully presented the performers, gave plugs to local arts groups and presented prizes using their own humor and talent along the way. Even the “ads” for local and Arts Collective @HCC were funny and sometimes musical.

Both Acts opened with rousing numbers that drew the crowd’s attention. Despite the relaxed setting, I noticed everyone fixed on the stage. Coby Kay Callahan opened the show with “The Wizard and I” from Wicked. Coby is an alumna of HCC and now performs in local theaters, like Toby’s Dinner Theatre. She is still friends with the staff and tries to come back every year. Her voice and presentation was clearly of someone trained to do musical theater.

Act II opened with Santina Maiolatesi who belted out a hot and sexy version of “Mambo Italiano” made popular in the 1950s by Rosemary Clooney. Salting the number with Italian phrases and hot dancing, I had the feeling that this was a more interesting version. It was almost a let down when it was over.

The other musical performers also did noble jobs. For some it was their first time performing to a large crowd. Rayford Dean is a new voice major at Arts Collective @HCC but has performed at coffee houses before. He wanted to “get himself out there” and thought this was the best way to makes his debut at the college and be noticed. Mr. Dean plays several instruments, but tonight he played the ukulele. This recent graduate of Long Reach High School performed a light summer song about love. His falsetto voice was a good choice in transitioning to some more popular music. Chris Sisson and Nate Elman did two solid jazz duets on guitar both familiar songs, “My Favorite Things” and the samba, “So Nice.” The latter creating a vision of a beach in Brazil. Both are former HCC students now attending UMBC.

Valerie Attoh-Armah with the help of her beautiful tremolo did a soulful version of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” Ike De La Cruz sang the Maroon 5 number, “The Sun,” while accompanied by his brother Andrew on guitar. Their enthusiasm was catching.

Janelle and Aaron Broderick who met at Arts Collective@HCC several year ago, married and had kids, came back to perform “Love is an Open Door” from Frozen in a humorous duet. It was a perfect end to Act I.

Dana Tate ably sang from the heart when she performed “People Help the People.” Jordan M. Neely’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” was smooth and jazzy.

The night was not all musical. Peggy Friedman did a stand up comedy story-telling routine about her first days as a Theater major at Towson University when she was 58 years old. We all laughed at her comparisons between herself and her much younger classmates and the differences between attending a theater program at Towson and the Christian College she attended after high school.

Jordan M. McNeely, Phot by Jillianne McCarty.
Jordan M. McNeely, Photo by Jillianne McCarty.

The night included three poetry readings. Sophia Hirrel’s “Envy” was full of vivid imagery. Latisha Jones’ two selections, “Personal History” and “Ode to My Friends” were full of humor and raw truth. The first grew out of the old church sermons which were also the beginnings of today’s rap music. The second was more traditional but still had the raw edge of pain and hurt, a combination of Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickenson. Bill Stanley rounded out the group. Bill was certainly the seasoned performer, perhaps of the night. He has been connected with HCC for over 20 years and has performed, directed and written shows and poetry in the local community for a long time. His performance was more reminiscent of the old Beat Coffee Houses of the 50s from his bow time and sneakers to his use of humor and sentiment. I kept waiting to hear bongos in the background.

The final act was a guest appearance by Mayumi B. Griffie. Ms. Griffie also capably accompanied many of the singers on the electric piano throughout the night. She ended things with a number she wrote herself, “A Note to Self in a Timeless Bottle.” [Ms. Griffie Musical Directed Ragtime earlier this year at Arts Collective @HCC.] This wonderful song will be part of an album she is putting together. I could not help but see she was surrounded afterward by young female audience members who were impressed with her strong performance, wonderful voice, and creativity.

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If the night was not enjoyable enough, tickets also included free coffee, and for a small price scrumptious waffles. One hopes that Arts Collective@HCC will go back to regularly using the Coffee House format to showcase talent.