Surprise singing performance delights downtown diners

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Bangkok Downtown, not the hills, was alive with the sound music Thursday as a choral goup pulled off what may have been the first official Random Act of Culture in Salisbury.
Similar to a flashmob but without the dancing, random acts of culture are popping up across the country as arts organizations launch surprise performances in public settings, often to the delight of unsuspecting shoppers or diners.
During lunch at the Thai restaurant, the Salisbury Rowan Choral Society burst into the song from “The Sound of Music,” complete with Director Matt Newton, dressed in drag, reprising the role played by Julie Andrews.
The dining room erupted into applause after the performance, which had been approved by restaurant owners.
“I grew up in a dangerous town,” Newton said. “I think I would’ve gotten beat up if I did this.”
As opposed to Rockford, Ill., Salisbury is “groovy to cultural things, art and especially music,” Newton said.
Virginia Robertson was looking for a way to surprise her husband, Mark, on his 50th birthday. She had seen flashmobs and random acts of culture on YouTube.
Robertson pitched the idea to friend Denise Kyger, choral society president.
The two became co-conspirators.
Newton chose the song because the choral society is working on the score for an upcoming concert. But when the regular soloist could not perform Thursday, Newton decided to pull on a skirt, bra and scarf himself.
“They’ve only rehearsed it once, so I felt bad putting anyone else in the position to have to memorize the lyrics,” he said. “Plus, I thought this would add to it.”
Carol Harris contributed the melodic bird whistles while bobbing a toy bird up and down on a stick. Other singers included Kyger, Micah Ennis, Vivian Mulkey, Holly Shue, Jill Nelson and Linda Voelker.
Mark Robertson said he was completely shocked.
When he looked up and saw a man dressed in drag breaking into song, Robertson said he thought, “Oh no, I hope this has nothing to do with me.”
But it did. One by one, singers rose from different tables to join Newton as he, or she, serenaded Robertson. The entire restaurant then sang “Happy Birthday.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.