Mr. orbison, take a bow
GRANITE QUARRY — Sunday afternoon at East Rowan High School, the cars pulled in one at a time, and the performers started to assemble in the darkened auditorium.
After some fumbling, the lights came up on the polished stage where, since 1996, Dean Orbison has helped direct countless students in the annual Broadway Revue.
Orbison has been a part of the show for 17 years — 18 productions since 1997, counting the show that opens Friday.
Enough songs to fill several albums — from Broadway standards to blues, alt-rock to pop and everything in between.
And even when you count the ones who performed for several years of high school, plus those who performed as eighth-graders with Erwin Middle School’s chorus, it’s a safe bet that some 1,000 students have appeared in Broadway Revue during Orbison’s tenure.
All of that makes this year’s 22nd annual Broadway Revue bittersweet for those involved.
Earlier this year, Orbison decided that this show would be his last as director of Broadway Revue.
In an interview Saturday, Orbison said he will continue to teach and lead East Rowan’s chorus program, but that the time had come for him to step aside and focus on other projects.
“I’ve just been blessed,” Orbison said. “I’ve been blessed to be there.”
And blessed, Orbison said, to have worked with so many talented students, teachers, parents and volunteers.
Broadway Revue, a fundraiser for Supporters of Education at East Rowan, or SEER, started under the direction of Sally Brodie in 1993.
After helping Brodie with the show during his first five years at East, Orbison said she asked him to take over when she retired.
Through the years, Orbison said, the school and the community have rallied behind the Broadway Revue.
Part of what has made it such a success, according to Orbison and numerous parents and students, is that it’s open to any East Rowan student.
There are no auditions for the ensemble. Any student who wants to sing or dance can join, although there are auditions for some of the more complex dance numbers.
The cast has grown from about 75 in early years to as many as 325, Orbison said.
Participation has averaged more than 200 students in recent years, according to Orbison and others involved.
Erwin’s chorus started taking part in the late 1990s, and starting a few years later, East Rowan alumni appeared in numbers in several shows.
Laura Troutman was one of the Erwin students who got to perform at Broadway Revue with the eighth-grade chorus in 1998.
“And it was right down my alley,” Troutman said during a break at Sunday’s rehearsal. “I felt like I’d found my place.”
When she started high school that fall, “I knew that (Broadway Revue) was going to be on my list of accomplishments,” Troutman said.
As a junior, Troutman said, Brodie asked Troutman to help choreograph a couple of the numbers, “and I was able to get up and teach my classmates.”
“And I was fortunate enough, going to college close enough to home, that I could come back,” Troutman said.
Today, Troutman is Orbison’s “right-hand woman,” choreographing almost all of the show.
Another East Rowan teacher, Linley Evans, helped choreograph a number for some of her fellow East Rowan alumni — the second year she’s done so.
For Orbison’s final show, about 25 graduates who’ve performed in Broadway Revues past are reuniting for a number alongside current students.
Troutman said the show’s success is a testimony to the impact Broadway Revue, and Orbison, have had over the years.
Orbison gives the credit to those who support the students and the show.
“We definitely have some of the best community support of any school in the state,” Orbison said. “If you get the community behind you, you can accomplish anything.”
The Broadway Revue repertoire has grown from classic and current Broadway tunes to include songs from movie and television soundtracks, plus plenty of “classic rock.”
Orbison said the show’s move away from Broadway is partly out of necessity — “you’d end up repeating yourself over and over,” he said.
For this year, Orbison said he asked the students what they wanted to perform.
The overwhelming answer was “really current music,” Orbison said.
And so, this year’s ensemble will dance to LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” as well as songs by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and others.
There will be some favorites from past shows, too, and music from across the decades.
Lauren Thomas, a senior who’s been in Broadway Revue all four years at East, said there will be surprises. “I don’t want to give anything away!” Thomas said.
But the music, Thomas said, was chosen to include “a little something for everybody, even stuff for younger kids, more present-day stuff.”
Evans, a 2008 graduate of East Rowan, teaches family and consumer science courses at her former school. She also participated in Broadway Revue throughout her high school years.
“I met more people through Broadway than any other activity I did, the whole time I was at East,” Evans said.
Evans said Broadway Revue also helped her learn about different styles of music, from different eras.
To this day, Evans said, even hearing a song by the Doobie Brothers reminds her of Broadway Revue, and brings back those memories.
Orbison — “Orb” to the students who know and love him — is a role model,
“That man over there, well, I just know that he really enjoys Broadway (Revue),” said David Andrews, an East Rowan senior who’s performed in Broadway Revue four times and is also a member of the Honors Chorus at East.
Andrews said Orbison is “one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met. … He’s like a second dad.”
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been somebody the kids naturally navigate towards,” Troutman said. “He’s going to be straight with you, and let you know what he thinks.”
Aside from being a teacher and role model, Troutman said Orbison is a friend. “He played piano at my wedding,” she said.
“It’s so easy for us to want him to continue to be a part of our lives,” Troutman said. “He’s a very special guy.”
Jill Teeter, a 2006 East Rowan graduate, came back to perform with the alumni in this year’s show. She said Broadway Revue was “my favorite part of high school.”
The song she remembers most? Dancing to the theme from TV’s “Happy Days” — “Don’t ask me what year!” she said.
Jamie Beinkampen, class of 2008, said Broadway Revue was always “just something fun to be involved with … a break from the drama of high school.”
Her favorite dance number was a perennial Broadway Revue favorite, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Thomas said she was impressed by the number of alumni who’ve come back this year for Orbison’s last show.
“It’s crazy to think that half of these people have kids, and we’re still kids!” Thomas said.
She said Orbison’s determination has inspired her. “He’s always preaching, ‘You’ve got to be passionate about something in your life,’ ” Thomas said. “You can tell he’s passionate about this, and about music in general.”
If Broadway Revue goes on without him, “it won’t be the same without Orb,” senior Megan Bost said. “He makes it what it is, for us.”
Megan’s mother, Lisa Bost, the current president of SEER, said there haven’t been any discussions about the future of Broadway Revue after this year.
Instead, Bost said, the focus is on making this year’s Broadway Revue a success.
“I think it’s going to be an awesome show,” Lisa Bost said, adding that students are proud of the work Orbison and Troutman are doing.
“And I think the community that comes out and supports us will be really pleased,” Bost said.
Orbison said that, although this will be his last year as director, he would support SEER if they decide to continue Broadway Revue under new leadership.
Right now, Orbison said, all the energy is focused on preparations for Friday’s opening night performance.
Andrews said he looks forward to the reaction from the audience, especially when the performance is over and they’re energized.
“At the end of the show, when the crowd is going crazy, and then they’re still talking about it a week later,” Andrews said. “I think it just brings the whole community together.”
“For me,” Evans said, “it ties back into the whole reason I came back home to teach, to give back to the community and those programs that I benefitted so much from.”
Evans said the excitement that alumni and volunteers have on the night of a show “is the same as being 14 years old and getting up there to do this.”
For Orbison himself, there are a lot of memories of Broadway Revue.
There’s the year they performed “Hotel California,” and lowered a guitar-playing student down over the stage.
Students might recall the year he dressed in drag to play Edna Turnblad for the song “Welcome to the Sixties,” from the musical “Hairspray.”
From time to time, Orbison performs a song himself. “I don’t do it every year,” he said. But this year, the students said he should.
For his last turn on stage, Orbison is going to perform a song that means a lot to him: “My Way,” made famous by Frank Sinatra.
It’s a song that fits his style, Orbison said.
And, from what students said in the days leading up to the last Broadway Revue, it’s a song that fits a man who’s shown East Rowan students how to perform, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, for the last 17 years.
Broadway Revue performances will be Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at East Rowan High School, 175 St. Luke’s Church Road. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.