Marooned students find a new home and performance opportunity at Temple Israel with Oakland University professor.

Featured photo courtesy of Stephanie Michaels

Before you settle in to watch the Tony Awards the evening of June 9, come to a free Broadway musical revue of sorts at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. You’ll catch some rising stars featuring the talented students of a new dance studio called IGNITE!theSparks!

Since February, the middle and high school students have been training under the expertise of Oakland University voice and theater professor Stephanie Michaels — wife of Cantor Neil Michaels — in her performing arts studio now housed at Temple Israel. Many of the students are Jewish and several are Temple Israel members.

The students recently learned the true meaning of the expression “the show must go on.” Well into training for competitions and performances, the students were shocked to learn local authorities shut the studio where they had been training for years and arrested the owner on allegations of sexual assault on a teenager.

Michaels, a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City, stepped in to allay the shock and disappointment of the students who she felt should not also be punished after their years of work at their craft.

“These kids felt shocked and betrayed,” said Michaels, who in years past ran summer performing arts camps at Temple. “They already had choreographed numbers prepared for spring competitions and performances and now felt sad they would be missing competing regionally. What they really needed was a complete fresh start. I talked it over with the staff and clergy at Temple and asked how we could make it happen for these kids, and Temple came through.”

She quickly recruited the choreography talents of Annette & Co. dance studio owner and choreographer Mark Bergasse and the musicianship of Temple pianist Shawn McDonald to arrange new numbers.

The students will perform a series of musical revue numbers, including selections from Catch Me if You Can, Sunday in the Park with George and Hamilton. Bergasse also choreographed Bye Bye Blackbird, from the 1999 Bob Fosse revue Fosse.

“Stephanie has a very high standard,” Bergasse said. “The kids and I hit it off right away and not many kids I know specifically request to work on a dance style so intricate and challenging [as Fosse]. They really brought their A game.”

So far, students are giving IGNITE!theSparks rave reviews.

David Royzenblat of Birmingham said Michaels’ classes not only work all the aspects of the triple threat of singing, dancing and acting, but they also have pushed him farther then he could have imagined.

Sarah Showich, also of Birmingham, has her eyes set on a career in musical theater. Despite training elsewhere for eight years, it was not until she studied with Michaels that she truly found her confidence.

“I discovered a sense of confidence and community that was just as professional and serious about this career as I was,” she said. “I would love to see (IGNITE!theSparks) grow and prosper because I know it’ll give the best experience to local theater kids they could ask for.”

After June’s performance, Michaels said classes will continue into the summer and she hopes to expand class offerings — all at Temple Israel — into a full-year program in the fall.

“IGNITE! is a nonprofit in the process of receiving official documentation,” she said. “When it runs its programs at Temple Israel it operates under Temple Israel so that students are covered by [the temple’s] insurance. Temple has graciously donated space to us. We pay for other costs and staffing. Students pay for lessons/classes as they do at any music or dance school.”

A testament to Michael’s dedication to the arts are the long-lasting relationships she has developed with her students. Over the years, she’s even gotten calls from former students, now touring professionally, to take private vocal lessons when they are in town.

“It all comes back to feeling like you are creating something exciting and sharing your love of the performing arts with others,” Michaels said. “That’s what I mean by igniting the spark.”

The free performance will be at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. For details, go to ignitethesparks.org.

 

Read More: Tony Awards Feature Jewish Connections

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