By Lauren Knight
Orange County School of the Arts alumni Krysta Rodriguez and Scott Barnhardt returned to Orange County on Jan. 27 to perform their cabaret “Coming Home” at the Irvine Barclay Theater.
With Broadway credits from shows like “The Book of Mormon,” “Big River,” “The Addams Family,” and “Spring Awakening,” Barnhardt and Rodriguez reflected on over fifteen years of friendship through a mutual love of musical theater. The two first met at OCSA in 2003, and have continued to share many experiences, jokingly reminiscing about all of them while flashing through a slideshow of pictures on the screen behind them.
“Coming Home” had a lighthearted, comedic tone, as Rodriguez played goofy clips of elementary school talent shows and explained how her spunky, younger self told her elementary school classmates to “shut up” when they laughed at her dressed up as Annie Warbucks.
“This was the year they decided not to name a winner of the talent show,” Rodriguez said, admitting that her snappy remark was made into a microphone onstage and projected loud and clear across the auditorium.
Barnhardt reflected on his childhood dream to visit Dolly Parton’s “Dollywood” on a road trip with his father. While explaining how his father drove straight past Dollywood on their road trip, Barnhardt belted Amy Winehouse’s, “To Know Him is to Love Him” and Dolly Parton’s, “I Will Always Love You,” promising to someday visit Dollywood on his own.
After describing OCSA as a place where they discovered how to be comfortable in their own skin as theater kids, the duo sang, “Suddenly Seymour” from “Little Shop of Horrors” and invited eight girls of OCSA’s Musical Theatre Conservatory onstage. Singing harmonies for Rodriguez and Barnhardt in the musical number, the young women displayed incredible vocal strength and talent, leading to thunderous applause from the audience at the end of the song.
“Throughout the rehearsal process, Mr. Barnhardt and Krysta constantly reminded [us] to go even further,to stretch that hand a little further, or to live in that moment a little more,” said OCSA junior Noi Maeshige.
Barnhardt is now employed as the Director of Musical Theatre at OCSA. Seeing these students sing alongside their teacher made the performance incredibly personal for the aspiring performers.
“Performing with my teacher was a little surreal,” says Maeshige. “We got to see a new side of Mr. Barnhardt that we don’t get to see when he is being our conservatory director.”
The young women sang, “Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie” before retreating backstage for several songs. They returned onstage for a memorable performance of the American jazz standard, “Bye Bye Blackbird” with Rodriguez. The students’ backup singing for Rodriguez was accompanied by jazz choreography in the style of Bob Fosse, and brought a fun spin to an upbeat jazz tune. For OCSA senior Bella Gil, this was a highlight of the concert: “ I love Liza Minelli and Fosse!”
Barnhardt reentered the stage, describing his Broadway debut in the Deaf West production of “Big River,” which combined deaf and hearing actors to create a show in both American Sign Language and English. Rodriguez joined in by adding that when she received a callback for the Deaf West production of “Spring Awakening” years later and contacted Barnhardt immediately for lessons in American Sign Language. In a mashup of “River in the Rain” from “Big River” and “Blue Wind” from “Spring Awakening,” the two performed pieces from their respective shows, translating the lyrics in ASL as they sang. In a stunning rendition of the songs in both languages, the two gave the audience an idea of the beauty that comes with a Deaf West revival.
Towards the end of the concert, Rodriguez took center stage and shared the story about her year-long fight with breast cancer beginning in 2014. While reassuring the audience of her current good health, she shared her worries about losing her femininity in her fight. She explained how she turned to blogging about her experience, deciding to write a fashion blog for women fighting cancer. Standing onstage, Rodriguez states that one of her biggest struggles was with losing her hair once she started chemotherapy, something she felt was part of being a woman that was being stripped away. As the instrumental music began to play and Rodriguez sang “My Strongest Suit” from “Aida” with the OCSA students, a photo montage of Rodriguez in all of the fun wigs she wore while battling cancer played on the screen behind her. With wigs of all lengths, colors, and styles, Rodriguez later explained that through ChemoCouture, she was able to bring the exciting experience of trying all sorts of new looks to people across the nation who were in similar situations to her own. Smiling at some of her favorite looks, Rodriguez sings that a “dress has always been my strongest suit.”
Reflecting back on her “Annie” talent show anecdote, Rodriguez said that “Tomorrow” had such a powerful meaning to it, one that “young Krysta could have never realized.” With a wistful tone, Rodriguez sang the well-known song from “Annie”, slowing the song down enough for the audience to be able to hear and absorb the powerful lyrics. At the conclusion of “Tomorrow,” the OCSA students and Barnhardt rejoined Rodriguez to sing a couple more songs, concluding the concert with Whitney Houston’s energetic song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”