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July 29, 2014

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New youth glee club ready to get ‘On With the Show’

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Bill Hughes / Special to the Sun

Carly Salway solos on “True Colors” during an On With The Show! rehearsal at the Shine Dance and Performing Arts Academy.

Glee club

Artistic Director Greg Kata brushes Rylee Zavala's hair out of her eyes during an On With The Show! rehearsal at the Shine Dance and Performing Arts Academy. He later warned he was bringing scissors to a performance to cut anyone's hair that was hanging in their eyes. Launch slideshow »

It’s a Sunday morning rehearsal for Nevada’s newest glee club, and the advice is sound: “Relax, relax, relax your hands.” “Don’t stress about the step-toe.” “The bangs are fine if you’re not playing with them.” “If you have an itch, get over it.”

The words are intended for the 13 singers of On With the Show — three boys, 10 girls, ages 8-16 — a tweenage version of the hit TV show “Glee” minus the age-inappropriate intrigue.

The youngsters have just been dropped off by their parents at Shine Dance & Performing Arts Academy in Henderson. They’re sporting their new-still-a-bit-scratchy-group T-shirts, which say “Sing out! Sing loud! Sing proud!” on the back.

The advice is coming from Greg Kata, a pro singer who founded and coaches the group. Today’s main mission is blocking the minimal choreography for the two songs (plus the national anthem) the group will sing for 8,000 walkers at Sunday’s 20th annual AIDS Walk Las Vegas, which starts and finishes at the World Market Center.

Kata, 30, worked with a similar group called Camp Broadway, and was in the cast of “Mamma Mia!” for most of that show’s run at Mandalay Bay. Deciding to stay in Las Vegas after “Mamma” closed, he now teaches private voice lessons — and all the choir members are his students. A particular bonus for this glee club is that Kata brings in artists from Strip shows for master classes on various aspects of performing, including performers from “Love,” “The Lion King” and “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular.” It also helps bridge the divide between Strip performers and locals, one of the first things Kata noticed when he moved from New York to Las Vegas.

“There are a lot of programs for dance and for theater,” says Kata about the inspiration for the group. “But there’s a really specific type of kid that just likes to sing, who doesn’t necessarily want to dance or be an actor. There wasn’t an outlet for that. ‘Glee,’ of course, was on the air and my kids are the kind of kids that show is representing. They’re all soloists, and the whole thing is for them to learn how to be part of a group, and to give them a noncompetitive, nonthreatening but real way to perform for audiences.”

There’s a Kennedy, a Kaelin and a Caitie, and twins, Carly and Cambry. It’s a roomful of gems, and one of the sparkliest is 9-year-old Hunter, an irrepressible imp with a dolphin smile and perfect pitch. And of course there’s plenty of preadolescent energy, giggling and fidgeting.

Kata — he’d be the Mr. Schuester character, teacher and glee-club coach — sits at a portable keyboard and leads them through vocal warm-ups. At one point they sound like cats purring the scales with perfect pitch. Suddenly there’s focus and discipline, and a sweet and surprisingly strong sound fills the room.

First up is a run-through of “Seasons of Love,” that number-filled anthem from “Rent,” accompanied by a backing track and guide vocal from Kata’s iPod.

Then it’s on to Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” and there’s no problem with the singing. It’s the mechanics of forming a line, mastering a simple turn, combating jazz hands — the stuff they don’t show you on “Glee” — that needs to be emphasized over and over.

Kata expects a lot from his students and they clearly appreciate it and try to live up to his standards. After a few start-and-stop attempts at “True Colors,” he’s not happy with the energy level. “I don’t think you’re seeing anyone’s true colors — I think you’re seeing them in black and white.”

By the one-hour mark, they’re getting punchy and giggly, and Kata makes one more attempt at corralling the national anthem, but the voices keep splintering into shards of unauthorized harmony. “If you don’t know it, don’t sing it, that’s the rule,” Kata says, when it becomes clear that a few kids need some homework on the famously meandering melody. They’ll sing it at a UNLV baseball game May 8.

And before the glee gang leaves for its regularly scheduled Sunday afternoons, Kata leaves the kids with one more key piece of advice: “You cannot be a solo singer here — you’ve got to blend together.”

A version of this story appears in this week’s Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication of the Sun.

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