A Broad’s Way
By Kerigan Butt
Photo courtesy Diana Paisley A Broad's Way have been performing together since 2010. The ensemble includes Debra Arnold, Erin Cates Smith, Victoria Healy, and Gina Giachero.
By Steven Hoffman
The thing that you notice right away about the four women in A Broad’s Way is this: They have natural stage presence—even without a stage.
The audience is just one humble reporter at a mid-afternoon rehearsal on a hot summer day, but it’s easy to see why a show featuring these women—Debra Arnold, Erin Cates Smith, Gina Giachero, and newcomer Victoria Healy—would be thoroughly entertaining. Their stories are engaging. Their banter is amusing. The professional demeanor is evident. When they begin to sing—“What I Did for Love from “A Chorus Line—they effortlessly find harmony.
The women are all veterans of the regional musical theater companies in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, and they all love Broadway.
Arnold, a resident of Landenberg, explained how the seeds were planted for A Broad’s Way in 2010.
“For many years,” she said, “I sang professionally in musical theater productions all over the tri-state area. I got married in 2004 and had my two daughters in 2006 and 2008. It became very difficult to continue to perform in full-scale musicals with a young family at home because of the number of hours required for rehearsal time.”
Then she and Smith were working with the Brandywiners on a performance of “Guys and Dolls.” They started talking about how difficult it was to balance rehearsals with their families’ needs.
“We both have young children,” Arnold explained, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could create a show that would suit our schedules?”
The answer was to form a group to perform cabaret-style shows that incorporate some of Broadway’s most popular tunes.
“I’ve sung in several groups like this,” Arnold said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Arnold and Smith knew that their voices would blend well, and that they would enjoy performing together.
They enlisted Giachero to be the accompanist. A Broad’s Way started with one performance in late 2011, the first year together, but that number grew to 14 in 2012. They’ve booked more than 30 shows this year, with the venues ranging from the Candlelight Dinner Theater to Deerfield Golf Club, to various nursing homes in the area. They’ve booked shows as far away as northern Philadelphia.
“We sing all around the area,” Arnold said. “It’s growing and we’re excited.”
Each show includes three-part singing, full staging and choreography. A Broad’s Way presents a program with music from a wide range of Broadway musicals, from classical musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein or Cole Porter to modern shows like “Wicked” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The ladies crafted a story and weave the songs together into a comprehensive show.
“We use this Broadway music to tell the story,” Arnold explained.
Their first show was titled “How Lovely to be A Woman” and followed the life-cycle of a woman from childhood, the joys of love, marriage, motherhood, and true friendship. They performed this show for over a year.
The second show is “Broadway’s Showstoppers” and features some of Broadway’s biggest hits, including everything from ballads to torch songs.
“People wanted to book us for a second show so we needed new material,” Arnold explained. “It’s quite an undertaking to develop a new show.”
Smith described the development of each of their shows as a collaborative effort that takes a lot of work.
“It’s a real labor of love,” Arnold added.
They make sure to have balance in the shows so that each singer has her share of solos, and that those solos are balanced with opportunities for them to showcase their three-part harmonies.
“It’s definitely an ensemble,” Arnold said. “We make an effort to balance it out.”
That the group of women would have success together should come as no surprise. They have vast and varied experiences in musical theater.
Arnold, a Mezzo Soprano, has been performing on the musical theatre stage since the age of 12 with performances at the Delaware Children’s Theatre, the DuPont Theatre, Candlelight Music Dinner Theatre, Wilmington Drama League, and the Oregon Ridge Theatre on her résumé. She also performed with The Brandywiners at Longwood Gardens. Some of Arnold’s favorite shows that she has performed in include “The Sound of Music” (Maria), “Jekyll & Hyde” (Lucy), “South Pacific” (Nellie), “The Music Man” (Marian), “Brigadoon” (Fiona), and “My Fair Lady” (Eliza).
Arnold holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in music education from West Chester University, and is involved with her church’s music ministry and the director of the University of Delaware’s Children’s choir. Arnold taught elementary school music in the Owen J. Roberts School District until she and her husband, Todd, started their family.
The newest addition to the group is Healy, a native of Newark, Del. and a longtime member of the small Delaware theater community. Healy recalls seeing Arnold perform in numerous productions at the Delaware Children’s Theatre, where Healy had smaller roles as a young child and Arnold typically had the lead roles.
“I thought she was the best—and so pretty,” Healy recalled. “I looked up to her.”
Healy received a degree in drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she primarily studied at the Stella Adler studio. She also studied Irish theater in Dublin.
Locally, she performed at the Delaware Children’s Theatre, the Candlelight Theatre, the City Theatre Company, the Wilmington Drama League, the Players Club of Swarthmore, and the Broadway Theater of Pitman. Some of her favorite credits include “The 25th Annual Spelling Bee” (Olive), “Into the Woods” (Baker’s Wife), “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Rosemary), “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” (multiple roles), “The Secret Garden” (Martha), “Fiddler on the Roof” (Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava), “A Little Night Music” (Charlotte), and “Children of Eden” (Yonah).
Healy teaches and directs at local schools, coaches high school sports, and works with youngsters on the Tumblebus, a gym on wheels that gives children the chance to participate in a unique physical education class.
Smith, a resident of Oxford, is a soprano who has enjoyed many years of performing in various genres, including opera, operetta, musicals, and art song. She holds a master’s degree in opera and she sang opera for several years in North Carolina.
“Now, I’ve returned to my first love, which is musical theater,” Smith explained.
She said that her favorite roles have been Guenevere in “Camelot,” Lois Bianca in “Kiss Me Kate,” Marian in “The Music Man,” Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro,” Papegeno in “The Magic Flute,” and Mabel in “The Pirates of Penzance.”
Smith teaches private voice lessons and recently took on the responsibility of serving as music director for the Jennersville YMCA Youth Theatre productions. She also teaches Zumba and aqua fitness at the YMCAs in Kennett and Jennersville. She does all this while raising two boys and a girl, a fact that amazes her collaborators in A Broad’s Way.
Giachero is a Summa Cum Laude graduate from West Chester University. She serves as the musical director for several theaters and theater groups in Philadelphia and the surrounding area and has worked with the Walnut Street Theater, the Kimmel Center, the 11th Hour Theater Company, West Chester University, St. Joseph’s University, and many other schools. She has also been a music director for the Young People’s Theater Workshop in Swarthmore for eight years and the director of the Parkinson’s Disease Benefit Concert which is celebrating its tenth year in 2013. When Giachero is away from the keys, she and her husband stay busy keeping up with their spirited son.
On occasions when the group needs an extra voice—or when one of the busy performers needs a substitute for the night or for a brief period of time—they rely on Jennifer Kennard Lau.
“I’m their swing person,” said Lau. “If one of the three can’t make it, I fill in. That is an absolute treat for me.”
She has about 25 years of musical theater experience. Her favorite roles include Eva Peron in “Evita” and Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet,” but she said that she has enjoyed each one of her roles.
“With each production, you learn and you grow,” she said.
Lau is a teacher during the day so her schedule can’t accommodate a major commitment, but she loves staying involved with musical theater through her work with A Broad’s Way.
“They are terrific girls, it’s a real treat to perform with them,” Lau said. “We have a lot of fun.”
In addition to filling in when someone needs a night off, Lau sings with A Broad’s Way whenever they are doing a performance that requires a lot of extra material, such as when they sing at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre, or when they do a four-part arrangement, such as when they sing the National Anthem. Recently, they performed the National Anthem before a Philadelphia Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. The performance was selected by Major League Baseball's official website as an “Editor's Pick of the Week.”
Lau said that whenever she stands in for one of the other members of the group, she doesn’t just do an imitation of that performer, but rather puts her own mark on the performance.
“I would not imitate any one of them because they are so great at what they do,” Lau said.
Each one of the performers brings something special to the group.
Arnold is a classical singer and the backbone of the group.
Smith specializes in playing the role of ingénue on stage, and she can adopt a flirty persona, too. Giachero said that she was very impressed when she first heard Smith’s dynamic operatic vocals. “Plus, she’s totally easy-going,” she said.
Healy described herself as a belter and joked that she is just hoping that someone develops “Miss Congeniality: The Musical,” one day because she’d be a natural for the part of Gracie Hart. Smith said of Healy, “She is the funniest person I’ve ever seen on stage.”
Healy admitted that she’s “kind of quirky on stage.”
Gianchero maintains that she likes to allow the others stand in the spotlight.
“I like to be on the side providing the background,” she said. But when her colleagues got stuck in traffic heading to a recent show, she ably stepped up and entertained the crowd until the others arrived. Arnold also credited Giachero with creating seamless transitions for the shows.
The accompanist also brings with her a lightning-quick sense of humor. Seated at the piano, Giachero quipped, “I don’t even play this. I just like sitting beside it.”
The ladies are all enormous fans of Broadway, as the name of the group would suggest. They like the fact that musical theater is enjoying a renaissance because of shows like “Glee” and “American Idol,” and that these shows have helped change the perception of musical theater performers. They all hope that after young fans enjoy new hit shows like “Wicked” they will also seek out timeless Broadway shows like “A Chorus Line,” “Guys and Dolls,” or “South Pacific.”
“We want live theater to continue,” Smith said. “It’s our passion. It’s important to our culture.”
As for the future of the group, Arnold said, “I’d love to see us be able to sing for different crowds.”
Healy added, “I think there’s the opportunity to go to some bigger theaters on the outskirts of Philadelphia.”
The group expects to be very busy heading into 2014.
“We have a lot of shows coming up,” said Arnold. Performances include a Friday, Sept. 27 show at the Jennersville YMCA (7 p.m. start as part of the Visiting Artist Education Program) and Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square. The group will be performing from 12:30 to 2 p.m. There are other performances throughout the fall in Pennsylvania and Delaware. For more information about the group or to make a booking, contact Arnold at email@example.com or visit their website at www.abroadsway.com. The group also has a Facebook page with information about upcoming shows.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.