Local Theater Group Raises Money for Cancer Research in Upcoming Spring Musical – Lowell Sun
Lowell Sun – ANDOVER — Greg Chastain worked in finance for three decades, but he’s always been a theater kid at heart.
It was Chastain’s mother, Barbara, who first introduced him to the performing arts when he was just “a wee lad.”
So when Barbara died in 2009 after battling pancreatic cancer, Chastain said he wanted to honor her memory and support others, including members of the theater group he was in at the time, who were also impacted by cancer.
But what was initially supposed to be a one-night theatrical show to raise money for cancer research became an entire organization based on love, community and a passion for the arts
That organization is called Voices of Hope, a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that Chastain founded 12 years ago. Since then, he and more than 150 other members have raised nearly $900,000 for Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Henri and Belinda Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies at Massachusetts General Hospital through various performances.
After the success of the original theater performance, Chastain said it only made sense to continue to honor his mother by raising money on the stage.
“Theater has always been the one thing that has been the common thread throughout my life, and my mom got me started, so it was the best way I could think of giving back to her,” Chastain said. “We’re a nonprofit organization that uses theater as our vehicle, but it’s also become a community where we lean on each other.”
Now, the troupe is rehearsing for its spring production, “A Grand Night For Singing,” which features 28 different musical numbers by famous writing and composing duo Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The upcoming show — which runs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 24 — is a collection of music from “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma!,” “The Sound of Music,” “The King and I” and other classics, as well as songs from lesser-known productions.
Voices of Hope Musical Director Dan Tang, of Chelmsford, said the book musical is a unique one, considering it is structured similarly to a cabaret, solely told through musical numbers that were pieced together to create a new meaning entirely. Tang said he is looking forward to showcasing the group’s talent.
“It’s a thematic song cycle rather than a directly told story with dialogue, so we’re using the numbers that they crafted, in the order they crafted, to tell a story,” Tang said. “We have some spots for people to put their butts and make it a great show, and we’re really excited to be putting it on.”
In preparing for the show, Tang said has been teaching the singers and ensembles the songs, coordinating with choreographers and the artistic director to find the best arrangement and working alongside the director to make changes to the musical. When the curtains are drawn next weekend, Tang said the show will be his to run.
Tang first joined Voices of Hope a few years back as a drummer for the band, and it was in the fall of 2019, days before the group’s yearly gala, that Tang attended the funeral of his cousin who died of leukemia.
While grieving such a loss is challenging, Tang said he took comfort in his theater group that often shares in that grief.
“There was nowhere else I wanted to be other than with my Voices of Hope people,” Tang said. “It’s something of a home for a lot of people because it’s a safe space to talk about how cancer is affecting us among people who are sympathetic and empathetic.”
Many other members of the organization have been affected by cancer, including vocalist Hayley Jasmin, of Dracut. Jasmin’s grandmother, with whom she was very close, passed away from the illness in 2012, and several of her other relatives have also battled cancer. So when Jasmin heard about Voices of Hope and its mission, she was “hooked.”
Jasmin will perform in several musical numbers in “A Grand Night For Singing,” including a large ensemble and two solos: “It’s a Lovely Night” from “Cinderella” and “A Hundred Million Miracles” from “Flower Drum Song.”
When she’s on stage, Jasmin said she’s reminded of her loved ones, but also the direct impact she is making by being part of Voices of Hope.
“Theater can be something that’s so special to everybody, but when you’re performing and you have somebody in particular that you’re performing for or a cause that you’re performing for, it honestly transforms every piece of music,” Jasmin said. “I always try to connect my performances to those relatives, and this felt like the most intimate way to do that.”
Jasmin is one performer in an “incredible pool of talent,” said Executive Artistic Director Dana Siegal, which includes dancers, costumers, set and sound designers and a host of other stage hands. Sixty-five cast members are returning for “A Grand Night For Singing,” after a significant interruption of live theater as a result of the pandemic.
Now that performers are returning, Siegal said rehearsals have been “joyous and crazy” and members are excited to be back.
“Being able to come together regularly and fill our own souls with our passion for music and theater in a place where every person we’re engaged with understands our journey is just a really safe and wonderful and healing and growing place to be,” Siegal said. “Given that we have not been performing live since just before COVID, it will indeed be a grand night for singing.”
“A Grand Night For Singing” will be staged at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, and tickets can be purchased online at www.nsmt.org, by phone at 978-232-7200 or in person at 62 Dunham Road.