Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It's Showtime at the Apollo Theater Every Wednesday Evening at "Amateur Night"

Child Star Kai Rivera Performs at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater
Photo Courtesy of Shahar Azran*

Apollo Theater Photo
Courtesy of Shahar Azran
It's almost Wednesday night, and that means it's Showtime at the Apollo! Every Wednesday evening, The Apollo Theater holds its famous Amateur Night, drawing budding performers-- singers, dancers, comedians, and the like-- through it's doors with dreams of discovery. Tomorrow's show, July 30, will be a particularly special Amateur Night, a Top Dog Competition, bringing together the best contestants of the 2014 season thus far, to further compete and potentially continue towards a grand prize of $10,000 cash at a culminating "Super Top Dog" Amateur Night, which will be Wednesday, November 26. On the eve before Thanksgiving, one lucky (and talented) winner will really be bringing home the bacon!

The Apollo Theater's Amateur Night celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, having staged shows nearly every Wednesday since 1934, when Ralph Cooper was Master of Ceremonies. One of the first stars to be discovered was one Ella Fitzgerald, who initially entered as a dancer, but changed her tune to sing instead.

Any individual Amateur Night is only as good as its audience, as performers rely on audience participation and judgment to decide who will pass on to the next round. As each performer gets into his or her act, the audience is asked to cheer or jeer, based on how much they are enjoying the set. If the jeers are overwhelming, the performer risks being literally ousted from the stage by "The Executioner," comedic impressionist (and tap dancer extraordinaire), C.P. Lacey. The only performers who remain safe from the audiences jeers are the "child stars," who are typically introduced in the first half of the show, when audience members are asked not to critique these "stars of tomorrow". Finales for all groups of performers feature an applause meter that measures the audible energy of the audience as they clap and cheer for one performer or another. The finale cheers are then instantly converted into a graphic representation of volume from 0-100, and presented via a giant on-screen stage. The performer with the highest score moves to the next round.

WGINY had the opportunity to attend a recent Amateur Night on Wednesday, July 16, with an international crowd hailing from Japan, France, Australia and other countries, not to mention many native New Yorkers. By 7pm, a huge line had formed outside of the theater that night, despite a sign announcing that the evening was already sold out. Walking through the doors that have welcomed an unprecedented number of legendary stars, many often at the start of their careers, was equally humbling and encouraging. A pre-show DJ warmed up the crowd with soul and hip-hop sounds, as the audience danced in the aisles. Ignorant of curtain calls, the real show actually opened a few minutes before the 7:30pm start time listed on tickets, and within seconds the audience was at a hush.

Capone, the "Gangster of Comedy"
Photo Courtesy of Shahar Azran
Things didn't say silent for long, however, as the aptly named "Set It Off Man," Joe Gray, along with some appearances from The Executioner himself, continued to liven up the crowd with some opening introductions, songs, and impressions. Several entertaining moments passed before I realized that Gray wasn't the show's main MC. That title belonged to the night's wisecracking host,
Capone, who was introduced by Gray. An actor and comedian known as the "Gangster of Comedy," Capone kept the audience on its toes.

As for the performers, there was a healthy dose of competition. The "Stars of Tomorrow" segment featured a talented pool of mostly teenage singers and dancers with incredible potential. Standing out were "Energizers Dance Company," a children's co-ed dance troupe from nearby Hudson Valley, and 15 year old female vocalist, Sydney Arterbridge, who wowed the audience with her rendition of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You," her voice never wavering even as she hit the high note walk-downs.

As Capone introduced the second round, the adult performers' segment, he reminded us how quickly stars can be born at the Apollo. In 2012, a little known metal band named "Unlocking the Truth" graced the stage as an Amateur Night competitor. Two years later, "Unlocking the Truth" had just signed a record deal with Sony and had plans to embark on a North American tour. Capone also did not let us forget how easily a hopeful career could be crushed on the same stage, and we saw this reality unfold as one singer was herded off by the Executioner. As mentioned earlier, at times it really is a mix of not just talent, but luck. The shamed singer actually had a pretty voice, but she chose the wrong song, attempting to replicate one of Whitney Houston's greatest known ballads, "I Will Always Love You," to the chagrin of the majority of the audience.

My personal favorite of the adult competitors was "Energy Dance Company," literally the grown-up counterpart of the proficient child star dancers we had watched earlier. The choreography for both groups was sophisticated and hip, yet there was a real genuineness to these multicultural dance teams which showcased various races and body types, breaking barriers and stereotypes about dancers. Despite my cheering as loud as I could for these guys (and gals), the evening's first-place winner was Jawan Mathis, a male vocalist with a range of several octaves who was unafraid to show off. An audience favorite, Mathis took first-place again at the most recent July 24 competition, and will be one of the contestants at tonight's "Top Dog" show.

Read more about the History of Amateur Night, the blessed Tree of Hope that performers rub for good luck, and the current Crew, including accomplished Musical Director, Onree Gill. Tickets for Amateur Night at the Apollo can be purchased at, and/or discounted tickets are sometimes offered at The Apollo Theater is located at 253 W. 125th Street.

*All photos in this post are courtesy of renowned entertainment and politics photographer, Shahar Azran

No comments:

Post a Comment