By REBECCA ISENHART
As a group of Niskayuna High School students worked to complete their hour-long final exam, classmates, parents and even some teachers lent a hand.
It wasn’t cheating; in fact, the test itself would have been a failure without them.
Since music skills can be tough to quantify, Niskayuna Studio Singers teacher Christina Pizzino-Catalano invited her students to choose their own test. They opted to perform a cabaret, and if the measure of success is applause, they passed.
“I don’t necessarily settle for mediocre from them,” said Pizzino-Catalano, who coached the students all year. “I let them know when I think they can step it up and when I think they can do better.”
At the performance, it was evident the students had risen to the challenge. Rather than filling in bubbles, the students filled the air with musical numbers involving one to three students each.
The vocal selections, assigned by Pizzino-Catalano, ranged from an energetic rendition of “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls” to an emotionally provocative performance of “No One Is Alone” from “Into The Woods.”
In addition to music-specific work, each performer worked hard to study the character they had been assigned, so the songs would be entertaining and meaningful.
“We worked really hard on our character sheets,” said Lex Alston, who performed “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” “I learned that he’s a gambler, and he likes money a lot, and he likes to be the star of the show.”
The showy quality made it easy for Alston to step into the role.
“All of our songs were really fitting,” Alston said.
Senior Becca Stacy, who sang the vocal jazz standard “Misty” by Erroll Garner, has worked with Pizzino-Catalano since her freshman year at Niskayuna High School. Stacy said she also found the character exercises that led up to the cabaret uniquely rewarding.
“I got to create my own character because it wasn’t from a musical or anything, so I just made it up, and that was fun to do,” she said. “I listened to Ella Fitzgerald’s version a bunch of times for stylistic things, and then I just twisted it to make it my own.”
No cabaret performance would be complete without an audience, and the family members in attendance were not disappointed by the presentation. Holly Litz’s daughter, Lauren, sang and tap-danced to the song “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin.
“I really didn’t know the range she had. It surprised me,” Holly Litz said. “But it’s just her. She worked it.”
But perhaps the audience member who enjoyed the performance most was Pizzino-Catalano herself, as she finally had an opportunity to enjoy the product of all her coaching.
“I joke with them that I’m like a ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ mom,” Pizzino-Catalano said. “I have a hard time sort of backing off. Being able to step back, it’s a real pleasure.
“It’s not like watching a high schooler. It’s like watching something a little bit beyond that, I think.”