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BABES ON BROADWAY : Arts Academy Gets Young Performers in Shape to Sing and Dance--and Be Proud of It

March 04, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Professional sports confound me. I can identify the Raiders logo, but only because the marketeers have been kind enough to slap it on every teen-aged back in America.

But it's the macho factor that confuses me the most. Why is it that so many of us view a male or female professional athlete as so much tougher than, say, a highly trained singer or dancer--despite what might be equal dedication and skill?

Heck, even as parents, if we want our kids to develop some backbone, we steer them toward the locker room, not the choral room.

A talk with Maurice Allard, founder and director of Costa Mesa's Allard Academy for the Performing Arts, could change thinking on that. Allard, former director of the Orange County Master Chorale, describes his program in terms worthy of the playing field. Public performances are "workouts." His young students don't practice; they are "in training." And, because they can expect some hazing about their musical tastes from their schoolmates, these youngsters "learn early how to survive."

On Sunday, March 7, Allard Academy students age 4 through 14 will flex their musical muscles in "75 Years of Broadway Music," a two-hour concert of Broadway-style music and dance at Irvine's Christ College. Featuring selections from "Cats," "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera," as well as tunes by George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, the concert is one of four offered each year by the academy. The group also presents regular cabaret-style performances and private shows.

A fitness buff himself who works out at a gym daily, the 62-year-old Allard stresses the importance of children getting correct vocal training early.

"(Leonard) Bernstein once said that every child is born with a song in his or her heart, and by the time they're 6, (the song) is programmed out. I take that literally," he said, adding that children may begin training at the academy as young as age 4.

Allard established his training program in 1988, the year after he resigned from Master Chorale. Although he has taught throughout his professional career--including an 11-year stint with UC Irvine's music department--he says he hadn't really thought about opening a school until he worked as chorus master with Opera Pacific children's chorus in "La Boheme."

"I fell in love with those kids," Allard recalled. "We just had the best time."

Not long afterward, Allard opened his academy with 20 students and himself as the sole faculty member. Today the school has an enrollment of about 125 at its Costa Mesa studio, and a staff of 10, including music theater instructor Bill Brawley, a professional choreographer who has toured for 18 years with the national singing group the Young Americans.

Instruction at the school does not come cheaply. For example, the "Little Stars" eight-week program for 4- to 6-year-olds works out to $25 per one-hour session. Classes for older children average about $15 per hour. A limited amount of scholarship money is available.

Last summer, with help from the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Orange County Department of Education, Allard launched a free, two-week performing arts workshop for students from Horizon High School, an alternative program for "high-risk" students, or those deemed unlikely to finish school in a traditional setting.

The session concluded with a public performance that Allard recalled as "an extraordinary experience. . . . There wasn't a dry eye in the house."

The workshop, which is funded by the group's nonprofit fund-raising arm, Allard Artists, will be repeated this summer with a third week added for a group of learning-disabled, grade-school students.

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