Local actor scores a Broadway Tony Circle City’s first Tony recipient is a 20-something Indiana All-State athlete singing the role of a visual artist in a gutsy staging of a 107-year-old opera. Ben Davis, his name on the marquee of NYC’s Broadway Theatre at 53rd, is calling just before curtain for the May 28 performance of Baz Luhrmann’s version of Puccini’s La Bohème. He’s got about five minutes to share with his hometown NUVO readers. Ben Davis won a Tony for ‘La Bohème.’ “This is a re-introduction to the world of opera,” he said in a clearly identifiable Midwestern speech pattern. “It lets people my age feel it’s something they can attend; it’s storytelling with so much to offer. La Bohème’s story is simple, approachable with the most beautiful music. This makes you feel all the emotions. “No matter what they go through to survive to make art, it’s a celebration of hope. But it’s also a coming of age story, growing up to realize life has its responsibilities. They are facing death at an early age. They have to pay the bills.” While Davis doesn’t think of Marcello as the star role, he’s the one in whom the others confide and he ultimately makes a choice to use his talent to earn money. “Marcello is definitely the leader, in control. He’s the glue, the binder.” After a two-year search for the just-right mix of singers and personalities, Luhrmann cast Davis, a baritone with musical theater credits, and nine other young singers with training in opera, in what naysayers insisted was a foolhardy venture — treating an opera as if it’s a musical to run for eight performances a week for as long as audiences come. Six nominations later, in addition to the Special Tony Award to the 10 principal singers who perform as rotating casts, there’s no doubt Davis once again made an on-target decision when he left the national tour of Les Miserables to take this risk. About a decade ago, the Lawrence North High School junior quit basketball to concentrate on track and maybe have time “to pursue music.” “Basketball had been his identity,” commented his mother, Jeannie Davis. “I worried about that.” She admited to bribing him into “trying out for the school musical” and giving him pep talks. “I told Ben, ‘Don’t worry about failing. Go after things in life.’” The short version is that “when Ben finished, everyone clapped.” The longer version is that Davis is not foolhardy. With an athlete’s cunning, he knew that despite being told by those who love him he has a pleasing voice, he had to feel confident he had the ability to sing in public. To prepare, he took four singing lessons with Jim Fronczek, who teaches privately along with being Pike’s choral director. “Mr. Fronczek was the first to identify Ben as a talent,” Jeannie Davis said. Lawrence North’s Gary Meyer concurred, as did Carmel-based voice coach Jo Read Trakimas and Butler’s Steven Stolen. “I knew Ben at age 17 and taught him every week until he was 20, and still work with him,” Stolen said upon his return from NYC and a visit with Davis over Memorial weekend. “This young man is uniquely talented. He has always sounded operatic — a Verdi baritone. He has a strong, resilient voice with a rare ability — he can sing popular songs and it doesn’t sound silly, as it does with most classically-trained opera singers.” Stolen alluded to Davis’ “sense of style and comfort level. He’s very comfortable in his body and voice ... He takes good care of himself. He’s an athlete onstage.” But to truly succeed in a very competitive profession, Stolen pointed out the edge — “being ready for what comes next.” This truism, Stolen said, is the backbone of Butler’s fine arts program. “Butler gets overlooked by not doing musicals every year. We’re not as production-oriented as most other colleges. Being in a lot of shows in college doesn’t necessarily prepare you to audition so you’re memorable. At Butler it’s about becoming aware of your skills, it’s about learning how to sing, dance, act, how to stand on your own two feet and be your own person. Our job here is to help people be ready with feet on the ground and head in the right direction. “Most anybody who has success is ready when the call comes. Ben is up to it, with grace and kindness. He’s very cognizant of how fortunate he is.” “Teachers need to know what a difference they make,” Jeannie Davis added. “Ben is very grateful. He didn’t have an easy time getting to this point. He had a lot of mentors to help him.” “I’ll be waiting for that kid from Indianapolis to get his statue. I’m so proud,” Stolen exuded. “It’s a great moment for Indianapolis.” “There are a lot of opportunities in Indianapolis,” Davis offered, in parting. “Take advantage of them.” Brothers William and Theodore Harvey enjoy similar musical passions. The Harvey brothers' musical passions Theodore and William Harvey are brothers with similar passions and varying missions. Both are outstanding musicians intending to make their individual mark in a highly competitive field. They’d be fodder for a TV series except that conflict doesn’t seem to be in their nature. During our recent three-way telephone interview, each offers something nice to say about the other. As junior and senior high school students, both brothers won statewide performance competitions from Suzuki & Friends and junior and senior divisions from New World Youth Symphony. Both use superlatives to describe the experience of being coached by pianist Zeydu Ruga Suzuki and violinist Hidetaro Suzuki, who is concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, for their respective appearances as soloists at a Suzuki & Friends concert. Presently, Theodore is a cellist at New World Symphony in Miami Beach, and is also proficient at the piano. William, a sophomore at Indiana University School of Music, is a violinist playing in the New Music Ensemble. During 2001-2002, both were at Julliard, where Theodore completed his master’s and William had a pivotal experience. In the wake of Sept. 11, William volunteered to go to the 69th Division Armory in NYC on Sept. 16 to perform with a group of fellow students from Julliard. The intention was to provide some relaxation for the “Fighting 69ers” while off-duty from working at Ground Zero. On Sept. 17, William wrote to his parents, Susan Raccoli and Jay Harvey, and other family members and friends, describing the events of the previous day. Perhaps because of his father’s position with The Indianapolis Star, or simply because of the power of what he wrote, William’s e-mail was quickly printed in newspapers, magazines and books and aired on radios worldwide. William read his “letter” before live audiences in Chicago and New York and during television appearances on FOX News and FOX Magazine. The e-mail was also made into an award-winning broadcast by Steve Robinson of WFMT-Chicago and later aired on NPR’s Performance Today. “This led to a friendship and relationship with people at WFMT,” William says, “which then led to broadcasts of my playing.” On Dec. 13, 2001, William went to Chicago for WFMT’s 50th anniversary broadcast. He played Leos Janacek’s Sonata for piano and violin. A year later, he was re-invited, this time to record Artur Schnabel’s Sonata for unaccompanied violin, the 50-minute virtuoso work for which William is quickly gaining attention. “It’s a rare piece, possibly the longest violin piece,” William cites. “I’m only the fifth person to play it since its composition in 1919. It’s unpublished. I had to search for the music.” To carve out a solo career, William explains that one has to get started by playing concerts and recitals. While the upper age for establishing oneself as a soloist remains around 30, 20, William’s present age, is almost too late. “Under 18 is better,” he remarks. With his primary interest in new and obscure music, his path to a solo career is even harder. Being interested in “stuff other people don’t play” also means convincing orchestras and presenters there’s an audience for these works. The most difficult aspect of a solo career, William says, is that “A soloist has to promote himself. And, these days, a lot of people have to win competitions to be noticed. I don’t like that. I’ve never been good at competitions.” Theodore won the 2003 New World Symphony concerto competition. Jan. 25 he performed Antonin Dvorak’s Concerto for cello and orchestra in Miami Beach. “It’s possibly the best cello concerto there is,” Theodore says. Indianapolis audiences will recall Theodore playing the first movement of this concerto with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra several years ago. This time, he’s a soloist with his own orchestra. He notes that while his career goal is to become a member of an orchestra, he’s been on both sides. “It’s a conversation between soloist and orchestra,” he explains. “It’s the conductor’s responsibility to follow the soloist. The playing by the orchestra is softer; otherwise it’s the same as playing without a soloist. The soloist must listen to the orchestra, yet it’s a special kind of listening. Ideally, both are listening and ready for the next note.” Theodore’s upcoming performances include a seat with the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., May 23-June 8, followed by a fellowship to attend the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts from June 22-Aug. 18. At the end of August, Theodore will be back for second season with the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. “If you can’t imagine doing anything else, it’s a career,” Theodore states. “It’s great for young people to take lessons. Everyone should develop appreciation for music. Classical music needs people to come to concerts.” “I’ve been to concerts with more people onstage and not enough in the audience,” William says. “It’s unfortunate when we don’t give everyone the opportunity to play an instrument. People who play — it sharpens them, mind and memory — they do better in school.” To learn more about New World Youth Orchestra call 229-2366. For Suzuki & Friends call 637-4574 or log on www.violin.org.