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Another Saturday night and the sound & feel of the arts lingers in the air at George Mason University with its annual Arts by George! Program. Earlier in the day, I got to see and hear the very best of the arts program that the university have to offer. From its musical theatre performance of “9 to 5” to its 3-D Art for its Master of Teaching Arts degree, GMU have given its love for the numerous disciplines. Tonight, the grand finale was a special performance by one of Broadway’s finest stars of one of the best-known musicals of all, Renée Elise Goldsberry.

At the start of the evening at GMU’s Center for the Arts, Center for the Arts Dean Rick Davis gave some remarks about benefit event stating that it was “an evening like no other” and its true. After remarks, they conducted a live Fund-A-Student Auction starting at $5,000 and going all the way to $100 donation. The auction brought in more than $36,400 which is not quite the accomplishment but also broke the record of $30,000 the previous year.  The opening act was a performance by Dewberry School of Music piano student Kai Shi joined School of Music alumni flutist Eduardo Fajardo. Fajardo recently graduated from GMU, is now studying for his Master at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. He told the audience about his decision to make George Mason his home and stated about tonight that “I am blessed to be here today”. The piece that he and Shi performed was brilliant.

Dean Davis gave more remarks and kept the audience entertained a bit before Ms. Goldsberry came out on stage and gave a performance of a lifetime. Not only she performed songs from a little play called “Hamilton” during her set, but she also sung selected songs and told stories that fit the narrative of the program. She started the night with “On a Clear Day”. Then, the band segued into another uplifting song, “I Can See Clearly Now” from the late Johnny Nash.

Once Renée stated that will she share a story about “Hamilton”, the audience loudly cheered! She told us the story of Lin Manuel Miranda got a voicemail from the late Aretha Franklin who namedropped Renée’s name to get tickets for the show. They tried their best to return her called to no avail and Aretha never got to see the show. In honor of Aretha’s legacy, Renée performed her take the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Allison Frei, really shined as one of the best performances of the night. It was thrilling to have Renée pay tribute to one of her idols.

More songs performed included “Beat Out that Rhythm on a Drum,” a song from the movie “Carmen Jones” was so delightful to hear. In addition, Nancy Wilson’s “{You Don’t Know} How Glad I Am”, which was a playful tune that even after Renée puts her spin on it, I want to hear the original by Nancy afterwards. She followed up with a beautiful rendition of “Misty” performing in such a way that you feel like you’re in a jazz club.

Next, Renée told us about her time exploring the Library of Congress the previous day and constantly recommends for anyone who never been through its halls that we should go. She went there and found some treasures in relation to the songs she’s performing. She mentioned that she saw a letter from the great Nina Simone with penned lyrics to her signature song “Feelin’ Good”.

Then she told us her story of how she got the role of “Nala” for “The Lion King” after moving to L.A. from a few years of trying to make it on Broadway with no prospects. The producers were flying to her out of NYC on 9/11. Thankfully, they diverted to another city and were safe. She received a call the very next day asking if she still wants to be in the show and she said “yes” and she earned the role of “Nala” and decided to sing “Shadowland” from the show. Before singing the show, she gave some words of encouragement to the students that she a “success”, but you will hear a lot of “no’s” even if you’re a Tony award winner. To hear her sing “Shadowland” which was the song she used for her audition, Goldsberry put her heart and soul into the piece, and you feel the raw emotions within the lyrics and Renee’s voice.

With another tale from her trip to LOC, she read actual handwritten letters from Angelica Schuyler to her parents. When she sang “Satisfied” from Hamilton, much of the audience in attendance sang along on the toast, “To the groom … To the bride.” Goldsberry continues to amaze and delight us with her rapid-fire rap, bringing her rich and expressive voice, face, and body to the song that have started legions of fans for a generation. She received a standing ovation before continuing with the popular “The Schuyler Sisters”.

Now we have come to the grand finale of the night with some special guess. Once again, we shared one more story from LOC and she saw the notes from Jonathan Larson and the development of Mimi Márquez for the play that was to be “Rent”. Renée invited Mason School of Theater students Kamy SatterfieldSarah StewartEmma HarrisLexi CarterAiden Breneman-Pennas, and Brett Womack to sing “There’s No Day but Today”. This is a defining moment not only for the students who got a once in a lifetime opportunity but for the audience to witness it.


And we thought, the concert would end but not entirely. Renée and her band returned to the stage for a defying encore of one of the best showtunes on Broadway: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. The night concluded with a rousing onstage champagne toast by Goldsberry and Davis with ARTS by George! guests.  This was a special night for the people at GMU and one night we’ll never forget! I am already looking forward to next year’s event!


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