April 25, 2019  

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Three Southern Miss Alumni Put a 'Twist' on New Musical

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Vocal Coach Maryann Kyle poses with the young star of the show Alamon Diamonsu who plays Twist. (Submitted photo)

As celebrities walk the red carpet at the Sept. 15 premiere of “Twist,” the musical set to debut at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Ga., several University of Southern Mississippi alumni will be among them.

Grammy nominated composer, producer and alumna Tena Clark is joined by her daughter Cody Clark and Southern Miss Associate Professor of Voice Maryann Kyle on the set of “Twist.” With a cast of 30 Broadway-caliber singer-actor-dancers from around the country, audiences can expect the talent on stage will be just as stellar as this blockbuster creative team.

“Working with the cast of “Twist” has been an incredible opportunity,” Kyle said. “These Broadway professionals know the name of Southern Miss and they have a very positive feeling about it because of Tena, Cody and my association with the show.”

Directed by legendary director/choreographer Debbie Allen, “Twist,” which is based on book by William F. Brown, is a new American musical that puts a 1928 New Orleans spin on the classic Dickens tale of “Oliver Twist.” In the show, Twist, a mulatto orphan from The Big Easy, transforms during his search for a new home. The cast and crew are positive that the show will make it to Broadway.

Although initially hesitant to enter the world of Broadway musicals, Clark has written 50 songs for various incarnations of “Twist” in the past 20 years. Of the 50 songs, Clark expects only about 20 of the best to make the final cut for this show.

On a chance invitation to visit the rehearsals, Maryann Kyle was swept onto the production team of “Twist.”

“Having taught Cody voice briefly, I was asked if I could step in and help a few cast members prepare,” said Kyle, who has sung leading roles with the Mississippi Opera, Chattanooga Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera to name a few. Kyle also appeared as a soloist on the pop music stage with famed artists like Patti LaBelle, Patti Austin, Dionne Warwick, Ann Nesby and Vesta Williams.

After learning of Kyle’s amazing vocal talents and training techniques, she was asked to join the team as the show’s official vocal coach.

“What a blessing it was to be able to reach down to Mississippi, instead of LA or New York, and bring the consummate vocal trainer to Atlanta to work with the cast of “Twist,” Clark said. “She is such a talent and a wonderful person. Our young singers and actors have grown leaps and bounds from her training.”

Allen, who recently returned from London after winning the Olivier Award for her revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” was thoroughly impressed with Kyle’s singing techniques as well.

“I have been telling actors and dancers for years, that if they truly wanted to expand their vocal technique as a singer and as an actor, they need to train in Bel Canto. And what a gift, that Dr. Maryann Kyle came to visit us and jumped right on the bandwagon and trained our young actors as well as some of our veteran professionals,” Allen said. “Within hours, performances were greatly expanded. I am so glad she came, so glad to know her and can’t say enough that her technique and training is what all actors, dancers and singers need to perfect their craft.”

The musical contributions of Southern Miss alumni are sure to add an extra flair to the show. Clark, a 56-year-old Waynesboro, Miss. native, attributes much of her success to her Mississippi roots.

A musical compass guided Clark from rural Mississippi to Hollywood. Beginning at age 5, she would visit New Orleans with her mother, a songwriter from the big band era, where she absorbed the city’s intoxicating rhythms.

Now famous for her musical talents, Clark founded DMI Music & Media Solutions, programs the President’s music for Air Force One, and also produced the Queen of Soul’s most recent album.  

“It’s very obvious that Southern Miss is continuing to produce not only students that are doing great things in their field, but also have faculty that can be very successful in the professional world as well,” Kyle said. “I think that’s a tribute to the kind of students that we’re teaching and the kinds of faculty that we’re hiring.”

“Twist,”the Alliance’s season opening production, begins previews Sept. 1 -14 2010 with opening night slated for Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Tickets are available at http://www.alliancetheatre.org.