Broadway Legend Charms Cal Poly

By Carla Pineda

“Vibrant,” “beautiful,” “hilarious,” “amazing” – these are all
words the audience used to describe Broadway legend Carol Channing
during her visit to Cal Poly on Saturday night.

The star who played Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”
and Dolly Levy in “Hello Dolly” was here to promote her
collaboration with her husband, Harry Kullijian, to reestablish
arts programs in public schools.

“The arts are the essence and culture of all of us,” said Harry
Killijian.

“The idea is to bring some creative visual fine art into the
education system and public system from university level to
kindergarten because it’s been almost eliminated,” said Kullijian
at an open forum the couple had on Thursday to interact with the
Cal Poly community.

Channing charmed crowds for approximately 90 minutes. She told
stories of her friendships throughout her career, she imitated
colleagues and she sang classic tunes that define her as a theater
icon.

Jonnie Owens, a musical theater buff and Community Outreach
Coordinator for the College of Letters Arts and Social Sciences,
was one of the many people amazed by Channing’s energy.

“She’s just so real and live and approachable,” said Owens.
“It’s great to see someone that age be so vibrant and use the
moment so well.”

Age was not a marker for the type of audience that attended the
show. Frank Way, husband to CLASS Dean Barbara Way, enjoyed
Channing’s charm and wit and believed anyone else could too.

“It was an absolutely incredible performance for anyone at any
age,” said Way.

Channing brought some Hollywood personalities with her who have
joined her educational cause including “Young and the Restless”
actress, Kate Linder.

“I’ve seen Carol perform a countless number of times but you
never get tired of it. She’s really a wonder,” said Linder. “She is
different (in every performance) because you know what, she’s in
the moment, it’s whatever is happening at that time.”

Linder supports Channing’s foundation because her acting career
began in school.

“I started doing theater in school and now they don’t have
programs, they don’t have theater in schools (…) What if I hadn’t
had that training? Where would I be? I wouldn’t be on the “Young
and the Restless” for 25 years. I think it is very, very
important,” said Linder.

Some of her songs included “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”
and “Hello Dolly” which the audience sang along to at her request.
At the end of the chorus, the flamboyant Channing stopped the
audience from singing, gathered an imaginary skirt around her and
began dancing towards center stage.

The most unique and endearing portion of the show was when
Channing’s husband, Kullijiian, joined her onstage. They were
middle school sweethearts and Killijian, being the head of the
band, helped Channing write a song to campaign for a student body
position.

“We won by a landslide,” said Channing proudly.

She repeatedly praised her husband’s looks, skills and life
experiences, a humble act for a celebrity of her caliber.

Despite Killijian’s self proclaimed lack of dance skills, they
also performed a routine that he learned for his wife. Staying
connected through eye contact and a seeming genuine enjoyment of
each other, they sealed their dance with a kiss.

The couple discussed their recent wedding and how they arrived
there.

“He had a beautiful 60-year marriage and I had a miserable
42-year marriage,” said Channing jokingly.

After decades of separation, they reunited after Channing
devoted a chapter about Killijian in a book she wrote.

“I hadn’t seen her in 70 years,” said Killijian. “I thought she
was dead.”

Channing’s wit retaliated.

“I wrote fluently about him in my book. I thought he was dead.”
said Channing.

They were engaged two weeks after their first encounter and have
now been married for about two and a half years.

Channing’s presentation was preceded by three introductory acts
featuring Cal Poly students. The first was “You Can’t Stop the
Beat” from the musical Hairspray and it was acted out by the
Theater Department. The fun matching outfits complemented the peppy
dance.

The New Dance Society presented “Please Be Seated” that
consisted of four dancers performing what seemed to be a mix of
synchronized sitting and the frustration of waiting rooms. The
moves were graceful and humorous exaggerations of motions practiced
in a room full of impatient people.

The third act consisted of music department students singing a
“Broadway Medley.” A range of voices meshed harmoniously to create
a pleasant sound.

“Razzle Dazzle” from the musical “Chicago,” was Channing’s final
number.

The evening concluded with a VIP reception in the the W. Keith
and Janet Kellogg Art Gallery where a mix of Cal Poly and Hollywood
personalities mingled and had a chance to speak to and be
photographed with Channing.

Students showed their appreciation for the comedienne’s
talent.

“She’s been in the business for 60 years so she really knows
everything that’s out there,” said Scott Chapell, fourth-year
English education student and participant in the first student
performance.

Channing’s humor was well received by the audience that
responded to all her funny mannerisms and hidden jokes.

“She’s hilarious,” said Justine Louren, first-year theater
student and Hairspray act singer.

Carolyn Hemming, a Downtown Center staff member sees the local
need for the arts.

“We see a lot of the kids, we see a lot of the local kids that
come out of the homes that really don’t have much,” said Hemming.
“You see them come to the gallery, and you see them go to the
puppet shows and you see their eyes light up and they can see that
there is another life that they can have when they are older, that
they’re not just bound by what they have in their house.”

Everyone had a different opinion of what the highlight of the
program had been.

Lisa Nashua, director of development for CLASS enjoyed a “Hello
Dolly” song.

“The Lorelei Lee number, the girl on the wrong side of the
tracks is a number I absolutely love from the movie and it was fun
to see her do it.”

Vito Francesco the father of two Cal Poly graduates enjoyed the
student performances.

“The student dancers were great. She was my favorite; she was
the best,” said Francesco pointing to Alyssa Cossey, a fifth-year
music education student who choreographed the Music Department’s
piece.

She generously offered advice to her audience at the open forum,
which consisted primarily of students.

“Keep your mind on the lyrics, the meaning behind the lyrics,”
said Channing. “Don’t laugh for (your audience), don’t cry for
them. Bring them up to a certain point and let them laugh, let them
cry.”

She shared with the audience her struggle with ovarian cancer.
She advised them to be in tune with their audience and reciprocate
the same amount of attention and devotion that they get.

“The give and the take in theater heals,” said Channing.

Her most prominent message was to not lose track of the
audience.

“If the performer is listening to the sound of their own voice,
you can bet nobody else is,” said Channing.

Channing was impressed with several Cal Poly students who sang
pieces such as “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,”
“Taylor the Latte Boy” and “Tonight.”

“These girls are going to be marvelous,” said Channing.

Although she praised them, she was not afraid to criticize the
performers.

“Louder!” she said when a soft-spoken singer introduced
herself.

Besides an open forum held for Channing, where she interacted
with students, she also taught classes during her stay in
Pomona.

“We got to talk to her in her master class; it was so amazing,”
said Krystine Martinez, second-year theater student and performer
in the Hairspray act. “It was a great opportunity to be able to do
this.”

The Dr. Carol Channing and the Harry Kullijian Endowment for The
Arts has a mission to reinstate “creative, performing and fine arts
as a pre-requisite at all grade levels” in the California public
school system.

Channing and Kullijian approached Cal State University
Chancellor Charles Reed to ask for his support in bringing the arts
back to schools.

Reed granted Channing access to the 23 campuses of the system to
establish a scholarship, provide a full-length fundraising
performance and to lecture master classes at each university.

Carla Pineda can be reached by e-mail at arts@thepolypost.com or
by phone at (909) 869-3744.

Broadway Legend Charms Cal Poly

Broadway Legend Charms Cal Poly

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