Wednesday, Mar 13 2013 04:01 PM

Little bit of Broadway to benefit Bakersfield

BY ASHLEY FISCHER Contributing writer

Although theater fans may have stifled their sobs as Anne Hathaway belted "I Dreamed a Dream" in "Les Miserables" on the big screen, they may not be immune to a live performance. Test your mettle Friday at the first-ever "Broadway in Bakersfield" benefit.

Bakersfield might be more than a little bit "off Broadway," but Lisa Watson, CEO and founder of the nonprofit Lightwave Education, is bringing two world-class performers -- Darnell Abraham and Nadine Risha -- to Stockdale Country Club to tap the power of live musical performances to raise funds for education.

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'Broadway in Bakersfield' benefit

When: Friday; VIP reception 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Stockdale Country Club, 7001 Stockdale Highway

Admission: $50; $20, students; $75, VIP

Information/tickets: 381-7644 or lightwaveeducation.org

During the 90-minute, black-tie-optional affair, guests will hear Abraham and Risha's renditions of many beloved Broadway favorites from "Wicked," "Ragtime," "West Side Story," "Les Mis" and more.

Abraham, a Bakersfield native, is currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he recently concluded a stint in the lead role in an off-Broadway production of "Ragtime." Risha also shares an extensive background in musical theater, and both performers have performed across the globe, in venues ranging from South Africa to China .

"I know both of these artists," Watson said, "and they are truly amazing performers -- gifted in every way."

Hoping to help foster the gifts of local children and adults, Watson created Lightwave Education in 2010, aiming to increase literacy levels and scholastic success through the use of educational, outreach, and mentoring programs.

"I was a teacher," she said, "and I understand the door that opens when a child is able to read. The overall life benefits are virtually insurmountable."

As a part of this mission, she developed the Freedom School literacy program. After its initial success in Los Angeles, Watson decided to bring this six-week summer curriculum to children in Kern County, in order to "provide access to the tools to help them stay focused over the summer."

"'Summer reading loss' is a very real term," she added, "and over the summer most children who don't have access to the appropriate resources actually slide in terms of their reading abilities and their comprehension over the summer months because they're not stimulated."

The bulk of the proceeds raised from the "Broadway in Bakersfield" production will go toward funding the Freedom School, which, according to Watson, costs approximately $70,000 to run throughout the year.

"This is our first big production, and it's our major fundraiser for the year," Watson said. "We're hoping to raise $30,000, that's our goal. Fifty thousand dollars would be great, but we're hoping for $30,000."

General admission tickets are $50 ($20 for students), and can be purchased online, or by calling the Lightwave Education box office. Light appetizers and a no-host bar will be open from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. VIP tickets, available for $75, include access to an exclusive VIP reception where guests can meet with the artists before the show.

"I know the Bakersfield community is a big music-loving community," said Watson, "and if you love great music and great voices, you're going to love this show."

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