Before many of his recital sets, Broadway performer Jared Wayne Gladly reminds the audience that this moment will never happen again.
“So let’s live in it,” Gladly tells them. “Let’s make the best of it. Let’s decide to have a good time.”
He wants the crowd to be challenged and celebrated in the same night.
On Thursday, July 14, Gladly joins fellow Broadway singer Allison Semmes for a Sun Valley Opera performance on Festival Meadow. Pianist Sean Mason will accompany them.
“I don’t like to enter any project by myself,” Mason said. “I love to be in collaboration. I love to feed off people’s ideas. I love to be inspired by other people.”
Tickets range $50-$425. Gates open at 5 pm The show starts at 6:30 pm A DJ will start a dance party at 7:30 pm
They will play a selection of hits from soul, jazz, funk, Motown, R&B and Broadway.
“We would like to communicate the brilliance of that music to an audience who is willing and ready to receive it,” Gladly said.
Gladly performed with Sun Valley Opera’s 2018 production of “The Temptations Tribute.” In 2015, Semmes first performed in the Sun Valley Opera production “I Hear A Symphony, Motown’s Greatest Hits” and later in 2019 with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
“These times in this country, there’s a lot of tension, trauma, distance and conflict,” Semmes said. “Music, I believe, is so healing.”
This is the first time all three will perform together onstage.
“No man is an island—no man stands alone,” Gladly said.
Once an ensemble member touring nationally with “Dreamgirls,” Gladly has a wide vocabulary of music he can draw from.
“[He] is able to have the freedom to weave in and out of different musical, emotional and harmonic settings,” Mason said. “That’s something I enjoy as a musician … To have freedom and flexibility in the moment, in the now.”
Mason is the anchor of the group: cool, calm and collected.
“To have a partner in art that can also ground and root me in order to give some levity but also to make space for that spirit to come through us and through me … that’s invaluable,” Gladly said.
Semmes, he said, is the star.
“Allison is such a light,” Gladly said. “I have always adored Allison. Basically, Allison is famous, and we are her back-up because she’s just that amazing and that great,” he laughed. “All of us are professionals in this. We all have a colorful resume and pretty interesting routes through art and through music.”
Although they grew up in different parts of the country, they all fell in love with music through church.
“The Black Southern church is its own thing,” Mason said. “There’s little ego. The whole point is to move the people who are experiencing it.”
Both of Semmes’ grandmothers played piano in church choirs.
“I’m a woman of faith—if it’s meant for me to have, then I’ll have it. If not, then there’s something else,” Semmes said. “I don’t subscribe to the competitive mindset.”
Despite this, Semmes has found great success. At the Kennedy Center, she performed “Little Shop of Horrors,” the first musical she fell in love with. But, she says Broadway isn’t as glamorous as many people think.
“You do the same show over and over … It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Semmes said. “If you’re tired, you still have to give 100% to an audience who has never seen the show, even though it may be your 400th show. Making it new every time is challenging. But, as a creator, someone who loves performing and loves music, you can find infinite ways of saying one thing. I think it’s about staying open to being inspired.”
In the near future, she would like to record an album and tour her own music.
“I’d like my music to be playing in spaces, whether that’s on TV or in an elevator,” Semmes laughed. “Maybe not an elevator.”
Although Semmes and Gladly only recently became friends, they have crossed paths several times.
“The theater community is much smaller than you think in New York,” Semmes said.
They were even in some of the same Broadway productions—“Book of Mormon,” “Motown”—albeit at different times.
Gladly and Mason met while collaborating on “The Soapbox Presents,” an initiative to promote artists of color working throughout the pandemic.
“Community is not just where you live, it’s what you do,” Gladly said.
They performed together for the Stoop Sessions, jamming on a street corner in Harlem to help local businesses.
“If you focus on your block and I focus on my block, then we got two better blocks. Then we have a better neighborhood and a better community,” Gladly said.
He even hosts an open mic night.
“It’s not too shabby to do Broadway. It’s not too shabby to be able to go around the world and do what I love,” Gladly said. “But it hits different when it’s in my neighborhood and when it’s with people that matter to me.”
Since its inception, music has had communal values.
“We made music collectively … To not only heal, but also to celebrate, to dance, to communicate,” Mason said.
Their influences are all over the place. Lately, Mason has been studying the P-Funk era of the 70s and how electronic instruments drum machines and the 80s changed everything. Last month, Semmes went through a metal phase. At times, she finds it difficult to enjoy music objectively since she spends so much time working on it.
“When you encounter a performer that can transcend, that can take you out of your head, it’s a very special thing,” Semmes said.
One of Gladly’s idols is Bill Withers. Mason loves Ray Charles—“I really like the way he expresses himself through playing piano and through his voice,” he said—but he listens to nearly everything. Though he’s a classically trained pianist, his playlists might include Drake, Beyonce or Kendrick Lamar
“I don’t have any judgment about what’s going on today,” Mason said. “I just try to be influenced in the way it needs to influence me. I just take what I need to take from the tree.”
It can be hard for him to verbalize the joy he gets from playing live.
“It’s a feeling of release every time I perform,” Mason said. “It’s similar to taking the trash out in your home. I feel this sense of youth.”
He just tries to be as present as possible every time he performs.
“I purposely come with an open mind and an open heart,” Mason said. “I guess that’s how I keep it interesting. But everything has always been interesting when I’m performing. I try to stay directly in the moment.”
According to Gladly, they just let the spirit guide them.
“Our whole goal is to uplift the people, uplift the community and uplift the audience,” Gladly said.
Of the many things Semmes excels at, one of her great talents is breathwork.
“Breathing is what grounds me—It keeps my nerves in check,” Semmes said. “The nerves can work for you or against you. I always try to make them work for me by just being excited about what you’re about to do, the music I’m going to share out there for people to hear, it hypes me up. Once I’m onstage, just let go. Have fun.” ￼