It is an unforgettable image that captured a surge of national joy. When President Harry Truman announced, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1945, that Japan had surrendered to the World War II Allied forces, Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was in Manhattan’s Times Square. He spotted a random sailor grabbing a white-clad nurse by the waist, bending her back in a passionate smooch. He pointed his camera and shot.
Eisenstaedt’s striking photo became an icon of its era. Sixty years later, the image inspired artist J. Seward Johnson to create “Unconditional Surrender,” a series of monumental sculptures in his signature realistic style. One of these, 25 feet high and cast in bronze, was installed last April at the corner of Klockner Road and Sloan Avenue in Hamilton Township, near the 35-acre Grounds For Sculpture park Johnson founded in 1992.
“Unconditional Surrender,” in turn, has become the inspiration for a musical celebration. On Thursday, July 29, Grounds for Sculpture’s Museum Building will be the setting for a one-hour program of songs inspired by the World War II era and, more specifically, the early artistry of Frank Sinatra. The show stars Broadway vocalists Glenn Seven Allen and Janine DiVita, and is presented by the Springpoint Foundation, the largest provider of senior housing in New Jersey, in conjunction with the Laurenti Family Charitable Trust and Bloomberg LLP.
Residents of Springpoint’s senior communities are big fans of Allen and DiVita. “They started performing for us two years ago,” says Joseph Claffey, Springpoint’s senior vice president and chief philanthropic officer. “They’ve been chosen not just because of their talent, but also because of the way they interact with the audience. Janine is a beautiful young lady, and Glenn is a personable, handsome guy. Our residents have loved the programs they’ve put together for us.”
While the July 29 concert is open to anyone visiting Grounds For Sculpture and free with park admission, seniors are a natural target audience. The music on the program is from an era many of them remember well. For Allen, a 34-year-old tenor, however, the concert is an opportunity to explore music that has fascinated him for over a decade. “This is a program I’ve wanted to do for more than 10 years,” he says in a phone interview from Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, where he is appearing in the operetta “The Chocolate Soldier” as part of the Bard Summerscape arts festival. “I had been researching Sinatra. I didn’t know a lot about his early years when he was ‘the Voice’ and a matinee idol. He was a crooner who wore bow ties. I liked that, and I really liked the music. His voice was very light and lyrical, before he smoked and drank a lot. I wanted to do some sort of show with that style and the energy of the young Sinatra.”
Born and raised in East Lansing, MI, Allen is named for his grandfather, Judge Glenn Seven Allen Jr. His mother is a writer and a teacher who was a serious long-distance runner in her youth. Allen’s father wasn’t present in his life as much as his grandfather the judge, who played the clarinet. His sister is in a rock band. “But my parents are tone deaf,” he says. “I don’t know where this comes from.”
Allen was a wannabe basketball player who thought he might go into sports-writing when he realized he had a major vocal talent. He went to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 2000 and earned a degree in musical theater and voice; then got a master’s in acting from the University of Washington in 2003. New York was next on his agenda, and it wasn’t long before he was on Broadway in “The Light in the Piazza.”
Opera has also figured prominently in Allen’s career. In 2009 he sang the role of Rodolpho in “A View From the Bridge” supervised by composer William Bolcom, and last February sang in the New York Lyric Opera’s production of “Rigoletto.”
“I’m doing a lot of concert and opera work, and that’s a huge change in the direction of my career,” Allen says. “I did City Center Encores’ production of ‘Girl Crazy,’ and now I’m doing operetta. But for me, singing and acting are closely related. The only difference is style. I’m still telling stories when I’m singing. That’s really what it is — I have to tell a story with my voice all the time.”
In recent years teaching has become another focus for Allen. He has worked with such luminaries as Matthew Morrison (of “Glee” fame) and Kelli O’Hara, who co-starred with Morrison in the Lincoln Center revival of “South Pacific” and is about to return to the show after a long maternity leave. “She can do anything,” Allen says of O’Hara. “She was trained as an operatic soprano, and the role of Nellie Forbush is an alto. But Kelli’s not a snob. She just put her mind to it and used that really clear voice. She really knows what she is singing about. I like informed singers.”
As for tenor Morrison, Allen says, “Everything comes easy to Matt. I’m envious of him. What he does naturally, I had to study for. He’s an alien. There is Matt, and then there are the rest of us.”
Another student Allen is enthused about is German opera singer Jonas Kaufmann, also a tenor. “He’s a tremendous actor. He acts everything with his voice,” Allen says. “He has this freakish ability to create a darkness and a baritone sound. I don’t know how he does it.”
Allen feels a connection to Sinatra’s early work. “The crooning style is closer to opera than people realize,” he says. “It’s incredibly legato, which means tied, or connected. It’s just very smooth and elegant.”
The fact that Sinatra collaborated with famous bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey led Allen to hire a trumpet player (and pianist) to accompany him and DiVita at the upcoming concert. DiVita is a fellow graduate of the University of Michigan’s musical theater program and appeared most recently as Betty Rizzo in the Broadway revival of “Grease.”
“Sinatra sang and they played trombone, muted, which created the World War II sound,” Allen says. “I’ve always wanted to do it, and then we found out that they were looking for something, a program, to go along with the sculpture. So we felt it was the perfect time to do the World War II show. We’ve made very small orchestrations to evoke the era. The trumpet gives it a kind of visceral feeling.”
Old favorites “Blue Skies” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” will be on the program along with “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” a song called “Buddy on the Night Shift” by Kurt Weill, and other works.
For sponsors of the show, the program is ideal. “They’ll be performing for just an hour in one of the most easily accessible venues,” says Claffey of Springpoint. “The lighting is special. Most important, we already know how talented Glenn and Janine are.”
WWII Songbook Concert, Springpoint Foundation, Grounds For Sculpture, J. Seward Johnson Center for the Arts, Hamilton. Thursday, July 29, 3 to 4 p.m. In celebration of J. Seward Johnson’s “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture, Glenn Seven Allen and Janine DiVita of Signature Broadway Pops present a concert of songs written and performed during the historical WWII era. 609-720-7304..