Schroeder and friends back for benefit

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat /

Sonora High School graduate Todd Schroeder - recently named Broadway World's 2013 Musical Director of the Year - will present his 19th annual Young Artists Grant benefit concert on Saturday.

Headlining the show will be Sam Harris, Broadway star, multi-platinum recording artist, first "Star Search" winner and now author, who has performed at nearly every one of Schroeder's Sonora concerts.

Also featured will be Robyn Spangler, Broadway World's 2011 Cabaret Artist of the Year, and multi-platinum-selling songwriter Kevin Fisher, along with Carrie Schroeder, Cate Schroeder, Julia Rose, Wendy Tuttle, David Carey Foster, Alison Pelfrey, Amnesia and more.

Schroeder's good friend for many years, Broadway veteran Matt Berman - who also has worked with such stars as Liza Minnelli, Kristin Chenoweth, Elaine Paige, Bea Arthur and Kathy Griffin - will once again design lights and sound for the show, flying in from New York for the occasion.

Band members include guitarist Tony Mandracchia, who has performed with Ray Charles, Nell Carter, Edgar Winter and even Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Tim Christensen on bass, and John Gannon, who drums on a box with his bare feet.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. Reserved seat tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, available by calling Nancie Weiser at 532-5511, ext. 112, in the school office and at the door.

The Young Artists Grant was founded in 1995 by Schroeder and his high school leadership teacher, Steve Southard, as a way to give back to the community.

Since then, nearly 40 scholarships have been awarded to graduating high school seniors wishing to pursue a career in the arts, from singing, dancing and playing an instrument to painting, graphic design and even technical design.

"With this scholarship we are recognizing talent and giving kids permission to dream and reach beyond whatever limits they thought were there before," Schroeder said.

Proceeds also helped fund new sound and lighting systems for the high school auditorium.

Schroeder started playing piano at the age of 4. Growing up in a musical family, he was introduced to everything from Claude Debussy to Neil Diamond and Ray Charles to Elton John, but what he remembers most is discovering, at the age of 8, the rock and roll piano playing of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Graduating from Sonora High in 1984, Schroeder has gone on to high musical accomplishments as a composer, producer, arranger, musical director and performer.

Playing piano, though, remains Schroeder's first love. He has performed at Carnegie Hall and the White House, with the Boston Pops and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and has appeared on many television shows including "Oprah" and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."

As a composer, Schroeder's original music has been featured in film and television, including "Dr. Phil" and "Guiding Light." His production of "Roter Mond: The Braveheart Musical" opened in Duisburg, Germany, in 2012, and he co-composed music and lyrics with Kevin Fisher for the hit musical "Unbeatable."

Along with writing and producing, Schroeder has conducted and arranged for such artists as Angela Lansbury, Nell Carter, Jason Alexander, Rita Coolidge, David Burnham and Sam Harris.

He also serves as the vocal director for Disney's "Aladdin, A Musical Spectacular" and for "Wicked" at Universal Studios Japan, as well as directing part of its new "Harry Potter Experience" opening in June.

In addition, Schroeder has also recorded four of his own CDs, including the critically-acclaimed "Songs My Father Taught Me."

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer-songwriter Kevin Fisher also has been a concert participand since the beginning. His songs have been recorded by top artists including Rascal Flatts, Sara Evans and Uncle Kracker, and most recently Home Free, 2013 winners of NBC's "The Sing Off."

Actress, singer and songwriter Robyn Spangler is returning for her second year. In 2011, she won Broadway World's award for Best Female Cabaret Artist in Los Angeles. Last year she made her London debut, performing her cabaret show, "Why I Love Linda Ronstadt," with Schroeder on piano.

David Carey Foster is a stage and screen actor who recently was included in an ensemble Ovation nomination for "Spring Awakening" in Hollywood. He also has performed and recorded with Schroeder for over 20 years in the vocal trio Pepper Street.

Wendy Tuttle has been trekking to Sonora for the benefit concert since its inception, missing only one show because she was sick in the hospital.

Singer, songwriter, actor, writer, director, producer and author Sam Harris has played to sold-out audiences at Carnegie Hall, the Universal Amphitheatre, London's West End and the Boston Pops. He also participated in Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" tour, appeared at The White House, and performed "You'll Never Walk Alone" on "Oprah" in the week following Sept. 11.

He has just written his first book, "HAM: Slices of a Life" and is currently touring a one man theatrical show of the same name with Schroeder on piano.

Carrie Schroeder, also known as Mrs. Todd Schroeder, was born and raised in Australia and is now a professional singer and actress in the United States as well as a favorite in Sonora.

Schroeder's young daughters also will be performing again Saturday. Cate Schroeder, formerly known as Catherine Kjerste, has been performing since she was 3 and recently made her debut on national television singing "Trouble" on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Julia Rose just completed her 10th production, "The Wizard of Oz" and recently appeared in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," performing as Schroeder.

Alison Pelfrey, a senior at Sonora High, has been studying voice since she was 11. She has performed leading roles in numerous school productions including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "West Side Story" and "The Boyfriend," and next year will be attend Chico State University to study musical theater.

Amnesia, featuring Gary and Elena Linehan on guitar, violin and vocals, has been performing in the Sonora area for more than 10 years, as near as they can remember.

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