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Welcome Home! BYU Young Ambassadors Bring Big Heart, Big Talent to AZ

For over 40 years, Brigham Young University’s Young Ambassadors have been circling the globe to bring the best of American musical theatre to fans around the world. In February, the performing arts group will sing and dance their way through Arizona to tour their musical revue.

The Young Ambassadors last appeared in Arizona in 2010.

The group’s current production, Welcome Home, is a 90-minute “melodic kaleidoscope of family fun . . . [delivering] dynamic choreography, colorful costumes, and a lineup of international hits and popular Broadway show tunes, including songs from Ed Sheeran, the Beach Boys, Rascal Flatts, Frank Sinatra, Hamilton, Footloose, and The Wizard of Oz,” according to a recent media release.  The production’s ambitious repertoire spans decades of the greatest songs American music has to offer.

Taylor Stanger performs a midair split in "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo." Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Taylor Stanger performs a midair split in “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.” Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

An “upbeat scrapbook of cherished memories,” Welcome Home celebrates the family through the American musical: “Home, for many lucky families, is that safe haven from this crazy, fast-paced, and sometimes un-welcoming world.”

The current team of musicians and twenty singers/dancers are assisted by a nine-person technical crew and will tour with their ten-piece live band, lending dynamism to songs like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” from the smash hit Hamilton, classics like “Basin Street Blues,” as well as Top 40 tunes like Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”

Standards like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Route 66” alongside lesser-known pieces like “Show Off” (from the musical The Drowsy Chaperone), and “Welcome” (from the animated film Brother Bear) appear in the show’s 30-song catalogue.

“We are truly impressed by the BYU Young Ambassadors’ impeccable performance,” says Rutorn Nopakun, President, Rotary Club of Bang Rak, Thailand.  “I have been ransacking my brain to find the right words to describe my own impression but I do not think I have found them. So let me just say that the show was absolutely unforgettable, extraordinary, and amazing.”

Ellora Latin and Benjamin Raymant in the number 'Seattle.' Young Ambassadors members performing in the number 'Seattle.' Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

The group toured South Africa in 2016 to wide acclaim. Port Elisabeth’s Michael Simmons says, “The production was a sheer delight from the moment it opened with the band and then to be bowled over by the energy, the costumes, the dancing, and vibrant colour and the most beautiful chorus work and the soloists who were of the highest standard and who could most definitely be on the Broadway stage.”

The Brigham Young University School of Music, along with the Department of Dance, produces the Young Ambassadors. Called “unofficial ambassadors for the United States” by Gregory J. Newell, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, the Young Ambassadors have entertained foreign dignitaries such as the Jordanian royal family, the queen of Thailand, and the Indian prime minister.

Since their inaugural international performance at Japan’s Expo in 1970, they have visited over fifty countries and played at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Extended tours of Brazil, South Africa and the Indochina Peninsula played to large and enthusiastic crowds in the past few years.

Young Ambassador photo shoot on Marriott Center stage before Homecoming Spectacular October 8, 2015 Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo

Young Ambassador photo shoot on Marriott Center stage before Homecoming Spectacular October 8, 2015 Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo

Former cast members include such luminaries as Miss America 1985, Sharlene Wells Hawkes, and country music band Diamond Rio’s keyboardist, Dan Truman, as well as Christeena Michelle Riggs and Candese Marchese, both Broadway performers.

“Being on Young Ambassadors was the most well-rounded, wonderful experience of my life,” says Dan Truman. “With them, we weren’t just entertaining people—we were sharing a message and had a serious commitment to our work.”

The performers are headed by Randy Boothe, artistic director of Young Ambassadors for nearly 40 years, and former director with Walt Disney Productions, the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, Showcase Hawaii and the Polynesian Dance Ensemble. Boothe directed the 2002 Winter Olympics Light of the World performance and the 1997 sesquicentennial celebration performance of Faith in Every Footstep. He currently serves as BYU’s executive producer of performing arts and an associate dean in the College of Fine Arts and Communications.

From left to right: Breearna Mandla, Caleb Allred, Hannah Pyper, and Preston Taylor performing in Welcome Home. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

From left to right: Breearna Mandla, Caleb Allred, Hannah Pyper, and Preston Taylor performing in Welcome Home. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Boothe is joined by Eric Hansen, a veteran of the performing group’s live band, who now serves as Young Ambassadors’ show band director and music producer.

“It is a deep joy and privilege for me to now be one of the directors, and particularly to be able to once again serve on the front lines of actively sharing the image, message, stature, and values of BYU to the world,” says Hansen.

In addition to their touring programs, the BYU Young Ambassadors visit local and regional schools to perform and offer workshops for students. A five-day musical theatre camp offers participants the opportunity to get “small-group instruction from experienced entertainers as you strengthen your performance abilities and develop proper technique in dance, voice, and stage presence, all while gaining more confidence as a performer.”

BYU’s Young Ambassadors also participate in outreach performances at rest homes, care centers and hospitals, and service projects. A partnership last year with the Mormon Helping Hands project, for example, had members delivering kits to mothers of premature babies at a Hospital in Recife, Brazil.

The current Young Ambassadors team boasts varied and impressive resumes amongst its members—many have toured with the group to Brazil, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, and some have served as performing missionaries in Nauvoo. While many team members are majoring in the performing arts, others are studying human development, social science, and bioinformatics.

Hannah Pyper performs "Once Upon a Time" from the musical Brooklyn. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Hannah Pyper performs “Once Upon a Time” from the musical Brooklyn. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Jessica Jensen, a BYU dance major, summed up her participation with the Young Ambassadors on a recent Instagram takeover post: “One year before I started YAs was the first time I sang in front of people in a talent show with the students at the Jerusalem center where I was studying. How did I get here?…don’t know, but sure glad I did!”

The BYU Young Ambassadors will begin their Arizona tour in Prescott on February 10, followed by performances in Holbrook and Thatcher on February 13 and 14. On February 15, they’ll hit the West Valley for a performance in Glendale, and then conclude in Chandler and Queen Creek February 16-17. Tickets prices are in the $10-$20 range. More information and performance times can be found at https://pam.byu.edu/group/young-ambassadors/?P=performance-schedule.

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