A pair of ear splitting sirens responding to emergency calls and a balky sound system didn’t fluster Nikki Blonsky a bit during her return to Great Neck to perform publicly in her hometown for the first time since becoming a breakout star in the 2007 film Hairspray, opposite John Travolta and Zac Efron.
Blonsky, who will be 27 in November, appeared last week with her mentor and musical inspiration, Pamela Levy, as she presented “Opera Classics Under the Stars,” featuring eight of her choral students as part of the Great Neck Plaza outdoor concerts series in Firefighters’ Park on Grace Avenue.
“I’ve been touring the world and making movies, but there’s nothing like coming home,” said Blonsky, who sang five songs and ignored the sirens, except to smoothly insert an enthusiastic “Go Vigilant (Fire Department)” in her vocal, when the first emergency vehicle passed by. She led off her performance with “Good Morning Baltimore,” a song she memorably sang as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. Dr. Levy accompanied her on the piano during her set.
And when the sound system sputtered, Blonsky sat down next to her teacher, leaning in to use an alternate microphone without a hitch. The large audience enthusiastically applauded the smooth transition.
Levy’s students (Elora Achin, Brandon Burns, Diana Charlop, Michelle Geffner, Gabrielle Lowell, Karen Notovitz, Alex Schecter and Giovanni Xu), most of whom have graduated and are continuing their musical studies in college, were
also well received during the two hour program.
Levy has been the choral director at Great Neck South High School for 17 years and has helped developed the highly regarded opera program at South. The school is believed to be the only nonspecialized public school in the country to produce a fully costumed, orchestrated opera annually in its original language.
Levy and Blonsky have a very special bond that they talked about after the program ended.
“The greatest part of coming back is being a part of the community and getting to perform with Dr. Levy,” Blonsky volunteered. “There is no woman on this planet, nobody I’d rather perform with. You know Barbra Streisand is great and so is Liza Minelli, but if you ask me, would I rather sing with any of those ladies? I’d say ‘yes.’ But Dr. Levy has to play the piano.”
Levy spoke about meeting Blonsky for the first time. “She came into my classroom and it was night chorus because she went to the Village School and she used to come to South afterwards. She came in and she sat down and was totally focused and attentive.”
“You don’t forget that, completely focused and ready to learn,” Levy continued. “When I asked her, ‘Can you do this?’ it was really remarkable what she could do.”
“I had no idea that real music was like and what learning real music was like until I was under the guidance of Dr. Pamela Levy,” Blonsky added. “To this day she guides me in not just my music but in my everyday life with her incredible wisdom. And I consider her my musical soul mate.”
Blonsky won the Hairspray role while she was earning after-school money working at the Coldstone Creamery shop that used to be on Grace Avenue. “I worked at Coldstone for about a year and a half,” she recalled. “I was working there during the audition process and that was where they walked in and told me that I got the part.”
Blonsky said that she’s got several movies coming up and is going into producing. “So, I’m going to be behind the camera,” she said.
She’s also active on the Internet with social media and has often been the subject of rumors. One such rumor was about her and her boyfriend, Christopher Salute, who is recuperating from an illness. Her plaza performance was
dedicated to him.
“Rumors are hysterical because I find out something new about myself every day,” she laughed.
She was asked about one involving her relationship with Salute, who was unable to attend the
Plaza show. “That’s one of the rumors,” she answered. “Oh, he texted me the other day and said, ‘Oh, honey did you know that we’re engaged?’”