The Westport Public Library came alive Sunday with the sounds of Broadway as a group of Staples High School students known as "For the Heart" offered a spirited rendition of show tunes for a full house in the McManus Room.
Under the direction of Melissa Beretta, a 17-year-old junior, the group is a mix of 10 seniors and juniors, each with music and theater experience at Staples. In addition to Beretta, the singers are Michelle Pauker, Clay Singer, Tyler Jent, August Laska, Grace McDavid-Seidner, Cara McNifff, Amanda Horowitz, Emily Ressler and Jake Landay.
According to Beretta, the group was founded in 2005 by her sister Caley, who was then a seventh-grader at Bedford Middle School. Her objective was to bring old Broadway music to people in the community that don't normally have access to it.
"We are completely nonprofit, just here to share the joy of music," said Beretta. The group performs four to five times yearly, depending on the singers' various schedules.
All of the group's members have been performing since they were very young. "I started at age 9 singing with the group," said Beretta. "Many of us met through the Music Theatre of Connecticut, which is a local organization serving Fairfield County youth."
On occasion, For the Heart will perform benefit concerts. Last November, for instance, they performed a benefit for the Coalition to Cure Calpain 3. "This is a muscular degenerative disease from which one of our friend's mothers has," said Beretta. "Funds raised helped research efforts."
The singers are "best friends, outside of and within the group," Beretta noted. "All these performers are outgoing and lovely to interact with, and ready to carry a tune."
Many past members have gone on to do summer stock and have Broadway aspirations. All, like Beretta, share a passion for music theater. "I love it as I get to be with these people," she said, "and I love to see the faces of the audiences for whom we perform -- laughing, smiling, crying."
The hour-long library show featured 15 popular Broadway tunes, including classics such as "At the Ballet" from "A Chorus Line;" "She Loves Me" from the same show; "Eidelweiss" from "The Sound of Music," and "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" from "Oklahoma."
For the Heart, Beretta said, "is about bringing people what they loved when they were young, from shows that were popular at the time. Our audience tends to be area seniors and we often perform at senior centers."
Jaina Lewis, the Westport teen services librarian, was pleased by the group's appearance. "This is the first time we're hosting them, and we're really excited about it," she said. "They came highly recommended. I like that they're less a music group per se as much as a community service provider, sharing their enthusiasm for music with local seniors."
Westporter Sheila Tishler was a delighted member of the audience. "I'm a fan of Broadway music," she said. "I just saw `A Chorus Line' performed by the Staples Players, of which For the Heart members were part.
"I also like to support teens," Tishler said. "Their talent is extraordinary, really phenomenal. It speaks well about the kids, but also the Staples program. I know former Chorale Director Alice Lipson, who did so much to expose her students to music."