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Student performs in 'A Chorus Line'


By Ruth Wittenberg and Ruth Wittenberg




Friends and colleagues use one word repeatedly to describe Amy Birnbaum and her singing talents -- amazing. Birnbaum, a 20-year-old sophomore, will appear this weekend in a production of "A Chorus Line" at the John Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St. \nA native of Long Island, N.Y., Birnbaum began performing professionally during high school. She started by reading Backstage, an industry trade magazine full of audition information and tips for amateurs. She took a homemade demo CD to famous Manhattan cabarets such as Don't Tell Mama, Danny's, Firebird and Skylight. Her persistence paid off when Birnbaum landed a gig as the youngest regular performer at Don't Tell Mama. \n"I did everything -- arranged the music, found instrumentalists, created and posted flyers," Birnbaum said. "I spent hours and hours putting it all together, but it was so worth it to me."\nOne connection she established while working for Don't Tell Mama remains close to her heart. After paying her musicians, she donated all the proceeds from her cabaret shows to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS organization. In February, she chose to accept a job singing backup for Christina Aguilera in Miami as part of a private concert partially benefiting BC/EFA. Birnbaum said her weeklong break from school marks the first time she has let her professional life take precedence over her academic studies at IU.\n"One nice thing about Bloomington being far away from New York City is that you have to focus on the work here," professor George Pinney said. Pinney teaches in the Department of Theatre and Drama and sponsors Birnbaum in the Individualized Major Program, in which her emphasis is musical theater. Pinney said he agreed to sponsor Birnbaum after working with her last year in IU's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." Pinney said he and Birnbaum's working relationship cemented during the run of the show. \n"She has huge willpower and is a very accessible person," Pinney said. "But, above all, she has an incredible talent, is very versatile, intelligent and self-motivated." \nAlthough Birnbaum focuses on her studies during the school year, she freelances for the Fifi Oscard agency in New York and plans to spend her summers performing cabaret at Don't Tell Mama. The Fifi Oscard agency arranged for Birnbaum to audition for an MTV video and the Christina Aguilera gig -- both of which she landed. \nEqually important to Birnbaum is improving her natural abilities while at IU through work in musicals such as "Into the Woods" and "A Chorus Line." Fifi Oscard allows her to work for them on a freelance, noncontract basis. If she had a contract, Birnbaum could not participate in local productions. \n"Right now, I really want to get my education," she said. "I am going to be in New York City the rest of my life."\nCast members of "A Chorus Line" are fellow students and coworkers. Seniors Lauren Fagone and Nick Pupillo, both ballet majors, said they have befriended Birnbaum during rehearsals. \nPupillo, "A Chorus Line's" choreographer, heard about Birnbaum when friends informed him of her performance in "Into the Woods." He said Birnbaum lived up to her reputation at the auditions for the musical. \n"She was such a powerful singer," Pupillo said. "I did not know what to say after her audition. I was so pumped about her being in the show." \nIn the show, Birnbaum plays Val (famous for crooning "Tits and Ass"), and Fagone plays Cassie. During rehearsals, Fagone and Birnbaum mentored each other in their respective crafts of dance and vocal technique. \n"She has this unending generosity and a lot of motivation and dedication to help others," Fagone said. \nHer passion to help others was noted by Pupillo. "The thing about Amy -- I get so excited when I talk about her -- not only is she amazingly talented, but she will go out of her way to help anyone," he said.\nBirnbaum's desire to help others comes from her attitude toward artists. While she will be the first to admit she wants to succeed on her own merits, Birnbaum said she wants nothing to do with people "in the industry" who try to sabotage instead of assist one another. \n"In this profession people are so competitive. I really enjoy other people's talents and I learn so much from them," she said. "People are going to be better than you and being bitter about that is not going to get you anywhere." \nBirnbaum's often noted "amazing talent" garners accolades from strangers as well as friends and family. \n"I sang the National Anthem at a Knicks game once in high school and Woody Allen was sitting right in front of me," Birnbaum said. "When I was finished, he told me, 'Great job, kid."

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