'Standing Ovation' a dream come true for Philly voice coach's students

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Dancers in "Standing Ovation" include Jeana Zettler (left) of Richboro and Erika Corvette of Sicklerville. Coach Sal Dupree tells students that "if we work together, then maybe I can get you a little bit of that dream you're talking about."

Voice coach Sal Dupree can be likened to a fairy godmother, minus the glitter and wings.

The Philadelphia native's lifelong profession, along with his singing career, has been making others' dreams come true.

"I tell my kids, 'If we work together, then maybe I can get you a little bit of that dream you're talking about,' " said Dupree, 65, owner of the Sal Dupree Performing Arts Studio in Atlantic County.

Dupree has proof of his promise. His proteges include such notables as Philadelphia's then-11-year-old Bianca Ryan, a $1 million winner in 2006 of America's Got Talent, and Tiffany Evans, the homeless girl from the Bronx who, in 2003, became the only performer in Star Search history to receive perfect scores on all of her appearances.

His most recent successes: the cast of Standing Ovation, a movie musical shot at the Jersey Shore starring a dozen or so Dupree-trained teens from Pennsylvania and South Jersey. It premiered July 16 in about 1,100 theaters nationwide.

Devon Jordan, 18, of West Chester, a Dupree trainee cast in the film's five-girl singing group, sees her Standing Ovation premiere as her jumping-off point.

"My friends tell anyone who will listen, 'I don't know if you know this, but she's the next Vanessa Hudgens,' " Jordan said.

The concept for Standing Ovation came from former Dupree client and Philadelphia native Diane Kirman, the film's producer.

Kirman, wife of the movie's director and film writer, Stewart Raffill, met Dupree at 22, when she went to him for singing lessons. Dupree said that in the 30 years since, the two have swapped talent.

So Dupree was an obvious source of help for Kirman's dream to create a film to make use of the extraordinary pool of young East Coast talent that she felt was underrepresented in Hollywood.

"This film is really about one man's effort to pass on his passion to gifted children," Kirman said.

Standing Ovation, which has a slogan of "dance, dream, sing," features 20 original songs chosen by Dupree and 14 dance-musical numbers choreographed by Philadelphia natives Crystal and Jennifer Tini of Debbie Apalucci's Touch of Class dance studio in Broomall.

The movie chronicles the perseverance and dreams of rival junior-high singing groups competing for a $1 million recording contract.

Fifteen roles, more than half the cast, went to Dupree's proteges, including Dexter Darden, 19, of Sicklerville, who after training with Dupree took first place in 2005 in a New Jersey male vocal competition and took third place in the nation.

Dupree "got the bug in my head," Darden said.

Likewise, the five Standing Ovation leads - the pink wig-wearing singing group called the Wiggies - came from Dupree's crop as well: London Clark, 18, of New Hope; Ashley Cutrona, 19, of Howell, N.J.; Jeana Zettler, 18, of Richboro; Erika Corvette, 18, of Sicklerville; and Jordan. Dupree is also part of the cast, playing the Wiggies' father-manager, Mr. Wiggs.

Cutrona said that throughout the movie premiere in California, she and Clark sat side by side at the theater, squeezing each other's hands in disbelief.

"It's really the little movie that could," Cutrona said.

Auditions for the cast of Standing Ovation were open to the public. But Dupree's group shined through, he said.

His secret to success: instilling the confidence in children to believe in themselves, coupled with unique voice coaching.

"I don't believe in scales," Dupree said. "Scales bore a child's mind. I ask my kids what they want out of this. It's their dream, not mine."

Dupree's students are not managed professionals or members of Actors Equity; they are not twentysomethings playing teenage roles, he said. They are just young people who believe in themselves and work hard at it.

"If you put a 10-year-old against Bianca [Ryan] or Tiffany [Evans] singing Dream Girls from the heart, they've got no shot," Dupree said.


Contact staff writer Elisa Lala at 856-779-3970 or elala@phillynews.com.