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Rising CB South junior Olivia Giampolo also a rising Hammerstein star


If Olivia Giampolo has a song in her heart, it has to be a Hammerstein.

Makes sense. The Warrington wunderkind warrants attention these days for her first-place finish in the Bucks County Division / Oscar Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Education Center's International Youth Solo Contest.

The sweet 16 teen, about to be a junior at Central Bucks South High School, waxes lyrical about the lyrics penned by Hammerstein for such bliss hits as "Show Boat," "The King and I" and "The Sound of Music." And it was the sounds of "It Might as Well Be Spring" that she sang from his "State Fair" that sprang the honor in her favor at the competition.

How did she fare so well in such a highly competitive division?

Giampolo might have won as a solo, but she was not alone in treasuring the triumph in categories that attracted some 100 participants overall. (In her division, second place went to Jane File, 14, of Furlong; and, finishing third, Point Pleasant's Felix Arnstein, 16.)

Giampolo is delighted to be doling out kudos for those whose commitment helped her claim the title. It is the company she keeps, says the soloist winner, and that compelling cadre of co-stars — voice teacher for the past five years, Anne Odland; band teacher Daniel Myers; and choir teacher Joseph Stellino — which helped her reach this highlight amid the high notes she has sustained since starting singing at age 3.

Rodgers that: Indeed, Hammerstein, the late longtime Doylestown resident perhaps best noted for his scintillating songwriting partnership with Richard Rodgers, proved, with the composer, to be a team of tuneful titans as they helped shine and shape the stature of musical theater over a period of decades. Prolific and popular, Hammerstein didn't merely hammer out hits to the tunes of his musical mate; he created poetic paeans that comfortably fit within the contours of Rodgers’ rich, lushly romantic creations.

And it takes singing stars like Giampolo to set that poetry in motion — in this case with a jazz beat.

"I heard the song a couple of years ago through my voice teacher and liked it. I particularly enjoy jazz and I enjoyed being able to take liberties with that song," she says.

Freedom of phrasing is not a new phase for Giampolo, who has felt jazzed by the genre since a child. But all that jazz shares a cool musical motif as favorite form with the teen alongside showtunes.

"I started doing school musicals in Unami," she says of the new challenges afforded at the Chalfont middle school.

There, she created a chocolate factory of fun by portraying Willie Wonka in the staged confectionery of a musical comedy, and by mixing it up with a grabba Abba in "Mamma Mia!"

She takes her musical education in stages, performing well academically as well as organically in theater. This summer she made the grade taking courses at the prestigious Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

But perhaps just as important as the classes were the classics served up by her parents, Tom and Christin, "who exposed me to a lot of music at home."

Her folks were in concert with her creativity, which they discovered and encouraged early on.

"I had a Casio keyboard that she would hit and vocalize to what she heard," Tom says of the then 3-year-old. "I turned to my wife and said, 'Can you do that?' Because I can't.'"

What they could do was create a harmonious home environment to encourage this young warbler of Warrington.

"From that point forward, we encouraged her singing," recalls Christin. "We're not musical. We support her but stay out of her way."

In some ways, they lead the way, taking her to shows. That first musical? "The Lion King."

"I saw it, then did it at Germantown Academy," recalls the young Giampolo.

There has been much music making since for this one-girl band from Bucks. A drum major for the CB South Marching Titans, she has played piano in the CB South Jazz Band, sung in the school's Chamber Choir, "and I’ve been in a number of musicals at school."

And she is delighted to add her voice singing the praise of just being part of the arts bandwidth that is Bucks County pride, which includes her taking part in the Doylestown Arts Festival Sept. 9.

"I feel really lucky to be living in a community that values music and arts so much," she said.

Indeed, in some ways, Giampolo feels her life is charmed and magical; she can connect to the fairy tale times she has these days with a song she sang during the summer at Boston Conservatory: "A Lovely Night."

"It's from 'Cinderella,'" she informs, of the Broadway glass slipper of a hit.

With lyrics from the heritage and heart of Hammerstein.

Michael Elkin is a playwright, theater critic and novelist who lives in Abington. He writes occasional columns about theater and the arts.

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