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Uniondale High's show choir vying for national title

Lynnette Carr-Hicks, who starred in the Broadway show

Lynnette Carr-Hicks, who starred in the Broadway show "Thoroughly Modern Mille," directs students at Uniondale High School during a show choir practice. (March 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz

Lynnette Carr-Hicks was once a Broadway star, and now she is helping to lead students at Uniondale High School to the bright lights.

For three months in 2004, the Westbury resident played a major role in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." The Broadway version of the 1967 film by the same name told the story of a small-town girl, Millie Dillmount, who comes to New York City to marry for money instead of love in the 1920s "flappers" era. Carr-Hicks was cast as Muzzy van Hossmere, the stepmother of the man Millie falls in love with.

"I couldn't believe it. I thought it was a dream," Carr-Hicks recalled of her starring role.

Nearly a decade later, Carr-Hicks is teaching drama and choir at Uniondale High School, where she directs the show choir. It won a regional competition in Manhattan in March and is heading to the Fame Show Choir National Competition in Chicago at the end of April.

"I'm, like, in awe right now," said Carr-Hicks, 42. "I can't believe we are actually going to the nationals."

The choir's trip to the championship "is a huge accomplishment for our students. The whole community is galvanizing around this," said William Lloyd, Uniondale superintendent of schools.

Still, the group needs to raise $50,000 to make the trip. It is holding a fundraiser at the high school on Friday during which the choir will perform its routine.

Show choirs -- in which groups sing, dance and act, often using material from Broadway -- have exploded in popularity since the 2009 debut of Fox's hit TV show "Glee."

The 52-student Uniondale group's 30-minute performance this year is themed around Harlem's legendary Cotton Club of the 1920s. It includes songs by Duke Ellington as well as more modern pieces such as Beyoncé's "Deja Vu" and Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie."

Carr-Hicks says she never expected to be working at a high school, but is thrilled she is directing the show choir.

"I love what I do everyday," said Carr-Hicks, who is often at school until 9 p.m. rehearsing with the group. "I wake up every day and enjoy going to work."

She grew up in Westbury, studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, then landed entry-level jobs in the record industry in Boston and New York. She sang backup for Al Jarreau, recorded a children's album in Japanese and won roles in Off-Broadway productions.

Then came the "Millie" break. For a year and a half she worked as a stagehand, took minor nonspeaking parts and was an understudy for the role of Muzzy. Then the actress playing Muzzy left, and Carr-Hicks was in.

But working on Broadway was also a grind with long hours, and she had a husband and daughter back in Westbury. So when Lloyd, then-superintendent of schools in Westbury, saw her directing a children's choir at a local church and urged her to go into teaching, she decided to give it a try not long after "Millie" closed on Broadway.

Later, Lloyd transferred to Uniondale, and eventually brought Carr-Hicks with him. "She is the best of the best," he said.

Carr-Hicks' students seem equally floored. "She's amazing at what she does," said Tiahlese Smith, 17, a senior in the show choir. Carr-Hicks "does not like to put on a show that looks like it hasn't been prepared well. She likes perfection."

Carr-Hicks said she uses her background on Broadway to motivate her students. "I think it's a plus because I've been on the outside world," she said. "I tell my kids so I can give them inspiration."

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