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Voice carries from stage to screen

WANT TO GO?

"Music of the Night"

Presented by the West Virginia Symphony

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

TICKETS: Adults start at $12, children start at $6

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.wvsymphony.org CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chances are even if you're not a fan of classical music or Broadway show tunes, you've heard Christina Saffran somewhere.

Saffran appears Friday and Saturday night with the West Virginia Symphony for "Music of the Night," which includes songs from "The Phantom of the Opera," "Cats" and other Broadway hits. One of her other jobs, though, is singing work for films.

The singer and actress has done quite a few, including animated films like Disney's "Aladdin" and "Mulan" as well as live-action productions including "The Santa Claus II," "Christmas with the Kranks" and "Galaxy Quest."

What she does can vary quite a bit from picture to picture. In Disney's "Pocahontas II," she got a full song ("What a Day in London"). In "Lady in the Tramp II," she was part of the chorus. In other films, though, she's buried deep in the background.

"In 'Galaxy Quest,' I sang on the soundtrack," she said. "I sang on the score."

She laughed. "I sang lots and lots of high notes."

Saffran explained that with many movies there's a lot going on, even if you're not catching it.

"For example," she said, "did you see 'Oz the Great and Powerful?' There is so much singing in that movie, but if you're not a studio singer, you probably don't notice it."

Working within the studio system is a quirky kind of job, but it's just one part of Saffran's musical career, which has been a little bit of Great White Way, a little bit of Vegas and a little bit of Hollywood.

Saffran's first musical theater role was in "The Sound of Music" at the Metropolitan Opera in St. Louis.

"I was about 9 years old," she said. "I asked my mother if I could audition, and she took me down there after school. I think there were about 700 kids there."

She won the role, which ignited a love of the theater that eventually expanded to include dance.  Through her high school years, she attended an arts boarding school.

"In the morning, I did academics, and in the afternoon, I danced," she said.

After school, Saffran moved to New York.

"It was always my dream to work on Broadway, and I was fortunate enough to fulfill that dream," she said. "I was able to do six Broadway shows."

Her first, however, was kind of accidental: she tagged along with a friend to an audition for "A Chorus Line."

She said, "I'd been listening to the album in my bedroom for years and I wanted to audition, but I didn't have the confidence."

Saffran said she was just going to watch, but the friend convinced her to give it a shot.

"I was fortunate enough to get the show," she said. "He, however, did not."

Saffran went on tour with the production and then went to Broadway with the show.

"I was with 'A Chorus Line' for two years," she said. "I can still do the opening combination. The choreography is still in my body."

She stayed in New York for years, but eventually left for Los Angeles when her husband, actor Matthew Ashford, got a regular spot on a soap opera. The pair raised two daughters and Saffran continued to work, doing film, stage and even a stint opening for comedian Don Rickles for his Las Vegas show.

"His manager happened to see a show I did," she said. "Opening for Don was quite an experience. He's kind of the last of those older, classic entertainers, but he was just fabulous."

Saffran said she tries to stay busy. Between engagements like the one at the Clay Center this weekend with her singing partner Norman Large, she performs on her own, as well as with a group called Broadway Today.

"We sing Broadway songs, mostly current stuff," she said.

Saffran has had a good career, with some nice accomplishments, but there's always more she'd like to do.

"I'd love to get a lead in an animated film," she said. "I've gotten close a couple of times, but not quite. I'd also love to go back to Broadway -- but maybe after the kids are grown."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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