RWU’s Hawkward opens for late night talk show host Jay Leno

Looking out across the stage, a packed audience of 3,100 people hushed their conversations as the opening act walked out to perform for them. Overhead, intricate patterns covered the ceiling and sounds echoed beautifully across the walls of the theater.

Buzzing with excitement, Hawkward stepped onto the stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 22, as the opening act for the acclaimed TV late night show host, admired stand-up comedian, and best-selling children’s book author, Jay Leno.

Hawkward, the only auditioned a cappella group on campus, has been working toward this moment since they first learned about the opportunity back in July of last year. In order to prepare for this impressive opportunity, the group worked for months to produce quality arrangements to sing at PPAC.

“This is the biggest opportunity this group has ever had, and we knew it needed months of preparation,” said senior Marissa Papapietro, business manager for Hawkward.

Alongside her, she has a fantastic team of directors who all work together to ensure the group is ready for any performance ahead of them. Senior Adam Caezza is the music director, junior Jake McVey is assistant music director, and junior Devin Ciuci works as assistant business manager/PR chair. The group is advised by Danny DiCamillo.

The group consistently rehearses on Monday and Wednesday nights from 8 to 10 p.m., with extra rehearsals added throughout the week if needed. This week, to prepare for the show, Hawkward also rehearsed on Tuesday in addition to the regularly scheduled times.

Before their big performance, Leno strolled into the dressing room, shook the hands of each member of the group, and wished them luck. After that, the group anxiously waited to take the stage.

“We were waiting in the wings, all humming our parts for the songs, and just soaking up the moment,” Papapietro said.

Hawkward sang five songs for Leno and their audience at PPAC: “Lionheart” by Demi Lovato with soloist Emma Cappadona, “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen with soloist Caezza, “River” by Bishop Briggs with soloist Rebecca O’Rourke, “Dancing on My Own” by Callum Scott with soloist McVey, and “Greedy” by Ariana Grande with soloist Megan Willgoos.

When the group finished, Leno was waiting in the wings of the auditorium to give Hawkward a round of applause. A few members of the group asked Leno questions like “what is your favorite pasta?” and one member commented “my brother wants to know if he can have your car!” Many members took photos and videos with the comedian.

Papapietro, who has been in Hawkward for two years, mentioned that the group has had an amazing semester. 

“It could be the strongest we’ve ever been. We have learned entire songs in just two rehearsals,” she said. “Everyone is very driven and committed to making this group spectacular. I wouldn’t want it any other way. We will continue striving to be the best we can be, while having fun at the same time.”

Willgoos, a sophomore who has been with Hawkward since her first semester freshman year, also mentioned that the group has been super close this year.

“My favorite part about being in the group is our chemistry. Especially this semester, our group is like a family,” Willgoos said. “We create goals and work hard to pursue them together.”

The a cappella group still has plenty of gigs to keep them busy for the rest of the semester. The group headed to the University of New Hampshire for Off the Clef’s Spring Invitational on Friday, March 23. Future performances will include the Drastic Measures Invitational on April 15, the block party, and Merrimack College’s Mackapella Invitational on April 27.

Reflecting on the Leno performance, Papapietro mentioned it was one of the highlights of her two years spent with Hawkward.

“It was an amazing opportunity that we were so lucky to have,” she said.