LA's NEXT GREAT STAGE STAR 2014 Is Jennifer Kranz; Interviews with the Winners!
On Sunday, February 16 LA's Next Great Stage Star 2014 came to an exciting conclusion at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal. After an amazing two-hour program in which the 20 contestants gave 150% to their uptempo songs from Broadway shows, fourteen contestants were eliminated and the top six* finalists selected. After a brief intermission, each of the six then proceeded to perform a second number after which the distinguished panel of 18 judges made the final decision. Musical director par excellence James Lent accompanied at the piano throughout the three hour show.
*On an interesting note this year, after the usual five finalists were initially announced, there was another announcement that the judges decided to add a sixth place contestant, which is a legal move within the rules of the competition. Added to five female finalists was Travis Leland. So, 2014 was extra special with 6 winning contestants.
After another round of singing, those chosen were: in sixth place, Kimberly Hessler; fifth place, Jade Johnson; fourth place, Daniella Painton; third place, Adrienne Visnic: second place, Travis Leland and LA's Next Great Stage Star 2014, winner Jennifer Kranz.
Some of the highlights of the first round were: Kimberly Hessler's "He Touched Me" from Drat the Cat, Brandon Hynum's "Love Can't Happen", Amanda Knight's very funny "Gorgeous", Daniella Painton's "Get Out and Stay Out" from 9 to 5 The Musical, Adrienne Visnic's "There Won't Be Trumpets" from Anyone Can Whistle, and Sevan Dekmezian's hilarious "15 Pounds Away From My Love".
In the second round the six finalists competed with: "Infinite Joy" from Elegies, performed by Kimberly Hessler; "I'm Here" from The Color Purple sung by Jade Johnson; "The Wizard and I" from Wicked sung by Daniella Painton; "How Glory Goes" from Floyd Collins performed by Travis Leland; "The Story Goes On" from Baby sung by Adrienne Visnic and "So Much Better" essayed by Jennifer Kranz. All were on equal footing at the time and gave it their very best shot.
Thanks to Michael Sterling and his great production team, to Jackie Evans for her lovely choreography of the opener "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line, to musical director James Lent, to the great panel of professional judges - made up from LA's top theatre directors, agents and casting directors - for giving of their time, and a special nod to Barbara Van Orden for her very generous grant that has made LA's Next Great Stage Star - the only live competition of its kind in LA - such a stupendous success. Also, thanks to the Federal kitchen staff for a scrumptious brunch menu, efficient service and delicious pizza, salad and homemade desserts at the after party.
Mini-Interviews with co-executive producer Barbara Van Orden... and with the Winners:
Miss Barbara Van Orden is a wonderful character actress/singer/night club performer who has helped Michael Sterling with LA's Next Great Stage Star since 2012. I asked her why she took such an interest in this competition.
(photo credit: Bill Dow)
BVO: I was lucky enough during my early years to have a place to hone my craft. The Playboy Clubs, the Catskill Mountains; I worked with Frank Sinatra a lot. This doesn't exist for kids today. A lot of them don't know how to handle audiences. They're singing to the (she indicates the rafters) I don't know what it is up there; they don't relate; they don't understand. When Michael (Sterling) created it, and I saw what it was, I said, "How wonderful!" It gives them a chance to perform each week and get better and to get exposed to different things and to be exposed to directors and agents. It's gold! Most don't get this exposure. A headshot is only as good as whatever purpose it serves. When Michael asked me to co-executive produce, I said, "Michael, you've got me!" It's so worthwhile, so needed. And the contestants...they all win whether they win or not.
And here they are folks, in no particular order, the six winners of LA's Next Great Stage Star 2014 to tell us how much the competition has meant to them over the last six weeks.
Jade Johnson, fifth place:
What were your expectations at the beginning of the contest, and now that the six weeks are over, were they met sufficiently?
My expectations were to leave this competition with a whole new repertoire of music from the other competitors, just based upon the songs that they chose and seeing if I could possibly sing them, learning from them, who I consider to be mentors now and Michael (Sterling) and James (Lent) and everyone here that were so supportive in our journey. There was also the expectation of the networking, meeting different people in the musical theatre business in LA. I'm from Phoenix, Arizona, where musical theatre is scarce. So...my expectations were definitely met.
Adrienne Visnic, 3rd place:
How has the contest helped you in your pursuit of a career in musical theatre?
It helped me create a better book for myself, creating songs in my book that are perfect for me to sing. There are songs that I'm really excited to sing too. I've gotten good feedback that I can grow from. I think that's the best part of the whole thing, having a book. I can use every song I sang over the six weeks, which is awesome.
Jennifer Kranz, winner:
What is your goal for the future?
Long term, I would love to be on Broadway. Short term, I love musical theatre and that's what I want to pursue. That's what I want to make my life. Just doing that, in any way, shape or form. The feedback from the last six weeks has been very helpful. It hasn't been critical in ways that I felt defeated or anything. I've learned more about the way I work and the way I come off as a performer. I couldn't ask for anything more from these top LA people.
Travis Leland, 2nd place:
How did it feel being the sole male winner and one of the few men in the contest? What are your goals?
A little alone, to be honest. I do think all the guys were equally talented. It could have been any of us. The girls brought so many different levels of... maturity, youthfulness, but the guys are...the guys. We do our part. When Michael said, "You're up here with five beautiful girls", I thought, "Yeah, yeah, it's just me!" As far as goals are concerned, I want to do it all. I want to write, I want to direct, I want to do musical theatre...I want to win Oscars!
Daniella Painton, 4th place:
I think you are going to make a very fine character actress. Is that your goal?
Thank you. Right now I'm just really enjoying the ride of people saying yes to me, and saying "You are in the right field." Whether that means being a character actress or a leading lady, I'm just really trying to enjoy each step of the journey. Having graduated from PCPA and being in this contest, I'm in a very good place right now, so this is exciting for me.
Kimberly Hessler, sixth place:
I just saw you do Olive in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and you are a wonderful character actress. Do you feel a change over the last six weeks?
Yes. I love doing Olive and I've never really done anything charactery before. When I began the contest my main expectation was to be seen. I graduated from USC and had never done very much outside of school theatre. It's been great, I've been seen and I feel like I've grown as well, like everyone else. It was incredible from the first to the last week. I definitely got what I was looking for.
(photo credit: Don Grigware, except where indicated)