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The Artists Showcase Series – Presenting New Works with the Help of Some Familiar Faces

Launched in December 2003, the Artists Showcase series was created to present readings of new musicals, plays and concerts featuring some of the best performers from Broadway, Television and Film. Presented as a monthly offering at 92nd Street Y's Makor Steinhardt Center, the mission of each event is to support and promote established talent as well as supporting and nurturing the next generation of artists. Proceeds from each event of The Artists Showcase Series are donated to a charity chosen by the artists involved. The Artists Showcase Series was created and is produced by Geoffrey Soffer, who by day is the Coordinator of Casting for ABC Television Network in New York, and with an impressive background, he's no stranger to the world of entertainment.

In fact, he started out in the business performing as Gavroche with the First National Tour of Les Miserables. He later attended the University of Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music (along with classmates Leslie Kritzer, Sara Gettelfinger, and Shoshana Bean). After his sophomore year, Geoff moved to New York City, and realizing that performing wasn't fulfilling his ambitions, was advised to go into casting or producing. "I was always more interested in helping promote the talents of my friends rather than my own – coaching auditions, and giving advice" reminisced Geoff about his early days in New York, "and having been a theatre brat since childhood and being a sponge when it came to remembering actor's names, I was offered a Casting Assistant position at The Roundabout Theatre Company and then was promoted to Associate six months later."

It was at The Roundabout that Geoff began to find his niche, working with and helping nurture creative minds, and new talent. After working for other casting directors, and on educational programs for students, he was offered a position in the Casting Department at ABC, which provided the support and stability necessary to create the Artists Showcase Series. "I thought the industry could use an outlet that solely existed to help nurture and support talent - both new and established - something that wasn't driven by profit or making money – and that's where the idea to donate profits to charity came into the equation."

Max von Essen, Kirsten Rossi, Leo Ash Evens, Michael Hunsaker - "Ordinary Lives" from Easter Rising
Photo Credit: Ben Strothmann (www.benstrothmann.com)

The first presentation of The Artists Showcase Series was in January, 2004 - an in-concert reading of a new musical, "Easter Rising" with music and lyrics by Michael Arden. Michael will next be seen in BARE later this season and VAMPIRE LESTAT in 2005. What most of the world didn't know about Michael is that aside from acting, he is also a talented composer. While hearing some of Michael's music, Geoffrey hatched the idea for the Artists Showcase, and with "Easter Rising" as its first work, the series was born. " I had seen a concert at MAKOR about a year ago, and thought to myself, 'What a great venue for intimate music' said Michael Arden when asked to recall his memories of how the concert came together. "I was very excited when I learned that I was to be the first artist of this philanthropic and cutting edge series in such a great space."

Backstage at "Easter Rising"
(pictured l to r): Gavin Creel, Leo Ash Evens, Kirsten Rossi, Michael Arden, Max von Essen, Santino Fontana
Photo Credit: Ben Strothmann (www.benstrothmann.com)

The series helped Michael with the venue, all the backstage and front stage details, and in lining up a cast that included such performers as Gavin Creel, Matthew Morrison, Max von Essen, Eden Espinoza, Soshana Bean, Sara Gettelfinger along with many others. The end result? "Easter Rising" was a standing room only, acclaimed event, and the icing on the cake – proceeds benefited the Children Affected by AIDS foundation. And what long term results has the benefit had on Michael Arden's career? "It definitely made me visible as not only an actor in New York, but also as a new composer. I was commissioned to write new music for the EMBRACE benefit, as well as lend my music to other concerts/events as a direct result of the Showcase Series. Appearing in the series has also sparked interest for both commercial and non-commercial productions of my musical, EASTER RISING."

Leo Ash Evens, Matthew Morrison sing "Winds Will Blow" from Easter Rising
Photo credit: Ben Strothmann (www.benstrothmann.com)

In March of 2004, The Artists Showcase Series was ready to present its second concert, and this time looked present the works of a seasoned Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter – Julie Gold, known for writing such hit songs as "From a Distance." Gold, a staple in the New York cabaret community, has known Geoffrey Soffer all of his life so jumped at the chance when he presented the concept to her. "I knew it would be something respectable and good, because he wouldn't have it any other way. I've been to MAKOR in the past, and knew it was a great 'listening room' that I'd gladly play. I saw the first show in the series with Michael Arden, and every aspect of the show impressed me so I didn't have a moment's hesitation – it was truly top shelf." The evening benefited Camp Joseph and Betty Harlam's Chai Fund which will provide the opportunity for children to experience summer camp, who wouldn't necessarily be financially able to, and was another resounding success for the Showcase Series. "I did the gig for the love of music and performing, and my needs and expectations were totally satisfied – 100% fulfilling."

Julie Gold & Geoffrey Soffer @ "An Evening With Julie Gold"

Next up for The Artists Showcase Series is their newest production which will take place on Sunday April 4, 2004 @ 7:30pm, with "The Broadway Kitchen Sink: Volume One: Your Favorites Sing Their Favorites". Hosted by Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky (Rhapsody in Seth), The Broadway Kitchen Sink will feature: Anthony Rapp (Rent, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, "A Beautiful Mind"), Sarah Uriarte Berry (Taboo), David Burtka (Gypsy), Anita Gillette ("Boys on the Side", Mistress Mona in "Moonstruck"), Kate Shindle (Cabaret, Miss America 1998), Cary Shields (Rent, Taboo), Kristy Cates (Wicked, Boobs!), Lyn Philistine (Gypsy), Gina Philistine (Saturday Night Fever), Stephanie J. Block (The Boy From Oz), Sara Gettelfinger (Nine), Shoshana Bean (Hairspray), Don Stephenson (The Producers) and Emily Loesser (Titanic), and more – singing everything but the kitchen sink! Musical direction is by Matt Richardson.

When it comes to describing the Artists Showcase Series, Julie Gold summed it up best:

"A great room.
A great piano.
A receptive crowd.
New York City...
How much better can it get?"

Geoff credits the 92nd Street Y / Makor for use of their space as being a key ingredient. "They don't make a lot of money from us and I credit Stephen Hazan Arnoff for having the vision and letting me fly with everything." Looking to the future, he has high expectations for the project's continued growth as well. "It started as just an idea and it seems everyone has embraced it with open arms. There's talk of becoming a full-blown non-profit organization or theatre company. I've gotten calls from big Broadway producers about optioning events that we produce. We're taking everything though one step at a time, and the Artists Showcase Series is, and always will be, about creating, supporting, and nurturing artists."

Next up after the Kitchen Sink concert will be:

SUNDAY MAY 2, 2004 @ 7:30pm - "Suicide Weather" - A Play Reading
The Artists Showcase Series presents an All-Star reading of the new play by Jeff Whitty, the acclaimed young author of the hit Broadway musical AVENUE Q. "Suicide Weather" is a dark comedy that examines the relationship between members of a dysfunctional family - striving for normalcy. Directed by Jen Bender (Asst. Director of AVENUE Q).

After that will be an All-Star In Concert reading of FALSETTOS by William Finn and James Lapine (June 27, 2004). As always, proceeds from each concert will go to a charity determined by the artist.


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