Review - Broadway's Rising Stars: Welcome To The Theatre

"So what are you seeing next?" is a question I'm frequently asked and every year around this time when I answer, "Broadway's Rising Stars. It's a concert at Town Hall with recent college and theatre school graduates singing showtunes," I often get that look of pity that presumes that sitting through stuff like this is the price I pay for getting comps to see Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch in A Little Night Music.

But this annual centerpiece of Town Hall's Summer Broadway Festival, now in its fourth year, is a night I always look forward to. The talent is selected by the discerningly tasteful Scott and Barbara Siegel, who hand their fledglings over to director Scott Coulter, music director John Fischer and choreographer Vibecke Dahle for generous applications of professional polish. The 1,500 seat concert hall is packed with family and friends of the twenty-two youths, giving the event a celebratory atmosphere. But unlike certain televised talent shows, the artistry being celebrated here is one that demands intelligent lyric phrasing, solid character work and the ability to sing the damn notes the composers wrote. Many of these performers were recently handed diplomas as symbols of their scholastic achievements. At Town Hall they were handed the great songs of Broadway as tools for their future professional achievements.

As is always the case, some edges were rougher than others, but in the spirit of the event I prefer not to review any of these performances. Just to enjoy them.

There were plenty of leading men on hand to sing familiar favorites such as Jacob Smith ("This Is The Moment"), James Erickson ("Something's Coming"), Frank Francisco ("My Luck Is Changing") and Paris Nix ("Night Song"). Funnier fare was supplied by Matt Steele (Mr. Cellophane") and Jeff Raab ("There Is A Sucker Born Every Minute").

The varied female voices included belty (and comical) Brooke Schlosser's "Gimme Gimme," Emily Iaquinta steaming up the place with her jazz vocals for "Mr. Monotony," Emmy Raver-Lampman show that optimism never grows old with "Tomorrow," and Meredith Lustig putting her opera training to fine use with an unamplified "Climb Every Mountain." Jennie Harney, whose father, Ben Harney, won a Best Actor Tony Award for Dreamgirls, honored her parentage by singing that score's "I Am Changing."

Jerry Herman's wonderful score for Mack and Mabel was represented by both Danielle Columbo ("Wherever He Ain't") and Laura Darrell ("Time Heals Everything") while Carolyn Amaradio's unamplified rendering of Phantom of the Opera's "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" was followed by Stephen Lukas' "Til I Hear You Sing," from that musical's current West End sequel, Love Never Dies.

Erin Gorey and Brad Giovanine tackled a pair of tricky Stephen Sondheim pieces ("Another Hundred People" and "Everybody Says Don't," respectively), while introspective lyrics were explored by PJ Verica ("Millwork") and Rebecca LaChance ("Nothing Really Happened").

Jennie McGuiness tap danced with her backup boys to "I Got Rhythm," then took the stage for a step-dancing solo turn. Jessica Wagner had a stageful of singers and dancers behind her as she jubilantly sang "Good Morning, Baltimore," but Ellisha Marie Thomas, singing lead for "Circle of Life," stood on stage alone as the rest of the company, placed throughout the audience, responded to her calls before parading to the front (sans puppetry) for a striking finish to the first act.

As is his custom, Scott Siegel introduced each performer with stories about their young careers. As the evening went on, it was interesting to note how many of these stories included parents who never hesitated to support their children's dreams of working on the stage. I suppose in today's economy, pursuing a life in show business is no more risky than any other career path.

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Jennie McGuiness; Bottom: Frank Francisco

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From This Author Ben Peltz