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Review: 2021 Triangle Rising Star Awards

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Review: 2021 Triangle Rising Star Awards

In 2016 and 2017, I had the great pleasure of attending the Triangle Rising Star Awards at the Durham Performing Arts Center. In 2018 and 2019, I wasn't able to do so due to other commitments I had when they were being held. Last year, the 10th annual show was set to take place on May 28th with former American Idol runner-up, Broadway alum, and Raleigh native Clay Aiken serving as guest host. However, the COVID-19 pandemic (which took full swing in March of 2020) ended up forcing DPAC to suspend performances until further notice. Though this year, the Triangle Rising Star Awards have returned (albeit, virtually), and I was able to tune in from the comfort of my home.

This regional competition brings together high school musical theater students from Central and Eastern North Carolina to perform and compete for the chance to represent the Triangle in The National High School Musical Theater (otherwise known as The Jimmy) Awards in New York City on July 15th. The national competition celebrates outstanding student performances in high school musical productions from all over the United States. This year, over 100 students from 37 local high schools submitted applications in the hopes of being selected as a Triangle Rising Stars' Top 20 finalist.

The show began with a very uplifting rendition of the finale from Avenue Q, 'For Now', which even rewrote some of the lyrics to make it more suitable for today as the whole world is slowly coming out of this pandemic. Then, each of the 20 finalists took turns performing truncated renditions of the songs they chose to sing. What is worth noting about their selections is that they weren't based on the roles they performed in their high school productions. Which is pretty much due to a number of schools from all over the country being unable to produce big musical productions this past year because of the pandemic.

As for how everyone's performances turned out, I thought they all did very well. Although some of my favorite highlights included Apex Friendship High School's Valentina Fernandez Escalona as Nina in In The Heights; Heritage High School's Jackson Donahoe as Radames in Aida; Penn Griffin School of the Arts' Madison Barrier as Alyssa Greene in The Prom; Heritage High School's Trinity Turner as Aida in Aida; Raleigh Charter High School's Hanna Richman as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera; RJ Reynolds High School's I'zaah Gray-Jones as Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar; Heritage High School's Thomas Halik as Usnavi in In The Heights; Wayne School of Engineering's Kate Ragan as Cathy Hiatt in The Last Five Years; Cary Academy's Alex Lim as Paul in The Theory of Relativity; and East Forsyth High School's Vivian Waye as Woman 2 in Edges.

Once all 20 finalists finished performing, we the (virtual) audience got ourselves a little treat. Returning from the 2019 competition were winners Ben Eble and Haven Bowers, where they both got to perform a stunning rendition of 'I'd Give It All for You' from Songs for a New World. After that, the two of them got a moment to reflect on their experiences of not only competing at the Triangle Rising Star Awards two years ago, but also the Jimmy Awards as well.

Then, we got to the live portion of the show. Host Clay Aiken (who also served as one of the judges) introduced the 20 finalists one more time. The two winners were revealed to be St. David's School's Joshua Messmore and Durham School of the Arts' Elena Holder. Messmore, who performed as Laurie in Little Women, sang 'Take a Chance on Me' (not the ABBA song that was used in Mamma Mia!). It seemed like a very appropriate song for the moment as the people who selected Joshua to compete really did take a chance on him. Then, the judges took their chance when they voted him as the Best Actor. Holder, who performed as The Witch in Into the Woods, sang 'Last Midnight'. That song may not have been the (pun intended) last song that was performed on the show, but her rendition of that Stephen Sondheim number was very outstanding.

To Joshua Messmore and Elena Holder, I'd like to wish the two of you to break a leg at the Jimmy Awards in New York this summer! Win or lose, you never know what may end up coming out of that experience. Although previous Triangle Rising Star Award winners have gone on to receive some pretty high profile acting gigs. English Bernhardt, who won Best Actress in 2014, was able to catch the attention of a casting director in the audience during the Jimmy Awards who would later cast her in a workshop/lab of what was this at the time new musical that was in the works called Dear Evan Hansen. Through that experience, director Michael Greif went on to cast English in the ensemble of the If/Then national tour. Most recently, she was the standby for three different roles in the national tour of Mean Girls. Not to mention that Ainsley Seiger, who won Best Actress in 2016, can now be seen as a series regular on Law & Order: Organized Crime, which was just renewed for season two. Though with that being said, no matter what happens at this year's Jimmy Awards, I'm sure both of you will have a great time. Just be sure to go into that competition, give it your all, and make the Triangle area proud.

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From This Author - Jeffrey Kare