BWW Review: Talent Overflows in the Broadway Star of the Future Showcase at the Straz Center's Ferguson Hall, Hosted by Eric Petersen
If you want proof that the Tampa Bay area high school theatre departments not only can go neck and neck with other theatre departments anywhere, but actually surpass them, then make sure to attend the next Broadway Star of the Future showcase. Some of the best talent you will ever experience is on display. This year, 43 high school productions (36 of which were musicals) and 700 participants from 31 schools from as far south as Naples and as far north as New Port Richey had been adjudicated beforehand. And two young performers would be chosen to represent the area by going to New York City later this summer and vie for the prestigious Jimmy Awards, but more about that later.
This year's rollicking showcase was held in the Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, June 2nd. Broadway's Eric Petersen, a veritable Geek God, hosted and even got to strut his own talents with a heartfelt rendition of "Who I'd Be" from Shrek. Petersen played Shrek on its first National Broadway tour that rolled into Tampa years ago, and in this auditorium overflowing with teenage talent, he showed the youngsters how it's done.
But then, during the rest of the program, the kids got to show Mr. Petersen how it's done as well. The word showcase really applies here because these amazingly talented youths got to showcase--show off--their talents to a wowed audience. No one emerged from the Ferguson unmoved.
Petersen's co-host was last year's Broadway Star of the Future winner, the enchanting Emily Escobar.
At the start of the show, the orchestra from Gibbs High School jolted us awake with their overture from A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. The ceremony then got off to a literal bang with all of the finalists in various individual categories singing "My Shot" from Hamilton. The performers filled the stage and the aisles, singing their hearts out with this gut-punch ode to rising up, and the energy rarely let up from there.
Alonso High School's theatre department proved its stellar reputation with a medley from its bouncy, joyous Pippin, which I was honored to see and review last April. The incredible Makenna Kirsch as the Leading Player strutted her stuff and once again taught the rest of us a lesson in how to own a stage.
This was followed by A Midsummer Night's Dream monologues from the Newsome High School production, featuring Robert Kelley, Sarah Romero and Abby Almond. Kelley's and Romero's monologues, as Lysander and Helena respectively, were fine, but it's Almond's Bottom that brought down the house. In the Pyramus death scene, Almond's Bottom kept dying, and dying, and dying some more, and would wait for applause to die again. It took forever but it was brilliant. Rarely has a death been so much fun to watch.
The cast of Tampa Prep's It Shoulda Been You served the show well, but microphone issues here and in some other cases (was every soloist able to don a mic?) got in the way. And this particular number--where the bride ends up with the maid of honor and the groom winds up with the best man--needs to be seen in context of the entire musical to experience its full effect.
The first three (out of six) Best Actor finalists are about as good as it gets. Deshawn McClinton, with his strong vocals and commanding stage presence, broke hearts with his beautiful "No More" from Blake High School's Into the Woods. Lithe but intense Tyler Hostler-Mathis showed the definition of swagger with his hellacious "Raise A Little Hell" from Tampa Prep's Bonnie & Clyde. And wide-eyed Jacob Atkins from Alonso was a perfect Pippin with his powerful vocals in "Corner of the Sky."
Then came Mary Poppins, this year's musical entry from the wildly successful drama program at Palm Harbor University High School. What a treat! The incredible Sarah Duren was as lovely a Mary as we would ever see, with glorious vocals hitting notes you didn't even know were there, and the entire ensemble exuded professionalism and verve. But it was Chris Loving who stole the whole number. During "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," the stage may have been filled to the brim with Palm Harbor performers, but we couldn't help but watch the charismatic and crazily talented Mr. Loving.
The first three of the Best Actress finalists--Alondra Rois, Senna Prasatthong-osath and Morgan Tapp--were incredible singers. Ms. Prasatthong-osath of Shorecrest Prep in particular shone as the best Cinderella I've seen with her number, "In My Own Little Corner." It was filled with zest, wonder, strength and hope--everything we want from this iconic character.
Perhaps the strongest scene of the night belonged to Palm Harbor University High School, whose Diary of Anne Frank could rival many professional productions. This was a powerful piece of theatre, and you could hear a pin drop during it. Once again, there was Chris Loving, this time as Mr. Frank, a part in every way opposite of Bert from Mary Poppins, proving a versatility rarely seen and making us, the audience, feel lucky that we are witnessing a true talent where nothing, not even the sky, is the limit.
Steinbrenner High School brought it's A-game to the proceedings with a boisterous, rousing rendition of "Cell Block Tango" from their to-die-for production of Chicago. Daniel Cusimano and especially Christian Torres, from East Lake High, tore up the stage with their outstanding performances in dramatic scenes from 's All My Sons.
The rest of the Best Actor in a Musical finalists--Jaden Waz, Brendann Chumpitazi, and Chris Loving--performed songs from Chicago, The Putnam County Spelling Bee and Mary Poppins. All were strong, but Loving's "Jolly Holiday" was a stunner, completing his parade of versatility--joy here matched with the despair in the earlier Anne Frank scene. Watching him on that stage, the audience surely wondered: Is there anything, any type of show, that this young actor cannot do well? At times the showcase seemed like "The Chris Loving Show," and the standing ovation after "Jolly Holiday" was rightfully earned.
The three remaining Best Actress finalist were just as strong: Makenna Kirsch with a glorious "Glory" from Pippin; Madalyn Macko performing "Get Out and Stay Out" from Riverview High's 9 to 5: The Musical for all its worth; and Liberty Mack as Muzzy belting her way through "Only in New York" from Osceola Fundamental's Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Shorecrest's Cinderella medley, incorporating all grades, was another highlight of the showcase. The vocals, especially from a male quartet at the start, were stupendous. And "There Is Music in You" never sounded better. It was tight, gorgeously staged, sensationally directed, and made me quite sad that I missed what was obviously a stunning production.
Scholarship awards in the amount of $500 went to Taylor Tarver, so brilliant as Velma in Steinbrenner's Chicago, and the audience-favorite Tyler Hostler-Mathis from Tampa Prep's Bonnie & Clyde.
Suzanne Livesay, Patel Conservatory's Vice President of Education, announced the recipient of Best Actor and Best Actress, the two who would head off to New York for a life-changing summer: Palm Harbor's Chris Loving and Shorecrest's Senna Prasatthong-osath. They were chosen by adjudicators before the ceremonies based on their work in their shows, auditions and rehearsals. But judging simply by their performances in this showcase, both Loving and Prasatthong-osath certainly deserved the trip to New York to earn that coveted Jimmy Award.
Although last year's ceremony was certainly fun, I preferred this year's; it was tighter, faster paced and with even better performances. The hard-working faculty of the Patel Conservatory took the podium throughout the proceedings to announce the finalists in each category. (Once again, Matthew McGee stole the show in his brief, but funny instant.) The entire showcase was warm, entertaining, and as its name suggests, "showcased" the students to look their very best. Only the closing number, "Tonight Belongs to You" from The Prom, did not succeed. Once again featuring the entire group of finalists, it just seemed ragged, thrown together quickly, without the excellence that we had seen prior.
But seeing these students--the best in our area, the best anywhere--shine on stage will rejuvenate the soul. Don't worry about this up-and-coming generation. They are on it. They are bouncing with energy, talent and character. If you see some of these high school shows, then you already know: The future of our arts, our country, is in good hands.