Rest assured, there will be no shortage of talent for Broadway in the near future. That was proven once again last night (July 22) by the outstanding array of performers in the 13th annual edition of “Broadway’s Rising Stars” presented by The Town Hall in the series created, written, directed and hosted by Scott Siegel. This year’s contingent of 19 showed a remarkable array of newly discovered ability culled from auditions of students of leading schools and reflecting geographical diversity from various parts of the United States and even from abroad. Many past participants have gone on to achieve successful careers on Broadway and in other show business venues.
Siegel scored a coup for this show’s finale with the appearance of Ali Stroker, who was a Broadway Rising Star 10 years ago, and came to tell what being chosen then meant for her self-esteem and future. She saluted the newcomers with a heartfelt speech of encouragement. Injured as a child, she is an example for everyone to pursue a dream with never giving up. Stroker has achieved award-wining acclaim for her performance as Ado Annie in the Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!.” Customarily seated in her wheelchair, after her speech she impressively tore into the same song she sang as a Rising Star, “Be a Lion” from “The Wiz.” Stroker was backed by the show’s entire company for the very meaningful conclusion celebrating newly discovered talent.
Many of the songs that were chosen to display particular strengths of the performers symbolically dealt with themes involving success in life or show biz. Participants clearly appreciated their moments in the spotlight and were greeted with loud applause from student colleagues, friends and family members. It was a night to individually shine after the collective opening number by the entire company singing “Unstoppable” from “Tootsie,” certainly a well-chosen proclamation.
I take pleasure in introducing each one of the 2019 Rising Stars in alphabetical order:
Gabrielle Baker, a recent graduate from Wagner College, vigorously sang “If You Knew My Story” from “Bright Star,” a number that showed off both her strong voice and her passionate interpretation of the lyrics.
Jack Brinsmaid, a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts who also studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute and the New Studio on Broadway, was first on the bill showing his vocal power and technique with “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin.”
Christopher Brian, a recent graduate of the University of Miami, scored with the complex “Museums,” written by Steven Lutvak, in a performance especially appreciated y the audience.
John W. Dicaro, a recent Marymount Manhattan College grad, turned on the heat with an impassioned rendition of “Once in a Lifetime” from “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.”
A special treat turned out to be the appearance of twin brothers John Drinkwater and Matthew Drinkwater. Both are recent Wagner College graduates. They exuded compatibility, singing “Agony” from “Into the Woods” in the first act, and then returning in the second act to duet charmingly again with “For Good” from “Wicked.”
Mara Friedman, a recent grad from NYU Steinhardt, flashed plenty of appealing sparkle singing “Electricity” from “Billy Elliot: The Musical.”
Brian J. Gabriel, from Circle in the Square, dynamically lit into “Make Me a Song” from “Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn.” The choice was an excellent one to display his particular gifts.
Adan V. Gallegos, who graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), showcased his impressive vocal and lyric ability with the challenging “I’ll Imagine You a Song,” by Carol Hall and Steven Lutvak.
Esmeralda Garza, from Webster University, passionately sang “You There in the Back Row” from “13 Days to Broadway,” and in a sense summarized what the show was all about as she dramatized the number’s fervent call for recognition.
Jonathan Heller, from NYU Steinhardt, abetted by Gabrielle Baker and the entire company, provided a rousing first act closing with “Make Our Garden Grow” from “Candide.” In the second act he also showed his skill with “Flight,” a song by Craig Carnelia.
Victoria Kemp, also a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, roused the audience with her superb voice and terrific stage presence singing a vibrant “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”
Bettina Lobo, an actress and singer from Venezuela, provided pizzazz opening the second act, along with the entire company, with “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” She graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and also received a degree from The New School.
Tyler McCall, another AMDA alumnus, who hails from Arizona, was impressive with a very individual, crystal clear and forthright style singing “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.”
Albert Nelthropp, who graduated from Wagner College’s Theatre Performance Program, chose well in singing “At the Fountain” from “Sweet Smell of Success,” which showed off both his vocal strength and stage personality.
Cameron Nies, a graduate of Pace University, with a commanding voice, reached into “Smokey Joe’s Café” to provide a hit delivery with the number “On Broadway,” yet another tie-in to the theme of the night.
Luana Psaros, a grad of NYU Tisch School of the Arts New Studio on Broadway, really hit it big taking on the iconic “I’m the Greatest Star” from “Funny Girl.” She sang it as if it were already true, making the interpretation excitingly her own, not a copy of Streisand.
Jacob Roberts-Miller, a graduate of Pace University, firmly took his place among those with stalwart male voices, vigorously singing the difficult “Taking the Wheel” by John Bucchino.
Didi Romero, who was born and grew up in Puerto Rico and then graduated from AMDA, added another dimension to the program with her smart rendition of “My Simple Christmas Wish,” a not-so-simple number by David Friedman.
Host Scott Siegel gave very personal introductions for each performer, including details about family background and achievements thus far. All have had various levels of experience as they moved toward fulfilling their ambitions, some from performing early as youngsters, some in various school or regional productions.
The staging had its customary professional aura. Musical director John Fischer was at the piano leading the band, with Jerry DeVore on bass and Zak Eldridge on drums. Sue Delano choreographed and Bill Daugherty was vocal coach. Others involved in putting the show together included Roger Keene, stage manager, Rick Hinkson, assistant director and assistant stage manager, with Joe Burke and Holly Cruz as production assistants. Siegel added in the course of his thank you comments that his wife, Barbara Siegel, was invaluable overall and particularly helpful in assisting in the casting selections and in lyric interpretation. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed July 23, 2019.