Eye on Theatre: Star Gazing By JOHN SIMON

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Simon_John-pencil drawing SIMON_RisingStars2 Broadway’s Rising Stars—now in it’s fifth year as part of Town Hall’s Summer Series—just gets better and better. It’s a showcase for young performers to sing a number from a musical as a rung on the ladder to becoming better known as musical-comedy performers. This year, Town Hall’s artistic director Lawrence Zucker and creator/writer/host Scott Siegel along with Barbara Siegel and stage director Scott Coulter found young talent from Australia
Korea and (yes) Brooklyn!

SIMON_RisingStars1 Opening the show, the entire company of 19 recent graduates from performing arts schools around the country dazzled with “One” from A CHORUS LINE—doing choreography by Vibecke Dahle that referenced the original iconic Michael Bennett version.

Australian Philippa Lynas movingly sang “On My Own” from LES MISERABLES. She came to New York City on a once in a lifetime trip with her parents and saw Patti LuPone in GYPSY from the front row.  Philippa determined at that point to come to New York and sing on Broadway.

Esther Kong presented a sweet rendition of “Part of Your World” from LITTLE MERMAID.  One of two performers from Seoul, Korea—Ms. Kong was a delight.

Graham Bailey, from West Virginia, became interested in musical theatre because he loved the show PETER PAN.  His diction was flawless in performing “Finishing the Hat,” a demanding Stephen Sondheim song from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE —no small feat!

A graduate of NYU, Jeanette Monson—who originally hails from Milwaukee, gave a spirited performance of the classic “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Petite Morgan Billings Smith, who was on Broadway as a youngster in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, performed “The Trolley Song” with terrific animation and tap danced to boot! At intermission, the distinguished comedienne/singer Marilyn Michaels commented to me that she was especially impressed with Ms. Smith. 

A young man who worked for years at Sea World, swimming with dolphins and the like, came out with a low bass on “Sixteen Tons.” His powerful rendition gave new meaning to the expression, “how low can you go?                                                                                                                                              

Elegant and sophisticated Tristan Morris and all the male singers set forth with a rousing “Into the Fire” from SCARLET PIMPERNEL.

Most people associate the song “Being Alive” with a male singer, but female Amanda Savan, a recent grad from NYU landed it with heartwarming authority.

One never gets tired of the wonderful score of RAGTIME, and Kyle Scatliffe, who recently won the Lotte Lenya Competition’s Lys Symonette Award, did not disappoint with his rendition of “Make Them Hear You.”

A great ensemble number from the songbook musical ALL SHOOK UP closed Act One. Tristan Morris, Graham Bailey and Kevin Mueller and Company brought the house down with “C’mon Everybody.”

Bringing everyone back into a show from their intermission break is always a challenge and Marymount Manhattan College grad Courtney Simmons didn’t disappoint with “Nobody’s Side” from CHESS—sung with her cast mates. Her warm mezzo positively soared.

Housso Semon, dressed in dazzling bright yellow, gave a moving performance of “Easy to Be Hard” from HAIR.  Maybe she will follow in the footsteps of Emmy Raver Lampman—a “Rising Star” from last summer who is now in the Broadway cast of the show.

Jason Gotay gave a thoughtful performance of “Out There” from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.   Mr. Gotay already has professional credits, having appeared twice as “Angel” in RENT.

A song first performed by Karen Morrow to great acclaim—“I Had a Ball” was given a rousing performance by Mary Lane Haskell.  It’s always fun to hear a young artist perform an enjoyable song that—otherwise—might be forgotten.

Anthony Ramos Martinez hit a snag when he totally “went up” on his lyrics to the song “Nothing” from A CHORUS LINE.  He charmingly asked to begin again and still went up on his lyrics—but he was so delightful as a personality that it scarcely mattered.

Singing from FUNNY GIRL, Blair Goldberg gave a tangy rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”  Ms. Goldberg will be seen later this year in the much anticipated CARRIE at MCC.

A highlight of the evening was definitely Alex Goley singing—and acting–“Mama Says” from FOOTLOOSE.  A young Bobby Morse with charm to spare, Mr. Goley earned his encore.

Another highlight for me was the lovely South Korean Gyu Jin Lim singing “I’d Give My Life for You” from MISS SAIGON. Beautiful, charming and exquisitely musical, she should go far.

A second selection from RAGTIME was performed with gusto by Paul Pontrelli.  It was interesting to hear “Wheels of a Dream” without Sarah’s portion of the song, but he made it just fine as a solo.

Maltby and Shire’s CLOSER THAN EVER is a treasure trove of material and Kiarri D. Andrews gave it his all in “If I Sing.”

All good things must come to an end and as Scott Siegel, as host and narrator, movingly reminded us how hard it is these days to have a career in musical theatre—the entire cast of 19—led by Courtney Simmons, Jason Gotay, Paul Pontrelli, Mary Lane Haskell, Blair Goldberg and Kyle Scatliffe closed the evening with “The Impossible Dream.”

The superb Musical Direction for the performance was by John Fischer, who is on the faculty of American Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Be sure to catch the last Town Hall summer offering:  ALL SINGIN’ ALL DANCIN’ on July 25 at 8PM.

John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review,New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.

To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com

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eHeziEye on Theatre: Star Gazing By JOHN SIMON

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