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David Finkle

David Finkle

Posted: July 22, 2010 11:56 AM

First Nighter: From Scott Siegel's "Broadway Rising Stars" Some Will Rise, Some Fall, But Which?

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When the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical Company opened in 1970, Pamela Myers introduced the anxiety-ridden "Another Hundred People," which propulses unrelentingly about constant Manhattan arrivals hungry to make it here so they can make it anywhere--many, if not most, of them you can be sure aiming to make it in, what else?, show business.

Myers herself had barely landed in New York City when she was tapped for the classic Harold Prince-directed musical about sorry-grateful urban relationships. It's possible--though not recorded anywhere, so far as I know--that Sondheim wrote the song for Myers after hearing her tale of clicking so quickly against industry odds.

True to Sondheim's claim about staying or going, the hopeful hordes continue to arrive. Indeed, their persistence is honored yearly in Scott Siegel's "Broadway Rising Stars" evening as one part of his three-part Town Hall Summer Broadway Festival. This year's introduction of wannabes took place July 19 and included 22 participants who'd weathered auditions as students at places like the Tisch School of the Arts and the American Musical & Dramatic Academy.

The first thing to say about Siegel's evening is that there's something intrinsically, irrefutably wonderful about it. It's a joy to behold a stage full of youngsters who want to belt their hearts out on Broadway and off-Broadway stages or who maybe aspire these days to join the cast of Fox television's Glee.

One of the main reasons for cheering Siegel's undertaking is that there's been such an increasing belief over the last decades that the musical is an obsolescing art form. Granted, that may be reversing when so many American Idol contestants have thrived in musicals--and maybe even more so when the above-mentioned Glee promotes show scores weekly, along with inclusions from the Top 40.

The next thing that has to be said about this year's--or perhaps any year's--strutting-their-stuffers is that careers in show business are odd things, a result of talent, business savvy and luck. Predicting which of these kids will make it here and, by extrapolation, anywhere is a fool's game.

Though wordsmithing realist Sondheim insists some will stay and some will go away, which ones will do which is up in the air. Some of the most talented could go away, just as some of the less gifted (as they presented themselves this one particular night) may eventually topline a Great White Way extravaganza or front their own television series.

With that caveat expressed, let's skip past the night's also-rans with their vocal, personality and too-pronounced love-me-love-me-love glitches and concentrate on (some of) those who made the strongest initial impressions. Put Jennie Harney (whose dad is Dreamgirls original-cast bright-light Ben Harney) at the list's top. Cute, petite, swathed in a gorgeous purple gown, she did all sorts of supple maneuvers (maybe a few too many melismas) with the Dreamgirls anthem "I Am Changing." No surprise if she's working regularly soonest, as should be svelte and sexy Emmy Raver-Lampman--in her sultry and sexy sheath--with her version of that crowd-pleaser "Tomorrow." The same goes for appealingly zaftig Ellisha Marie Thomas, who in the first-act "Circle of Life" finale led the entire ensemble with enough heart and soul to the fuel a small country.

The prize for all-round entertainer goes to Matt Steele, who knew exactly how to wring every laugh and tear from Chicago's "Mr. Cellophane." Interesting how he made a song about not being noticed into an example of how to be noticed absolutely. Beauty-pageant honors go to Rebecca LaChance for whom something happened when she crooned "Nothing Really Happened." Similar nod to Erin Gorey, who made sure that the enormous obstacles facing her and her peers weren't forgotten by singing, yes, "Another Hundred People."

And take the case of wonderfully-named, sometime violinist Paris Nix. It's not that he out-sang everyone on the stage with "Night Song" from Golden Boy. It's just that with looks putting him in the Seal-Usher class, he could encounter a shrewd manager who'd have him unbutton his shirt a bit more in tribute to the young Harry Belafonte and bring forth, presto chango, a supper-club and concert cynosure.

Incidentally, it's not entirely a matter of how the gleeful (pun intended) cast performed. No small part of their individual turns relied on thoughtful, imaginative Scott Coulter's direction. He obviously had his hands full prepping all 22 for this debut. Nonetheless, had he even more time--though starting in March--he still couldn't have brought everyone to his or her full potential. Had he relied less on hand-held mikes, some of the youngsters might have felt freer to let go. And what can he do about wardrobe? There's no costume budget here--and some of the cast members knew better than others how to dress.

Bottom line? Top drawer.