Photo Credit: Kathy Keelan
A Showcase to Remember: Rutgers High School Musical Theater Students Take The Stage!
By Michael Gioia, Playbill, Inc.
The energy in the Loree Dance Theater was palpable as the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy students prepared to take the stage on Jan. 23 to showcase songs and performances they fine tuned for family and friends.
Prior to the 7 PM curtain, I met with the handful of young performers backstage. Each student was compelled to absorb as much information as possible about the theatre industry and learn more about “the biz” they one day hoped to be part of.
Alistair Williams, the program’s director, provided encouragement and words of wisdom before places were called and the students would hit the stage. They passed energy and positive vibes around the room–because, truly, what is theatre without love, support and friendship? The environment felt safe and exciting, and every student was viewed as an equal–no matter how talented or experienced they were prior to joining the program.
The company, dressed in Rutgers’ signature red and black colors, opened with “More,” a song from Ghost the Musical in which every cast member was given the opportunity to shine.
Lynsey Stanicki’s performance of “The Past Is Another Land” from Aida was next, and her confidence was completely captivating. Leah Jacoby and Jason Biss followed with “Alone in the Universe” from Seussical, a perfect fit for their voices and youthful dispositions.
Krista Hawkins commanded the stage with the Cabaret staple “Maybe This Time,” a nice contrast from the number that followed, “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun. Andrea Averilla and Hayden Verbanas’ re-imagined performance of that number was thrilling–the two contemporized the piece by having the company beat box around them as they rapped the lyrics and gave the number a fresh spin.
Rosalind Heim’s performance of “I Hear Bells” from Starting Here, Starting Now was a perfect transition. Her legit and classic performance was polished. The first act ended with a hilarious rendition of “Turn It Off” from The Book of Mormon. It was such a smart choice for the group of boys (who each nailed their comic timing): Jason Biss, Ryan Bogie, Christopher Chiong and Anthony LoGrande.
The second-act opening number, “A New World” from Songs for a New World, set the tone for a thrilling second half. The students flawlessly and effortlessly tackled the music of Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown–a task that is not easily done.
The duets in the second act were great fits for the students. “Young and Healthy” from 42nd Street was lighthearted and fun, with great performances from Ryan Bogie and Chelsea Chesney; and “Some Things Are Meant To Be” from Little Women was sweet and touching–it was wonderfully executed by Margaret DeLucia and Lynsey Stanicki.
The solo songs in the second act all proved to be 11-o’clock numbers. Lex Baldachino hit all of her comic marks in “Nothing” from A Chorus Line, even providing new character interpretations in parts. Nicollette Palombo (what a voice!) brought the house to tears with “With You” from Ghost. Anthony LoGrande belted his heart out in “Santa Fe” from Newsies, and Emily Gulden was just the right mix of quirky and funny in Joe Iconis’ “Blue Hair.”
The cast concluded with an energetic performance of “Freak Flag” from Shrek the Musical. It was exciting to see such a diverse group of performers fearlessly bare a part of their soul on stage. They were unafraid to let their Freak Flags fly, and their passion brought the audience to their feet.