Attention all DC area casting directors – here are ten young actors, some of them great athletes, some great dramatic actors, some great singers, and some who are very funny, whose performances in recent local productions made audiences swoon with delight. Need a young actor for your show? Consider auditioning these ten talented future stars.
My real passion is to attend, watch, promote, and write about our local up-and-coming actors. When I attend a production at Act Two, Musical Theater Center, The Theatre Lab School of Dramatic Arts, and our local universities, it never fails that a young, talented actor/singer steals the spotlight from his/her co-stars. It’s so exciting to be introduced to an unknown talent and to write about him/her. With so many out of town actors filling up our local productions, there’s a fear among local actors that they need to leave our area to find work, and unfortunately, may of them have moved away. So let’s put these talented local actors to work on our stages, and let’s keep them here at home entertaining us for many years to come.
Ryan Burke as Jamie Wellerstein, in The Last Five Years at Kensington Arts Theatre.
I saw Ryan for the first time as the left foot-spelling William Barfee in Montgomery College’s hysterical production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and loved his performance so much that I named him a “Scene Stealer”. When I heard from my friends at Kensington Arts Theatre that they had cast Ryan as the usually unlikeable Jamie Wellerstein, I was ecstatic. If anyone could sing the heck out of Jason Robert Brown’s gorgeous score it was Ryan, and that’s exactly what he did. His rendition of “Moving Too Fast” was funny. His “If I Didn’t Believe in You” was heartbreaking and beautiful. But it was his rendition of the very long – over 7 minutes – “The Schmuel Song” that made the audience really cheer.
I’ve seen more productions of this show than I have fingers and toes – and I have rarely heard or seen anyone playing Jamie enunciate each lyric and lure the audience into the story of this song. Audiences are usually confused about what’s happening in the story of Schmuel – but here, Ryan’s singing and acting and storytelling ‘sold’ it. I was sitting with members of Ryan’s family on Opening Night – and one of his relatives said to me, “It’s not fair that a 19 year-old has so much confidence and talent”. He’s right. I wish someone would raise the money to record Ryan’s gorgeous vocals from the show.
The Last Five Years has two performances remaining – this Friday and Saturday – March 18th and 19th at 8 PM. Purchase tickets here.
When I was told by Act Two’s Artistic Director Kevin Kuchar that Act Two was becoming part of The Levine School of Music, to be called Act Two @ Levine, I was so happy that the Act Two performers would be surrounded by talented musicians and performers from Levine, and that the Levine students would be able to learn from Act Two’s seasoned performers. And I knew that some of Levine’s exceptional musicians would fill their productions’ orchestra pit. It was a match made in heaven.
When I saw Act Two @ Levine’s first joint production of Les Misérables, Abigail Adler, appearing in her first production with Act Two, played the dying Fantine. When she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” it was jaw-dropping. It was beautiful and powerful and haunting and there many tears flowing in the audience. (Watch Abigail sing an excerpt from “I Dreamed a Dream” here). When I heard that Abigail was playing Mother in my favorite musical, Ragtime, I looked forward to hearing her sing Mother’s 11:00 number “Back to Before”. Abigail’s rendition was emotional and powerful and the audience went crazy. I can’t wait to see her perform again in future productions.
Lillian Buonocore as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls
You have to be a well-trained soprano to sing Frank Loesser’s songs that he wrote for the character Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls – and 13 year-old 8th grader Lillian Buonocore sang them with ease. She hit all the high notes effortlessly and beautifully. Her singing on ‘I’ll Know” was simply stunning. “If Were a Bell”- which she has to sing while acting drunk -brought many laughs from the audience, but it was her duet “Marry the Man Today” with the talented Annika Cowles – who played the ever-sneezing Adelaide – that drew the loudest applause.
It’s not easy playing an overly assertive ultra-religious Salvation Army souls-saver who has to sing some of the most beautiful songs ever written for musical theatre – but Lillian pulled it off. She was one helluva doll!
Sam Cummins as Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Musical Theater Center.
For me, Sam’s performance as the speller – who just happens to get into the Spelling Bee because the winner and first runner-up of his regional Spelling Bee had to go to the winner’s Bat Mitzvah – was simply brilliant. I have always loved Leaf Coneybear since I saw Spelling Bee in NYC at Circle in the Square. In case you haven’t seen it, Leaf makes his own colorful clothes – his former hippie family taught him well. Sam’s performance was one of the best musical performances I’ve seen on local stages. I loved his quirkiness, his ‘look’ and every time he spelled his words while in a trance – it was hysterical!
You have to grab the ‘sympathy’ and the hearts of the audience right away or your Leaf becomes a ‘schlemiel’- someone you laugh at – and not laugh with. Sam grabbed the audience right away and held them in the palm of his hand. I mean – here’s the speller who keeps having to spell South American rodents with crazy names – and he gets them right – until he spells one wrong. His facial reactions when he got one rodent after another to spell – were priceless. In his song, “I’m Not That Smart”, Leaf sang about his family thinks he was “not that smart,” but it’s really that he was always easily distracted. It’s a funny and poignant song and Sam’s rendition of it drew a lot of laughs and sighs and applause and smiles from me and the appreciative audience. Let me spell it out for you Sam – you were F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!
Josh Kaufmann as Tateh, in Ragtime at Act Two @ Levine.
It was Josh Kaufmann’s final performance with Act Two @ Levine because he is a senior at Winston Churchill High and is about to leave for college. I have seen so many of Josh’s performances at Act Two and some at Churchill, and what I have always admired about Josh is that he always put his heart and soul into every performance. He’s charming and loving, a great dancer, and always lights up the stage with his bright smile. So when I was informed that Josh was playing Tateh in Ragtime as his farewell performance, I was so happy and confident that he would play the role of immigrant-turned-movie director with great passion and joy. And, I’ll be honest, I was thrilled that this nice Jewish guy was playing this nice Jewish immigrant.
And it was Josh’s love for his family and heritage that oozed out of his pores as he poured his heart into his performance as Tateh. His rendition of “Gliding” was so beautiful and heartwarming – sung to his daughter played by 10 year-old Paige Bean. That song always gets to me, and I shed a lot of tears while Josh sang it. His ‘Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.” was filled with self-confidence and joy. But it was the duet “My Children”, sung with Mother played by Abigail Adams (See above), that was the highlight of the show for me. It was so moving and their two voices harmonized with such hope and optimism.
Act Two won’t be the same without you Josh. I wish you lots of mazel (good luck) as you ‘journey on”.
– I recorded a podcast with the colorful Josh after he played Joseph in a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Act Two in 2007. Listen here, and read the article about Joseph… here.
– Read about Josh’s ‘Scene Stealing’ duet sung with Devin Wrigley singing “With Whatever Time We Have” in Children of Eden at Act Two here.
– Read about Josh’s performance as Flute – the Bellows Mender in Act Two’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream here.
– Watch a short video of a rehearsal of Ragtime here.
Noah Kieserman as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls at Musical Theater Center.
The little kid with the sweet tenor voice and charm-to-spare, who I watched in many shows at Musical Theatre Center (‘MTC’) and Singular Sensations, is now 14. Noah is a freshman at Sherwood High School, and is taller than me. Performing and attending MTC since third grade, Noah appeared with his talented brother Hunter in many MTC productions. I knew that I would see Noah graduate to lead roles, and his funny and heart-tugging performances as The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and Cogsworth in Beauty And the Beast confirmed that one day he’d make a great Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. And, lo and behold, there he was – this handsome and suave performer playing the cunning, gambling, dice-rolling Sky Masterson.
Composer/lyricist Frank Loesser wrote some great songs for Sky and Noah delivered them in his usual beautiful tenor. His rendition of “My Time of Day’ sounded like a young Harry Connick, and “Luck Be a Lady” was full of fun and yearning (for a winning dice roll). I’m looking forward to seeing Noah in many more MTC shows in the future.
Ian Pedersen as The Little Prince in The Little Prince at The Ambassador Theater.
With brother Sean, (who recently played the brat Mordred in Synetic Theater’s splashy King Arthur) Ian Pedersen make up one of the most talented brother-combos on DC area stages. I just saw Ian bounce around with Sean in Synetic Theater’s teen production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where he played Theseus and Starvling. I didn’t know Ian was that funny and athletic until I saw him play these roles last weekend. What I did know is that Ian is one of the most mature and talented young actors I have seen on the stage. I first watched him ‘steal’ a production of The Full Monty from a group of actors at Reston Community Players. I couldn’t believe this little kid had done that, so I named him a ‘Scene Stealer’. I learned later that Ian had performed with Helen Mirren in National Theatre of London’s production of Phedre, where he played Phedre’s son, and appeared in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Boy in the Imaginary Invalid.
And Ian, like Sean, is a student of Lilia Slavova, Drama Director and Resident Puppet Director of Synetic Family Theater’s Studio, and who is one helluva Drama Coach. That explains why Ian feels so comfortable on the stage.
Lilia has also trained June Schreiner who wowed local audiences with her energetic performance as Ado Annie in Arena Stage’s production of Oklahoma! (Rumor is that June will revive her role this July-October when the show returns for a second run).
When I received several emails from Lilia that I had to come see Ian in The Little Prince at the new Ambassador Theater, I rearranged my schedule so I could attend the final performance. Ian performed the role of the mysterious Little Prince with royal elegance and warmth and you fell in love with him and his rose instantly. It was a beautiful performance – sometimes anger and sometimes silence, but always elegant and very human.
– Watch video clips of Ian in The Little Prince and an interview with Director Lilia Slavova here.
Chris Rudy in I Left My Heart, A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia.
Could a 23 year-old really get into the music of legendary singer, swinger Tony Bennett? Well Chris Rudy snapped his fingers and sang his heart out in Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of I Left My Heart… The audiences roared their approval as Chris delivered bouncy, toe-tapping renditions of The American Songbook classics “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “That Old Black Magic” and “Lullaby of Broadway” and slower, moving takes on “You Must Believe in Spring”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, and “Where Do I Begin-The (film) Love Story Theme”.
He was great singing and kibitzing with the audience (he reminded me of a young Jerry Lewis) filled with beaucoup energy, warmth, and lots of heart. The best is yet to come for Chris Rudy. I’m sure Tony Bennett would have approved!
Misha Ryjik as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (A Teen Production) at Synetic Theater.
I kept asking myself, “Who is this kid? Where did they find him?” Before the teen production of A Midsummer… began I was schmoozing with the parents in the lobby and Misha’s mom came up to me – pointed to her son’s picture on the wall, and said, “You’re gonna love my son!” And she was absolutely right. Misha’s performance as Lysander was hysterical! Here was this little guy – 13 years-old – bouncing all over the stage and standing up to and dancing and rolling around with his ‘taller’ co-stars and making the audience howl with laughter. I was sitting with the adult cast of Synetic’s recent revival of A Midsummer… and they were applauding and laughing and cheering Misha on. What an experience that was sitting with these actors I admire so much and being a member of the Misha cheerleading team! The audience fell in love with Misha and I can’t wait to see what he does next on the stage.
This was the first ‘teen production’ that Synetic has mounted and the cast was made up of local talents – June Schreiner, Brittany O’Grady, Gwendolyn Torrence, Carly Greenfield, Maria-Sophia F. Martin, Natalie Little, Ansley Sherwin, Emily Whitworth, Jade Uyeda-Trackman, Rachel Ulmer, Morgan Vaughan, as well as Ian and Sean Pedersen, Vato Tsikurishvili and Misha.
The amazing thing is that Director and Assistant Directors Ryan Sellers, Alex Mills, and Ben Cunis only had four weeks to put it all together, and what a wonderful production they created. Bravo to the cast and everyone involved! Let’s do some more teen productions soon.
– Take a look here at pictures of the young cast and a wonderful picture of Paata and Anna I took after the show.
– Watch a preview video of Synetic Theater’s recent ‘adult revival’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Vato Tsikurishvili as Egeus and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (A Teen Production) at Synetic Theater.
Vato has had an incredible year – appearing in Synetic Theater productions including playing the intense and splashing Lancelot in King Arthur, appearing in the ensemble of Othello, and doing some backflips and delighting young audiences in Synetic Family Theater’s production of Cowardly Christopher Finds His Courage. But here in the Teen production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Vato was making a real ‘jackass’ of himself playing Nick Bottom and Egeus. I know Vato is pretty athletic – he’s played football on his high school team – but this is the first time I’ve seen him do cartwheels and other moves I haven’t seen him do before. And, Vato was really funny! So what was Vato the Synetic Theater veteran doing in a Teen production? Well, he’s only 19!
I always forget how young Vato is because he always plays older characters in Synetic productions. I’ve never seen him have such a good time on stage or smile so much during and after a performance. It was so nice watching his Synetic family cheering him on and laughing with him. The pantomime that Vato performed in the show was brilliant.
The most wonderful thing that night was being there when the youngest Tsikurishvili – Anna – made her Synetic debut playing Cobweb. Anna is a very good dancer (it’s in the blood) and she has her mother, Irina’s, elegance and beauty and her father’s spunk. I saw her father Paata, Synetic’s Artistic Director, beam when Anna performed.
I’m sure that Paata and Irina felt that their skills and talents have been passed on to their children, and that their legacy is in good hands.