Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Intermission By Tony Vellela
Discovering New Talent

One of the great adventures of going to the theatre is the excitement of "discovering" someone early in their career. This season has its fair share of [fairly] newcomers who have people talking about their current work, and their future potential.

Disney's The Little Mermaid is playing host to a pair of talented trail-blazers. If you have ever treated yourself to one of M-G-M's greatest musicals, Singin' in the Rain, you've seen the teen Debbie Reynolds bursting out of every frame. Playing Ariel at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Sierra Boggess has every bit of energy, vocal power, agility and charm [not to mention physical resemblance] that Carrie Fisher's mother had at the start of her still-going-strong career. And also in the swim of things with Boggess is the riveting young Brian D'Addario, as the feckless Flounder. This young man has the self-assured presence of the pre-pube Mickey Rooney. His fearless timing is glorious.

At right is Patti LuPone as Mama Rose, with Sami Gayle (center) and Emma Rowley (left). Photo courtesy Joan Marcus

Two blocks south, at the St. James Theatre, Emma Rowley has taken the fairly short role of Baby Louise in Gypsy, and found the true emotions of the young girl who grows up to confront her Momma, and confound the entertainment world as the stripper who made herself a star. Watch Rowley watching Baby June in those Newsboys moments, and you can see the true feelings inside the little girl who couldn't do anything right, and what eventually drives her to do anything she wants. This is an actor who sings and dances, and will move into great roles when she hits her twenties and thirties.

In the Heights is brimming with young, hot talent in that sweeping Washington Heights set, but behind the scenes, another up-and-comer keeps it all moving and alive. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler delivers more moves per minute than any other show in town, keeping music, lyrics, characters and costumes in a continuous state of perpetual motion. It's no surprise that the entire cast dances like a collection of individuals instead of a robotic chorus, because Blankenbuehler has worked [Contact, Steel Pier] with Broadway's reigning terpsichorean royalty, Susan Stroman, who has told me more than once how she invents a backstory for every person on stage, thereby giving each actor something to work with. The best choreographers are story-tellers.

Of course your eye travels to Patti and Nathan, Kelli and Harvey, but widen your gaze, and see who else is doing what else on that stage. Make it an experience of discovery, which gives you another set of great memories. Were you there when Nathan bumbled on stage, cigarette smoke swirling around his befuddled head, in The Common Pursuit?

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