Another Opening / Another Debut!

 

 

Ben Caplan and Jewelle Blackman

 

 

 

By Sheila Watko

 

On May 6, Feinstein’s/54 Below celebrated that exciting milestone that every actor looks forward to: Broadway debuts! So many incredibly talented performers have made their debuts this season and the evening was chock-full of high energy, wonderful music, and 13 individuals with songs to sing and stories to tell. Another Opening, Another Debut! was produced by Jen Sandler and hosted by music director Ben Caplan, who accompanied on the piano and hit us with pun after theater-inspired pun.

Hadestown’s Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer started us off strong with The Wild Party’s “Raise the Roof” after sharing her audition story: she flew to New York from LA on her three days off to audition and learned a song on the violin the morning of the audition . . . then moved here one day before rehearsals started! The Cher Show’s Michael Graceffa told us about his own Cher moment. During rehearsals, all of the male dancers were wearing leggings when Cher walked in wearing the same thing and commented, “Nice pants.” He sang his audition song, Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” Leroy Church, currently making his debut in King Kong, shared a story that sounded all too familiar with those accustomed to the audition process. He thought he nailed it, but didn’t even get a callback. Months later, he did end up being cast while in the midst of auditioning for other shows. Church wowed us with a performance of “They Live In You” from The Lion King. 17-year-old Noa Soloria was only 15 when she auditioned for Gettin’ The Band Back Together and cried with her mom over chicken fingers in an Irish pub when her agent called her. Noa hit us with her best shot with some Pat Benatar.

 

Johnny Brantley III

 

My favorite show I’ve seen this season is Be More Chill, so I loved hearing how the great Jason SweetTooth Williams came up with such a name. As it turns out, someone in equity was already named Jason Williams, and he added SweetTooth because his original dream was to be a rapper, and that was his rap name. No joke. Williams sang a charming Joe Iconis original from Things To Ruin, “Asleep On My Arm.” Just as Tootsie’s Katerina Papacostas thought that maybe Broadway wasn’t in the cards, she was cast right after her 30th birthday. Fun fact: she’s also a software engineer! She serenaded us with Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do.” Jack Sippel is no stranger to fan mail after touring with Newsies, and his agent tricked him into opening a fake fan letter to reveal that he had been cast in The Prom. He treated us to his own rendition of “Barry’s Going To Prom,” performed in the show by Brooks Ashmanskas. My fellow Astorian Robby Clater of Pretty Woman beautifully sang “You and I,” an original song from the musical.

My favorite moment of the night came from Johnny Brantley III of Beetlejuice. It was one of the most unique performances I’ve ever seen and I’m honestly still thinking about it. Brantley gave his haunting take on Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” mashed with “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It was creative, it was surprising, it was bizarre, it was absolutely spellbinding.

 

Talia Suskauer

 

A Be More Chill swing who just made her official debut last week, Talia Suskauer, gave us a hilarious version of the show’s “I Love Play Rehearsal.” The first time I saw Be More Chill, Suskauer had stepped in to play Brooke Lohst, but now I need to see her as Christine Canigula. Christian Thompson went from “whisper-singing” Smokey Robinson in the bathroom at his Ain’t Too Proud audition to belting “Tracks of My Tears” right in front of us. Jewelle Blackman of Hadestown—a superstar who also plays the violin—blew the entire room away with a knockout performance of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” The Prom’s Kalyn West closed the show by stepping into Beth Leavel’s shoes with a powerful, fun rendition of “This Lady’s Improving.”

The acts on display at Another Opening, Another Debut! kept us entertained and on our toes throughout the concert, their hard work and dedication making it abundantly clear that they’re exactly where they deserve to be . . . on Broadway.

 

Another Opening / Another Debut! Took place May 6 Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th St between Eighth Avenue and Broadway). www.54below.com

 

Photos: Sheila Watko

 

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