Kent State students hope Showcase performances opened stage doors

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal arts writer

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Dylan Ratell, part of the 2014 Musical Theatre Showcase cast for Kent State University's School of Theatre and Dance performs this act for casting and talent agents in New York City. (Photo courtesy Anna Mates)
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It all came down to a two-minute, passion-packed, talent-saturated solo performance by each singer — enough to make agents and casting directors bite, as Kent State University musical theater students showed off their triple-threat skills in New York this past week.

Hundreds of hours of preparation were behind those crucial two minutes for each of the 14 students performing in the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Showcase, held at the 100-seat, basement-level Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42nd Street. The goal was to present each of the graduating seniors’ talents in the most professional light possible to help them obtain New York agents and jump-start their careers.

This year’s Showcase, featuring six cabaret-style, 30-minute shows over two days, saw spotty attendance by industry professionals Monday but gained more momentum by Tuesday. Competition is fierce among universities to get agents to attend their showcases and see their schools’ talent, Kent State professors said.

“We’re up against Juilliard, CCM [University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music], Baldwin-Wallace and IU [Indiana University] the same two days,’’ said musical theater coordinator Terri Kent on Monday. Twelve other college showcases had been held in New York the previous weekend.

“The market is inundated with showcases now,” said Cindy Stillings, director of the School of Theatre and Dance. “The universities are throwing more and more money at it.”

By Showcase’s end, all 14 KSU students had received interest from agents, casting directors or managers, who turned in response sheets indicating which performers they wanted to follow up with.

Powerhouse belter Brittnie Price received an email from the Price Group the first night, and another from 9Muse the second night saying, “I thought you were fantastic. I saw your showcase. Are you planning to move to New York?” She responded to both and met with Lisa Price of the Price Group on Wednesday.

“We just got to talk about where I see myself as far as my [acting] type and what’s on Broadway now,” Brittnie Price said. “They were actually saying they don’t have anyone like me.”

Brittnie Price, who has a huge vocal range and performed in the second national tour of Hair, said musical theater “types” refer to voice, body and character type. The actress, who is of mixed race, said being “ethnically ambiguous” means she can play a variety of roles, from an African chorus member in The Book of Mormon to a Hispanic girl in West Side Story.

She said Lisa Price will be emailing her additional songs she wants to hear her sing; she’ll record them and upload them to YouTube for the agent. Brittnie Price, who will work at Cedar Point while finishing her coursework online this summer, said she’ll move to New York in September and will continue following up with the Price Group.

Handwritten notes out

When professor Terri Kent saw that Showcase RSVPs were low the week before KSU’s event, she mobilized, mailing handwritten notes to about 150 agents and casting directors. She, Stillings and associate professor Chuck Richie also made dozens of follow-up calls and continued email blasts once they got to New York to reinforce agent wrangler Jackie Collier’s advance legwork.

“You do what you gotta do. I want them to work,” Kent said of her students.

Finely detailed direction and seamless, smooth transitions between soloists helped make for a professional-quality Showcase. At tech rehearsal Monday morning, choreographer MaryAnn Black reminded the girls to cross their ankles when seated and stressed that students should not fidget while watching others perform.

“Bring a sweater or something to put on between shows so you don’t lose your voice,” Kent warned the girls, many of whom would be wearing sleeveless dresses to perform.

Just before the first 4 p.m. show Monday, Black and Kent — hairspray in hand — checked each of the girls’ hair and makeup under the stage lights. The lower-maintenance guys dressed in urban chic casual wear.

The performances’ excitement continued to build until the final show Tuesday, a full house dominated by Kent State alumni and friends. The celebratory show was introduced by composer/producer/writer Jeff Richmond, a Garrettsville native who attended Kent State in the ’80s as a theater student.

“They are very talented, they are gifted and they have a very well-trained, professional-quality singing and dancing show,” he said in his Showcase introduction.

Richmond is working with his wife, actress, writer and producer Tina Fey, on the musical version of her movie Mean Girls. Kent State 2013 musical theater grad Tee Boyich is helping them with development.

“As we write songs, she [Boyich] sings them back to us,” Richmond said.

Over a drink after Showcase, Richmond told KSU singer Dylan Ratell — a tenor/countertenor who sings in the same range as a soprano — that he could see him as the busybody character Damian in Mean Girls.

“He’s going to keep me posted as he writes and if he thinks there’s anything in it for me he’ll let me know,” Ratell said.

Showcase had more results for Ratell: He interviewed with agent Barry Katz at Dulcina Eisen Associates and will have a second meeting with agency owner Eisen next week. Ratell, who sang the Mary Sunshine song A Little Bit of Good from Chicago at Showcase, was excited to talk to the agent about gender-bending opportunities in musical theater, such as playing Miss Hannigan in Annie and Ursula in Little Mermaid.

“I think they’re expecting me to be a trailblazer … playing those female villains and bringing an edge to it that’s different,” said the Bay City, Mich., native, who transferred to KSU his junior year.

Jesse Markowitz, this year’s Homecoming king, also received an exciting opportunity after singing I Believe from The Book of Mormon at Showcase. Casting associate Rebecca Scholl from the Broadway musical sent him a congratulatory email and invited him to an audition Wednesday at Pearl Studios, where future replacements for the Broadway and tour casts were being screened.

He sang 32 bars of I’m Not That Smart from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and hopes to be called back. Markowitz also met with manager Brian Zeilinger of Catapult — “He sees me as a leading man and he sees me in The Book of Mormon — and manager Wayne Gasser from the Gasser Group.

“I really get a good vibe from both of them,” said the bright-eyed, outgoing tenor, who will move to the city next month.

Jayson Kolbicz, who also had a meeting with Dulcina Eisen Associates, was approached at Showcase on Tuesday by Chapman Roberts, creator and producer of The Black Stars of the Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live the Dream. Kolbicz interviewed with Roberts on Thursday about performing in the Carnegie Hall concert June 23 with legendary performers including Ben Vereen and Andre De Shields.

“I was offered the opportunity to sing with them in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the tall, handsome baritone said. “I’m beyond excited and honored.”

Here’s some feedback that other Showcase performers received:

• Alto belter Caitlin Hamm met with Katz of Dulcina Eisen on Tuesday. He asked the red-headed, brassy singer if she’d ever heard of Ethel Merman, to which she replied, “They call me Caitlin Merman.” Hamm, who sang a rousing rendition of You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun at Showcase, wants to market herself as the next big voice. She expects a follow-up meeting with owner Eisen and will perform in the Catskills this summer.

• Soprano Mackenzie Duan, who begins rehearsals for A Chorus Line in New Hampshire this weekend, met with Dulcina Eisen Associates on Thursday.

• Soprano Jennie Nasser met with Dulcina Eisen Associates on Friday and was asked by Impossible Casting to send head shots for print modeling opportunities.

Rachel Wolin, who auditioned for Disney theme park character work Thursday, received interest from Joy Dewing Casting and Michael Cassara Casting.

Brianna DeRosa, who got responses from several casting directors as well as agents, spoke with Leah Wagner-Stout from About Artists agency by phone and plans to follow up with her when she returns to New York.

Stephen Carder, who highlighted his ballet technique, tried out for Disney theme characters Thursday and met with About Artists agency Friday.

Brooke Upholzer, who will work for a fourth summer as a Disney World character, received interest from Joy Dewing Casting and Michael Cassara Casting.

Grace Falasco, who will perform at Porthouse Theatre this summer, plans to interview with Catapult management in August.

Connor Simpson, who composed the opening song Now for his classmates, met with Dulcina Eisen Associates and hopes for a second meeting in August. Bobby Cronin, in the audience with fellow composer Phillip Palmer, told music director Jonathan Swoboda that Simpson’s tune Now was “fierce.”

Tim Welsh said he was following up on feedback from three casting agencies: Joy Dewing, Impossible Casting and Michael Cassara. Welsh wrote the Now lyrics specifically about the Showcase students’ experience as they work to break into the musical theater business.

Here is an excerpt (hear a sample with this story on www.ohio.com):

Now it’s here

It’s the sound of beginning

One more step

On the upward slope

Straight ahead

Though the room is spinning

There’s still time enough for hope

It’s the breath before the plunge

It’s the look before the lunge

The worst is in the wait

There’s no time to hesitate …

The path’s not clear

But it’s mine

Any doubt

Or fear

Is just courage in the making

See it shine

Now

As Showcase wrapped up, nearly all of the students said they planned to move to New York between May and the end of the calendar year to continue pursuing musical theater work. Now, all of them have industry contacts, some are on file with agents and a couple may be close to signing.

“This [Showcase] is their New York debut and even if they don’t get an agent out of it, this is the beginning of their career,” said associate professor Chuck Richie. “Actors never know when you’re going to pop and they [industry professionals] notice.”

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.


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