By MARILYN LESTER****For as long as there’s been a Great White Way, they come to New York City to break into the business – fresh-faced young talent with plenty of ability and energy to spare. Presently, sixty of these hopefuls happen to work as singing servers at the world-famous Ellen’s Stardust Diner in the heart of the theatre district. There, between taking orders and making sure their customers are well taken care of, these gifted young people – known as Stardusters – perform exuberantly to tracks nightly, to the delight of the many folks who’ve lined up and waited to be seated to see them. Now getting a chance to perform to the live piano of multi-award-winning music director Barry Levitt, five of these great Starduster talents moved downstairs to The Iridium stage on Tuesday, August 22 to show their stuff as it’s meant to be seen.
The evening’s entertainment, curated by Scobar Entertainment’s Scott Barbarino, Artistic Director of Ellen’s Stardust Diner, featured four performers singing Broadway hits of the past and present. Barbarino also served as host of the show, along with one of Ellen’s MCs (or Goddess of Ceremonies as she likes to be called), Lisa Asher, who also directed the showcase. The New Faces of 2017 Starduster Showcase (which was live-streamed) is the first of more such shows to come in collaboration with The Iridium. The goal is, of course, to give these “kids” the opportunity to spotlight their individual talents – and to help them get work in theatre and live entertainment.
Bookending this show celebrating Broadway material was a fitting, enthusiastic ensemble performance of Wildcat’s “Hey, Look Me Over” (Cy Coleman/ Carolyn Leigh). Solos and duets followed, with Jimmy Larkin first up with “Coming Out of My Shell” (Robert Reale/ Willie Reale, from A Year with Frog and Toad). Larkin is a true “character man,” with cuteness-factor appeal. His talent for comedy was front and center — especially, with the diminutive Morgan Billings Smith, on a “Short People Medley.” She, in a solo turn, performed “Mr. Snow” (Richard Rodgers/ Oscar Hammerstein II, Carousel), demonstrating excellent interpretive skills on both the long verse and body of the song. Believability was assured when she brightly sang, “And fish is my fav’rite perfume!” Nicole Calkins, who soloed on “Someone Like You” (Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse, Jekyll & Hyde) has a classic, robust Broadway voice. Her power and intensity were also evident in duets: with Larkin on “Follow Your Heart” (Mark Hollman/ Greg Kotis, Urinetown) and with Billings Smith — a dramatic “A Boy Like That” (Leonard Bernstein/ Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story, sung to a track).
Rachel Balko, who likewise possesses a classic Broadway-style voice, with great flexibility and range, also has a keen sensitivity for storytelling, as evidenced by solos on “No One Else” (Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812), and a delightful “On the Steps of the Palace” (Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods, sung to a track). Last but not least, the charismatic James Oliver, a leading man type with a mellow baritone, took on and seized the day with the difficult “Why God Why?” (Michel Schönberg/Alain Boubil/Richard Maltby, Jr., Miss Saigon). He also lent exuberance to two duets– “You’re Just in Love” with Lisa Asher (Irving Berlin, Call Me Madam) and “Gaston” (Alan Menken/Howard Ashman, Beauty and the Beast) with Jimmy Larkin.