Interactive talent show returning

Contest: 10 finalists with ties to Howard County are gearing up to compete for $5,000 and the title of `rising star.'

Howard Live

April 22, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Arts Council knows what audiences like: talented performers, healthy competition and a chance to participate.

It works for television shows such as American Idol and Star Search, and it worked for the council last year. So the Rising Star Competition - which lets the audience vote on its favorite of 10 performers with local ties - will return Saturday night as part of this year's Celebration of the Arts in Howard County. "I think people are ... really impressed with performers who have that kind of raw talent," said Coleen West, executive director of the arts council. "When you get them involved in the process and invested in it, people feel good about themselves afterward."

In a January audition, 10 finalists were chosen from nearly 30 entries, West said. All contestants were between the ages of 18 and 35 and lived, worked or studied in Howard County for at least two consecutive years at some point. Last year's competitors were not allowed to compete again.

The finalists will perform at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia as the audience votes on who will receive the $5,000 prize.

The event will also feature food, music and dance performances before the competition, a silent auction of paintings, jewelry and pottery by local artists and a raffle for $13,000 worth of items.

Last year, the council earned $72,000, for scholarships and grants.

Then, the Rising Star Award went to Alicia Graf, a Columbia ballerina who moved to New York to join the Dance Theatre of Harlem when she was 17.

When she entered the competition, Graf was preparing to graduate from Columbia University in New York and start a job in banking after injuries sidelined her dance career. She danced for her own enjoyment with a dance ministry.

In a letter to the council this month, she wrote that "my life has taken a complete 360-degree turn." She used the award to support herself while she trained seriously and in the fall, she earned a position as principal ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

This year's competitors are also dedicated performers who hope to further their careers. They include two instrumentalists, two dancers and six vocalists who will perform in musical theater style.

The contestants are:

Marty Grossman, a Columbia native and master's degree student at Boston University, who will play the marimba.

Douglas Lawler, a pianist who performs nationally and who is resident musical director at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia.

Paradise Burroughs, who has danced with the Eva Anderson Dancers of Ellicott City and the Stephanie Powell Danse Ensemble in Baltimore.

Alex Ketley, who danced with the San Francisco Ballet and co-founded The Foundry, a dance company in Sausalito, Calif.

Stefanie Bassett, a Wilde Lake High School graduate who is studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and has performed in several operas.

Janine Gulisano, a local singer and actress who has been nominated four times for Helen Hayes Awards, including for her role last year in Jekyll and Hyde at Toby's Dinner Theatre.

Carly Hughes, a Wilde Lake alumnus who is earning a master's degree in musical theater at Penn State University.

Meaghan Kyle, a Wilde Lake and Syracuse University graduate who has performed at Toby's Dinner Theatre, Olney Theatre Center and the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts.

Lisa Mack, who has performed in musicals in Baltimore and New York and on national tours, and was a Star Search finalist last year.

Russell Sunday, who works with the Kaiser Permanente Educational Theater Programs and earned a Helen Hayes nomination for his lead role in Jekyll and Hyde at Toby's Dinner Theatre last year.

A few more local talents are on the bill, including dancers Mary Jo Brenner and John Bouman, country singer Katzi Carver, and members of Toby's Teen Professional Theatre. Eleasha Gamble and Tom McKenzie, two performers from Toby's recent production of Ragtime will also sing. Both were nominated for Helen Hayes awards this year.

The evening will start with Alex Brown, a jazz pianist and Wilde Lake 11th-grader who has played for the Baltimore-Washington Jazz Festival in Columbia, the Chestertown Jazz Festival and other events across the country.

Brown, who also plays violin and percussion, is too young to enter the Rising Star contest. But he has performed at the arts council gala before. He said, "It is a great experience. It's great to see ... all of Howard County coming together to celebrate the arts."

The celebration will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets and information: 410-313-2787.

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