By Michele Black
We were invited to review the finale of “L.A‘s Next Great Stage Star 2015” by the show’s Executive Producer Michael Sterling, of Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal and Michael Sterling & Associates. Sterling’s publicity company is considered one of the most renowned entertainment , publicity and productions companies in L.A. Having had the privilege of reviewing shows where Mr. Sterling handled the publicity, I knew I was in for a treat!
Sterling was kind enough to answer a few of my questions in regard to what motivated him and his co creator Tony Monsour to create “L.A’s Next Great Stage Star.” “The show is near and dear to my heart…..My motivation in presenting LA’s Next Great Stage Star is and always has been to introduce up and coming young men and women with a talent that should be recognized by LA based professionals in the business of producing Broadway musicals on a regional basis throughout the country and in New York City. My Co-Executive Producer Barbara Van Orden shares my vision and has enabled this annual opportunity to grow each year, not only in its mission, but as a production and the only competition of its kind (that we are aware of) on the west coast. ”
Mr. Sterling certainly has accomplished what he set out to do with co- creator Tony Monsour 9 years earlier. L.A’s Next Great Stage Star has success written ALL over it! This year’s production was dedicated to Irving Berlin and was judged by a star studded panel of professional judges, dedicated to promoting and encouraging the talent put before them.
Sterling was quick to add “this is the 9th Annual edition of LA’s Next Great Stage Star, co-created by myself and Tony Monsour. Since its debut in 2007, eleven of our contestants have already made their Broadway debut (with three of them already in their 3rd and 4th Broadway shows. Another 88 contestants (out of a total of nearly 200 overall contestants) have all been signed by professional Equity Theatre Agents are now enjoying professional careers in musical theatre either in Broadway U.S. National Tours, sit-downs of Broadway musicals in Las Vegas, starring in regional theatre throughout the United States; aboard major cruise lines in production shows; or in shows presented at international theme parks such as Tokyo Disney, California Adventure at Disneyland, and Lego Land. Several of our contestants have also been signed as guest stars in episodic television, commercials and as television hosts for the Disney Channel”
The winner of this year’s competition will win $1,000 cash prize; a photo session; lucrative , paid headlining engagement at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal during 2015, as well as other prizes. This year’s first and second runner’s up will also be offered a paid headlining engagement at Sterling’s Upstairs. Additionally, the top 5 contestants will receive a trophy for competing in the show.
Before the show began Sterling’s served up a delicious brunch! The venue was filled with the excited chatter of the contestants and guests alike. The electricity was definitely in the air. Right after brunch it was time for the show. I don’t envy the judges they have their work cut out for them! Just a little word about the judges they came from all over the entertainment industry. Among the 16 stellar judges were Musical Theater and Theatrical Casting Directors, Musical Theater Producers, Writers, Directors and Choreographers, Equity Agents and Theatrical Management a distinguished panel indeed. Michael Sterling doing what he does best announced the start of the show; but before the competition began, he shared a video of Stage Star’s 2012 1st runner up Carrie St. Louis who is currently co-starring as “Glinda” in the U.S. National Tour of Wicked. St. Louis wished the hopefuls good luck and gave a special shout out to those from USC who were among the competitors.
Then finally it was show time!! Coming from the back of the house the sound of glorious voices could be heard singing as the 20 mega talented hopefuls of L.A’s Next Great Stage Star 2015 sang a rousting rendition of American Composer Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America “ and “ There’s No Business Like Show Business.” A round of applause to Choreographer Joe Giamalva and the equally gifted Associate Choreographer Susie McGiver Ewing for pulling off the feat of the century in navigating 20 singing and dancing contestants through the audience and up on the stage without so much as a hitch or a misstep! Poetry in motion for sure and a treat to the eyes!
The cast of L.A’s Next Great Stage Star 2015
Elizabeth Adabale, Claire Adams, Alex Allen, Griffin Barr, D.J. Blickenstaff, Melvin Biteng, Hajin Cho, Cole Cuomo, Kelley Dorney, Arielle Fishman, Hannah Goodman, Alexandra Hartman, Rachael Johnson, Mack Kary, Jotape Lockwood, Dylan MacDonald, Elizabeth Pye, Patrick Reilly, Matthew Solomon, and Tory Stolper.
The audience was fully engaged smiling, laughing, cheering, clapping and so excited for the outcome of the show. Today’s show would be much different than the previous weeks. This week only the judges would be casting a vote as 15 of the 20 would be eliminated. Leaving 5 to remain with one exception if the judges felt inclined could save one of the 15 that had been cut. Secondly, this week the contestants would sing straight through all 20 of them, with a short intermission , then back to find out who was staying and who sadly would be eliminated. From the very first number to the last Sterling kept the contestants calm, confidence and energetic by taking a moment to ask each one of them how they were doing and what was their most embarrassing moment? Just a bit about Michael Sterling, the real talent about Mr. Sterling is he’s a consummate host and has a real gift at making people feel comfortable and at ease in very stressful situations. Sterling’s gift of doing that was quite evident as I watched each of the contestants slowly calm down as he was speaking to them. It’s rare finding someone who possesses that sort of ability, even rarer to have the opportunity to see it played out in front of you.
I was the guest of Barbara Van Orden Co-Executive Producer of L.A.N.G.S.S who Sterling credits with making it possible for L.A.N.G.S.S to continue year after year through her generosity and her vital contributions to the growth and success of the show. Van Orden is charming, knowledgeable and a great asset to L.A.N.G.G.S. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her. Van Orden is quite a success story and a miracle herself . Battling back after a horrific car accident that had her in rehabilitation for years .She eventually learned to walk again. A testament to her driving force, strength and courage and exactly what contestants of L.A.N.G.S.S need to see. A never give up attitude and you can achieve your dreams.
Our table was front and center which afforded me an excellent view of the stage. The group was accompanied by the incredibly talented musical director James Lent who has been on board with L.A’s Next Great Stage Star since 2010. Lent performed on stages from Hawaii to New York and everywhere in between. This weeks song selections were made by the Producers , which meant Michael Sterling and Peter Welkin along with Musical Director James Lent did the choosing for the contestants. The time seemed to fly by as each of the 20 took the stage giving it their all in the hopes that in the end they’d make the cut and ultimately win this year’s competition. It seemed as if the show had just started and before I knew it, we were out for a short 20 minute intermission, and right back to our seats for the announcement 5 finalists , and 1 lucky save.
Each had the opportunity to sing one last time before the judges, with each being on the same level playing field. Each gave stellar performances. Tory Stolper sang “One of the Beautiful People” from No Way To Treat a Lady, , while 6th place finalist Mack Kary went with “Monticello” , Claire Adams ( I confess she’s my favorite!) sang “Spark of Creation” from Children of Eden; “Memphis Lives In Me” from Memphis sung beautifully by Patrick Reilly, next Kelley Dorny performed “Bride’s Lament” from The Drowsy Chaperone and Jotape Lockwood sang “When I Get My Name in Lights“ from Boy from Oz.
All six sang their hearts out and gave it their best. Then It was back to the stage to find out who would be this year’s champion. Sterling holding the white envelopes with the winning results began slowing. Mack Kary – 6th place, Patrick Reilly- 5th place, Claire Adams-4th place,Jotape Lockwood-3rd place, Kelley Dorny – 2nd place and L.A’s Next Great Stage Star 2015- TORY STOLPER !
Third place finalist Jotape Lockwood agreed to answer a couple of questions for me right after the show. Thank you Jotape for giving me a moment of your time it was much appreciated it!
How did you first hear of L.A’s Next Great Stage Star 2015?
“ Well, I heard about L.A.N.G.S.S first from my friend Klarissa Messe, whom I work with at Disneyland. She was the first one to tell me that she thought I’d excel in a competition like L.A.N.G.S.S . Then I did Tarzan at the El Portal Theatre with Katherine Washington, a previous LANGSS competitor and a BRILLIANT actress. She also suggested I try out “
What were your song selections for your audition?
“It’s funny you should ask what songs I auditioned with because James Lent (the ABSURDLY talented pianist for the entire competition) and I were trying to recall that just the other day. I started with “Tell My Father” from The Civil War, then for a second choice sang “I’ve Been” from Next To Normal. Then as I conversed with Michael, Barbara, and Peter; James casually shuffled through my cut book and found “Look At That Face” from Roar Of The Greasepaint, Smell Of The Crowd. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t done that song in AGES and was VERY rusty. Ha! I’m pretty sure I sang the first 4 measures, then cut right to the last 4, ha! But James, being as phenomenal as he is, followed me and made it sound at least RELATIVELY decent.”
What was the first show you were involved with and how long have you been singing?
The first show I was ever involved with outside of church plays was the Sound Of Music at a nearby community college. I played Kurt VonTrapp at the age of 10 and had a BLAST the entire time. But, I had been singing long before that! My mother was a singer too, so I like to say that when the doctor delivered me, I sang instead of cried!”
Would you say that’s where you honed your skills?
I didn’t really hone my skills until attending college at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. There under the patient guidance of Margorie Halbert, Nancy Allen, and David Shamburger did I really begin my first steps as a true performer.
What are your plans now that L.A.N.G.S.S is finished? “Now that L.A.N.G.S.S is over, I’m not entirely sure what’s next. I don’t presently have representation, so I was really hoping that this competition would offer me opportunities to get an agent and further my career that way. But, ultimately only time will tell what path God has in mind for me to follow.”
Thanks Jotape, appreciate the time you took with me after the show and good luck to you and all this years contestants in their future endeavors. Keep your eyes peeled for these stand out singers and actors we certainly haven’t seen nor heard the last of them yet ! Many, many thanks to Michael Sterling , Peter Welkin, Barbara Van Orden and James Lent for an outstanding show! I’m already looking forward to being invited back to next year’s competition!
Image credits Sterling’s Upstairs
Image Credit BroadwayWorld.com