Natalie Rine, Contributing Critic - New York City
New York, NY - Vanguard Theater Company's Broadway Buddy Mentorship Program offers emerging musical theater artists, ages 12 - 25, a unique opportunity for on-on-one mentorship with some of Broadway's most accomplished and rising performers, that culminated in a once in a lifetime cabaret performance on June 3, 2019, at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space.
Founded in 2015, Vanguard Theater Company is a 501 (c) 3 not for profit arts organization committed to producing transformational theater with an emphasis on D.R.E.A.M - Diversity, Reciprocity, Education, Awareness, and Mentorship. The cabaret that packed the theater during Monday’s performance elucidated all of these points, shining the spotlight not on any singular “star” performers, but showing thirty diverse and talented mentees equally holding their own and growing alongside thirty established Broadway performers.
In this fourth annual cabaret, Tony Nominees Anika Larsen and Nick Cordero are among the many mentors generously being outshined by the next generation’s spark and vivacity. The other Broadway performers donating their time are from a wide variety of hit shows, past and present: Aisha Jackson (Frozen), Alex Dreier (Finding Neverland), Allison Fischer (Grease), Anita Welch (Little Rock), Antoine L. Smith (Carousel), Avionce Hoyles (Memphis), Ayla Schwartz (Frozen), Bonita Hamilton (The Lion King), Carmen Ruby Floyd (Hello Dolly), Cedrina Baugh (Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope), David Beach (Something Rotten), Deonte Warren (Aladdin), Dwayne Clark (A Color Purple), Elena Ricardo (Beautiful), Ellis Dawson (Aladdin), Gabrielle Elisabeth (Beautiful), Gary Lynch (Les Miserables), Jacob Gutierrez (Aladdin), Joanna Young (The Drowsy Chaperone), Joshua Morgan (Ain’t Too Proud), Kelly Letourneau (The Apple Boys), Lina Lee (Miss Saigon), Ned Eisenberg (Six Degrees of Separation), Nehal Joshi (All My Sons), Rachel Zatcoff (Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish), Robert Dusold (Jekyll & Hyde), Salisha Thomas (Beautiful), Soara-Joye Ross (Carmen Jones), and Tommy McDowell (American Idiot).
While these established performers have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and talent they shared with their young counterparts during the program and on stage, the real takeaway from the Mentorship Cabaret is the abundance of talent shown by the young mentees given the chance to learn and shine during each of their few minutes in the spotlight. Song choice varied and showed extreme maturity and knowledge, a rare feat for a youth cabaret, featuring well-known Disney Princess and Rent songs alongside rarer finds like Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens or The Last Ship.
What was most moving about the cabaret was watching a young mentee standing alongside a mentor they mirrored; whether in clothing or skin tone, matching became a powerful statement over the course of the night as the identities between mentor and mentee blurred, as if each was a younger or older version of each other, helping one another through time and space to realize their dreams and potential.
Mentees are from towns all over Northern New Jersey, including Bloomfield (Brianna Johnson), Bridgewater (Meghan Jenkins), Cedar Grove (Ian Wilson), East Orange (Jaci Coleman, Nimat Saleem, Amber Ruffin, and Trevor Lavine), Elizabeth (Elvin Rodriguez), Glen Ridge (Julian Novoa), Livingston (Danielle Russel), Mendham (Abigail Sebastian), Montclair (Aidan Dowell, Abraham Deitz-Green, Khari Jenkins, Mareau Hall, and Samy Cordero), N. Plainfield (Nala King), Newark (Jasir Quddus and Veronica Gonmiah), Orange (Riley Hahn), Randolph (Isabelle DiMichino), South Orange (Eve Johnson, Sylvie Schuetz, and Silas Silverman-Stoloff), Union (and Duane Banks), and West Orange (Olivia Ridley, Indigo Jackson, Maria Nalieth, Joe Nalieth, and Matteo Cellari)—but it is clear by the sparkle in their eyes and the spring in their steps that they belong crooning in the Big Apple.
Broadway Buddy Mentorship Cabaret
“Broadway Buddy Mentorship Cabaret” by is presented by Vanguard Theater Company: Janeece Feeman Clark (Artistic Director), Jessica Sporn (Production Manager), Terri Gorgone (Music Director), Natalie Jones (Stage Manager), and Rachel Gayle (Assistant Stage Manager).
“Broadway Buddy Mentorship Cabaret” ran at Symphony Space (Broadway and 95th Street) on Monday, June 3, 2019.