BY RENEE GENDREAU
NEW CASTLE NEWS
There were just too many stars for one show.
So, this year, the New Castle Playhouse Stars of Tomorrow showcase expanded to add the Shining Stars of Tomorrow division for younger entertainers.
Vaughn Hudspath, who along with Jennifer Verba has directed the annual Stars of Tomorrow production throughout its 24-year existence, explained that the Shining Stars are made up of students in grades one through eight while the long-standing Stars group consists of high school performers.
“When it comes to our youth, you can never do enough when it comes to creating opportunities for them,” Verba said. “The New Castle Playhouse truly is the leader when it comes to doing that.”
Both groups will be showcased in separate performances Jan. 18 at the New Castle Playhouse, with the younger group taking the stage at 2 p.m and the Stars’ show following at 7:30 p.m.
“I am honored to be directing this first annual show,” said Erika Groves, who directs the Shining Stars along with Justin Bryan. “The New Castle Playhouse continues to expand its youth programming, which, in turn, will bring live theater to more people.”
Along with local youth, the Shining Stars showcase will also feature two regional performers who have already moved beyond the Playhouse stage.
Ashley Yankello, 12, of Moon Township will perform “Move A Mountain,” a song she wrote and recorded, while 13-year-old Ohio resident Finn O’Hara, who recently toured in “Newsies,” will sing a number from “Shrek.”
The high school Stars performance features more than 100 singers, dancers and instrumentalists from Lawrence, Beaver, Butler and Mercer counties as well as Ohio.
Highlights of the Stars of Tomorrow program include:
•The All-Star Jazz Band, directed by Dr. Thomas Zumpella and featuring 15 instrumentalists from Lawrence County high schools.
•Dance performances by groups from the New Castle Regional Ballet, Center Stage Academy of Dance, Jennifer Leigh’s Dance Gallery, Diamond Dance Academy, Studio P and the Ludovici Dance Academy.
•A special performance by Neshannock High School senior Aaliyah Smith, 2019 Lawrence County Distinguished Young Woman and Pennsylvania Distinguished Young Woman.
•The New Castle Playhouse Mini Stars singing a medley of songs from Broadway musicals. Created by Verba and Hudspath in 2002, the Mini Stars range in age from 8 to 18 and perform at events throughout the year.
•A tribute to World War II veterans by trumpeters Sierra Courson, Montana Pastore and Ryan Bowden.
•Isaac Powell of Hubbard, Ohio, recently named national high school mascot champion, will perform a dance number as the Hubbard Eagle.
Hudspath noted that in the Stars’ 24-year history, more than 2,000 young people have taken to the Playhouse stage.
“The list continues to grow as to how many young people who were featured at Stars of Tomorrow have gone on to professional careers,” Hudspath said, noting the current performers will pay tribute to two of their predecessors, Blake Stadnik, who appears on NBC’s “This is Us,” and Amber Ardolino, who is performing on Broadway in “Moulin Rouge.”
In addition, a $500 scholarship made possible by Dr. Fred and Pam Stoner and the Playhouse will be presented to the senior with the highest SAT score. Scholarships will also be presented to seniors who have participated in the Mini Stars including Cecilia Hanna, Cortney MacKay, Allie McMahan, Margo Silverman, Briana Wagner and Ryan Rich. Each will receive a scholarship on behalf of Kimberly Aven and April Aven Rickard in memory of Anthony Aven.
“(These shows) get me more excited than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” Hudspath said. “To give kids one moment where they get to shine means everything.”