Sutter Street Theatre is under
reconstruction. The stage has been lowered a couple of feet to floor
level and seating is scheduled to be raked. The current show, the annual
“Rising Star Review,” is presented on the bare stage. No beautiful set
by Mike Jimena. Props limited to a chair dragged out and back by
director Allen Schmeltz.
None of that matters, because as
soon as the show starts the audience is mesmerized by the amazing parade
of talent on display. The show really takes off with tiny 17-year-old
Amanda Ramos singing “Breathe” from “In the Heights,” a song I’ve never
heard from a show I don’t know. I’ve seen Amanda in several shows and
she is always the best thing in the show. There is nothing tiny about
her voice, which filled the theater with this song and the other two
numbers she performs.
The second surprise is 13-year-old
Hannah Hurst, doing a monologue from Shaw’s “Saint Joan” in which Joan
decides to accept death rather than spend her life in prison. Hannah has
another monologue later and then takes the roof off the theater with
Carol Burnett’s “Shy” from “Once Upon a Mattress.” This is another
Christopher Celestin can always be
counted on to surprise and delight. He sings “Being a Geek” and
transforms from Mr. Geek to Mr. Cool by changing from horn rim glasses
to shades and becoming a different person in the middle of the song. He
has a couple of duets later in the show: a delightfully acted rendition
of “Anything You Can Do” with the charming Monique Lonergan, and a
knockout rap song, “Cold as Ice” which Chris wrote. He and Amanda Ramos
sing/act the song. In my dreams I see a two-person show starring Chris
There are two family acts in this
show. Sisters Mia Comstock, 11, and Zoe, 9, are super together, but the
breakout in this show is little Zoe, who becomes a star here singing
“Naughty” from the musical “Matilda” and “I Know Things Now” from “Into
the Woods.” With luck we will continue to see great things from these
two beautiful sisters.
The family that really rules this
show is the Matta siblings: Rebekah, 17, Benjamin, 14, Joshua, 12, and
Jonathan, 9. Performing sometimes together, each takes complete
possession of the stage with solo numbers. My favorites are Rebekah’s
song and dance, “It Had Better Be Tonight,” Jonathan’s “I’ve Got the
World on a String,” Joshua (you may remember him as the tap dancing
star of the recent “Pinocchio”) here doing “Come Dance With Me.” Their
mother Lisa makes a brief appearance as the mean person who inspires
Jonathan’s moving “Where Is Love” from “Oliver.” Monique Lonergan flirts
with all the brothers in “My Guy,” and the one who wins the title is . .
. well, I won’t spoil it for you.
I was privileged to talk to Lisa,
the mother of these four amazing kids, after the show. I learned that
performing in this family goes back to Lisa’s mother, who performed
professionally for many years. She passed the gift on to Lisa, who sang
professionally in Los Angeles and has acted extensively as well. She
home schools her kids and has been their teacher not only in math and
science, but most importantly (for us) in singing, dancing, and acting.
She confided to me that her hope, becoming a parent, was to instill her
love of the stage in her offspring, and she has succeeded and given
theatergoers in Folsom many hours of pleasure watching them perform.
The other two performers are
14-year-old Michael Warner, who has a wonderful voice, and Richard Lui,
who is over 14, but who also has a fine voice and plays guitar with
great style. He sings a song he wrote himself about a friend who was his
Finally I must mention Chelsea
Ciechanowski, one of my favorites in last year’s edition, who appears in
only one number this year, the song “Happy Ending” by British singer
Mika. This song, which closes the show, brings her on stage with eight
of the other performers in an ensemble piece she is credited with
directing. It’s a perfect close to a great afternoon of music and
outstanding young talent.