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From Shyness to Stardom: My Experience as a Budding Performer

By Kenneth Cervantes Dionisio

I would never call myself a theater kid. The number of musicals I’ve seen are enough to count on one hand and spontaneously breaking out into song and dance doesn’t sound appealing. So how did I wind up performing for Adelphi’s Best of Broadway?

Best of Broadway, affectionately shortened to “BoB,” is a bi-annual production held each semester during which students perform musical numbers from a particular Broadway era or composer. Open to students from all academic disciplines, many aspiring performers will partake in Best of Broadway to showcase their talents and build camaraderie among fellow musical theater lovers.

Early in the fall 2022 semester, sophomore communications major Julia Lund asked me to see her performance. Though I seldom see theater productions, I agreed with a smile.

Being serenaded with songs like “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess,” “If I Were a Bell” from “Guys and Dolls” and other mellifluous tunes from Broadway’s Golden Age inspired me to get on stage and sing.

Lund is always helping to recruit new BoB members, so she helped me prepare for auditions as soon as we returned from winter break. “Best of Broadway is the perfect opportunity for students who love music, but don’t have anything music-related in their academics,” said Lund.

I’m generally confident in my musical abilities. During high school, I sang in a chorus of over 200 students, leading the tenors with ease. However, during audition night, surrounded by seasoned performers, I shuddered as my name was called to perform my song in front of everyone in the room.

I auditioned with the song “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical “Waitress.” Since the song is about reflecting on a previous version of yourself and coming to terms with the bleakness of life, I thought this was the perfect metaphor for someone coming back to music after a three-year hiatus.

There was only one problem: the song was intended for a female voice. Because the audition required that we came in with sheet music for the accompanist, I transposed the notes down four semitones on a website (of questionable reputability). To my chagrin, my audition went completely awry as my song was played in the wrong key at the wrong tempo. Luckily, I was able to redo my audition with the karaoke track.

Despite my second attempt, I ran to my bedroom in tears as soon as I arrived home. I immediately texted all my friends with the notion that performing wasn’t meant for me.

Coming into the Performing Arts Center the following day, I was welcomed with open arms. The cast were thrilled to see me and commended my perseverance. Our director, KT Thomas, started going over the logistics of our show; the theme for this semester was Contemporary. “Keeping a link to Adelphi was important, so I included songs from alumni Jonathan Larson’s `Rent’ and `Tick Tick Boom’ to add a personal touch to the legacy he has left behind here,” said Thomas.

Back row (from left): Mario Mannarino, Rafael Lyrio, Brooke Beck, Kennie Cervantes, Ruby Haberman, Athena Miller, Melissa Casey, KT Thomas, Darius Jones. Front row (from left): Sal Jones, Julia Lund, Grace Simone, Audrey Santosus, Mary Brophy Photo courtesy of Heather Lund

We spent the first few hours reviewing the opening ensemble number “Avenue Q Theme,” which we parodied as “Adelphi U Theme.” Our show’s plotline chronicled the cast’s chaotic lives as they sat through a support group, inspired by our second ensemble number, “Life Support” fromRent.”

The next week, Thomas started to assign solos. I hadn’t expected one because of how my audition went, but I was ecstatic to find out that I would be singing “Freeze Your Brain,” a song from “Heathers: The Musical” about escaping the dreadful world and numbing yourself with a brain freeze from a Slurpee.

I had my doubts; oftentimes I’d study Ryan McCartan and Jamie Muscato, two Broadway stars whose renditions I’d use to better my own performance. But when I sang during rehearsal in front of Thomas and the cast with live accompaniment, I felt this weight lifted off my shoulders when they applauded my performance. I knew I was taking my role in the right direction.

Playing Jason “J.D.” Dean came with extensive (and sugary) research. Ignoring the fact my character is based on a pistol-wielding, ex-girlfriend stalking, sociopath who attempts to blow up his high school, I enjoyed immersing myself in the 7-Eleven Slurpee culture. Vanilla dream was my favorite flavor.

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, I’d come to rehearsal excited to drone on about my avidness for 7-Eleven. As part of the ensemble, I’d learn lively choreography to songs like “Magic Foot” from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “My Junk” from “Spring Awakening.”

What brought the show together was the addition of monologues from each cast member, which isn’t something found in a typical BoB show. Tying into the “Adelphi U Support Group,” each of us portrayed a specific psychological problem. And because of my voracious Slurpee cravings, I wildly divulged my addiction to all things 7-Eleven.

Come March 23, the day of the show, I felt all of my nervousness dissipate, despite being a normally anxious person. I had the support from my family and friends who were in the audience. Eagerly waiting for my cue, I stood up with full confidence and belted my song as loudly and energetically as possible. Making my way backstage at the end of the show, I basked in every last bit of applause and even shed a tear. I had never felt more accomplished in my life.

Already reminiscing on my Broadway days from this semester, maybe I’m a theater kid at heart.

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