Sondheim show brings 'rising stars' back

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By Jason Eisenberg

For a few nights over the upcoming week, the past and present of the Riverdale Rising Stars will unite on one stage.

Laurie Walton, the acclaimed theater company’s founder and director at the Riverdale YM-YWHA, has gathered a cast of 17 talented performers — a mix of current members and graduates of the program — for a special production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.

“There are several reasons that I started this summer program a few years ago,” Ms. Walton said. “I wanted to give the alumni a chance to come back and perform for the community again, to give the younger kids a chance to learn from the former Rising Stars and also to do shows like this one, which are more mature and have more depth.”

Ben Becher and Emily Walton, long considered the “faces of the Rising Stars program,” head the list of alumni who will return to the stage where they have performed since their early teenage years.

Mr. Becher, now 21, will soon receive his college degree from Rutgers University’s theater program, while Emily Walton, at the age of 20, recently finished a six-week run with the off-Broadway production of Saved and is continuing to pursue a career in theater and acting.

However, when the summer comes around, both Mr. Becher and Ms. Walton — who is Laurie’s daughter — are more than willing to come back to the Riverdale Y and retake their positions, albeit temporarily, with the Rising Stars.

“There really is no place I would rather be during my summer vacation,” said Mr. Becher, a life-long Riverdale resident. “This program, this community, and especially Laurie, have all done so much for me, so to be back here is basically like coming home.”

For Emily Walton, the Riverdale Rising Stars is in her blood. Not only did her mother create the program, not only was she the original member, but now, for A Little Night Music, she will also be joining her younger brother Alex on stage.

“Obviously the Rising Stars is very important to my whole family, it has been special working with my mother and now to also see my brother follow me into the program is great,” she said. “I have been in about 15 shows or so, with memories from each and every one. Now this experience will be just another memory to add to the list.”

The story of the Rising Stars begins nearly eight years ago, when Laurie Walton started to recognize her daughter’s natural talent for acting and musical theater. “Emily was only 11 at the time, but already wanted to be performing, so I thought about creating a place where kids can act,” Ms. Walton recalled. “I pitched the idea to a couple of places in the local area and right from the beginning the Riverdale Y was onboard. The rest is history.”

According to Ms. Walton, she never imagined how much the program would grow and she credits the Y, the community and the group of talented youngsters she has worked with for close to a decade, for the longevity and success of the Rising Stars.

“I would be lying if I said that I was not a little nervous about the future of the Rising Stars, when Emily and Ben’s group graduated from the program,” said Ms. Walton. “But the Y remained committed and, if anything, over the last few years we have built up more of a talented ensemble cast, rather than just a couple of headlining stars. So I see no reason why the Rising Stars will not be around for many years to come.”

Two of the current members, 16-yearold Mason Taub and David Newman, who at 15 is the youngest person in the cast of A Little Night Music, are both doing their part to maintain the reputation of the Rising Stars.

“These shows are so much fun to be part of, but at the same time, as members of the Rising Stars, we also want to always put on a professional quality performance for the audience,” Mason said. “Even though it might seem like tough work, with rehearsals five nights a week, I love it because we are all best friends and we support each other.”

“And we also have to mention Laurie,” David cut in. “She expects a lot from us but we trust her and always do what she says. It is obvious how much she cares about us and our shows, which is just one reason why once you start with the Rising Stars, you can’t stop, you just keep coming back.”

For this production of A Little Night Music, Mr. Becher will play the role of Fredrik Egerman; Emily Walton will star as Charlotte Malcom; Mason will play Petra; and David will appear as Bertrand.

“Doing Sondheim, particularly this show, is challenging. We needed a group that can sing and act and I think we have that here,” said Laurie Walton. “This is a very deep story about love, sustaining relationships, the things in life that drive our decisions and the pitfalls of jealousy. We are really excited about the show and I hope that we get some big crowds to come out and see us.”

Performances of ‘A Little Night Music’ will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 17, at 3 p.m.; and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 18, 19 and 20, at 7:30 p.m., in the Y’s Neuwirth Theatre, at 5625 Arlington Ave. Tickets cost $12 per person and they can be purchased at the door on the day of the show or in advance at www.riverdaley.org. For more information, call 718-548-8200.

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