Student Vocal Soloists of YAA & MCYO’s ‘Madama Butterly & Miss Saigon’ on 3/10@4 @ Strathmore by Joel Markowitz

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Meet the the student vocal soloists (who are high school students) who will be singing the roles in Miss Saigon at Young Artists of America and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras’ production of Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon, which will be performed at The Music Center at Strathmore on Sunday, March 10th at 4 PM. 

saigon square posterThe production will feature over 130 performers in various roles. The orchestra is the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras Philharmonic, made up of 85 of the brightest and talented young instrumentalists in the DC Metro area. The cast from Young Artists of America consists of 30 young vocalists from over 14 schools in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The concert also features 15 members of the Women’s Chorus of the American Center for Puccini Studies who will lend their expertise in the operatic selections. All in all, over 130 performers will take the Strathmore stage on Sunday, March 10th at 4 PM.

Meet  Wesley Diener (John), Gillian Han (Gigi), Eitan Mazia (Chris), Adam Settlage (John), Nicole Sergeyko (Ellen), and Chani Wereley (Kim).

 Wesley Diener (The Engineer)

Wesley Diener (John).
Wesley Diener (The Engineer).

How did you feel when you were selected for this role? What did you do to prepare for your audition? 

When I initially received the role, I was so excited, but also surprised because there are so many talented people who auditioned. I was extremely honored to be granted the opportunity to perform as part of such a prestigious organization. To prepare for the audition, I practiced the audition excerpt repeatedly and researched the show itself, as it was previously completely unknown to me.

How have you been preparing for your performance? Are there any particularly challenging aspects of this piece?

The Engineer requires a lot of energy and characterization. At first, it was challenging to embody this larger-than-life role, but now I love to let loose and embrace the Engineer’s flaws. I was also initially wary of some of the higher notes in the score, but Rolando helped me build my confidence and ease out the more difficult sections.

What kind of training have you been receiving?

Singing has always been a major part of my life, but I have only been taking voice lessons for a year. I also have a strong instrumental background; I play violin and piano, and my mom and grandparents are talented musicians as well. In regards to acting, I have been performing since I was eight years-old, so I really feel at home when I am on the stage.

Is this your first YAA production? What is unique about Young Artists of America?

I performed in YAA’s fall concert Martyrs, but this is my first main stage with the organization. My favorite part about YAA is the professionalism that is always present. Each rehearsal is conducted with efficiency and direction that makes the learning experience so beneficial. I also appreciate that YAA allows students to participate in mature musical theater productions with a focus on vocalization because so many organizations prioritize the other aspects of theater.

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Wesley Diener, a junior at James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia, is pleased to be part of a production of this calibre. Wesley has been involved in the performing arts since the age of eight and has been on stage and in the pit for many school and community productions through the years. Favorite musical theatre roles include Charlie and Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka, Luther Rosser in The Theatre Lab’s Parade, and Mr. Twimble/Mr. Womper in Madison’s How To Succeed in Business, which culminated in a performance at the Kennedy Center for the Cappies Gala and the Cappie for Best Song. He will be appearing as Horton in Seussical with Pied Piper Theatre in April.

At Madison, Wesley is a member of the Philharmonic Orchestra, president of Model UN, clerk of the Thespian Honor Society, Set Crew Chief and Cappie Critic. He would like to thank his family for their support, including his grandparents who attend all of his performances; his violin teacher, Alex Morrison for starting his musical journey; and Rolando Sanz for giving him this opportunity and for all of his guidance.

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Gillian Jackson Han (Gigi Van Tranh).

Gillian Jackson Han (Gigi Van Tranh).
Gillian Jackson Han (Gigi Van Tranh).

How did you feel when you were selected for this role? What did you do to prepare for your audition? 

I was completely elated and so anxious to begin rehearsing! To prepare, I listened to my audition piece on repeat and practiced it over and over until I had it down.

How have you been preparing for your performance? Are there any particularly challenging aspects of this piece?

Listening to and reviewing the music every day. Especially the Italian parts of Madama Butterfly. The Puccini is some of the most challenging music I’ve ever had to learn, but it is quite rewarding when we finally get it.

What kind of training have you been receiving? 

I’ve been taking private voice lessons for several years.

Is this your first YAA production? What is unique about Young Artists of America? 

This is my second YAA production! Young Artists of America is definitely unique. No matter what the casting, everyone always feels important to the show and we as students have the opportunity to partake in spectacular productions unlike what any other youth organizations provide. Working with YAA is an incredible experience.

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Gillian Jackson Han (Gigi) is 16 and currently a sophomore at BCC High School. She has been in various productions at Imagination Stage, most recently Pippin (Catherine). At the French Woods Festival, she has been in Mack and Mabel (Sennett Bathing Beauty) and Merrily We Roll Along (Dory). School productions include Bye Bye Birdie (Kim McAfee) and The Music Man (Zaneeta Shinn). With YAA, she is proud to have been a cast member of The Phantom of the Opera. She thanks her supportive family, amazing cast-mates, and the team that went above and beyond in making this production possible!

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Eitan Mazia (Christopher Scott).

Eitan Mazia (Chris).
Eitan Mazia (Christopher Scott).

How did you feel when you learned you were selected for this role? How did you prepare for your audition?

While I was extremely excited to have been given the opportunity to play Chris in this boundary breaking production, I was also a bit nervous knowing the “pop-rock tenor” vocal style the role usually entails. I worked diligently with my voice teacher, Rosemary Dyer, in order to comfortably sing and act the assigned excerpt of “Why God Why.”

How have you been preparing for your performance? Are there any particularly challenging aspects of this piece?

I have been trying my best to apply Rolando’s notes quickly during rehearsals, and spending time during my school classes brainstorming how I want to portray Chris rather than actually paying attention to my teachers (fortunately, I still manage to do fine in school). This is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I want to make the best of it. The most challenging aspect of this role has definitely been a section of the song “Ellen and Chris.” While the song is rhythmically confusing, singing up in the stratosphere for a few pages doesn’t help much. Thankfully, with the help of Rolando, I am able to sing the entire role comfortably from start to finish.

What kind of training are you receiving?

I take voice lessons with Rosemary Dyer, and hip hop, jazz, modern, and ballet classes with CityDance at Strathmore.

Is this your first YAA production? What is unique about YAA?

No, my first YAA production was The Phantom of the Opera, where I fell in love with all this unbelievable organization offers. Even when I thought YAA couldn’t get any better, it continues to surprise me by giving me this opportunity to sing at Strathmore, and introducing me to brilliant musicians. I can never believe the talented people I work with are all around my age. Their dedication and talent is way beyond their years, and YAA’s ability to find all these fantastic young musicians and bring them together to create real music is amazing. The combination of musical theatre and opera training has never been offered to this calibre. What young musicians can learn in this program cannot be found in most other places.

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Eitan Mazia (Chris) is a 17 year-old Junior at Walter Johnson High School. Recent credits include Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (YAA) (won 2012 “Best Performance by Lead Actor in a Musical’ on DCMetroTheaterArts); Tom Collins in Rent, Narrator in Blood Brothers, Woof in Hair, Emmett in Legally Blonde, Pippin in Pippin and Otto/Ulbrechtin Spring Awakening (Act Two@Levine); Adam in Children of Eden (CCTA Teen Prof. Theater); Emcee Cabaret; Chip in Spelling Bee, Sid in The Pajama GameGaston in Beauty & the Beast  (MTC); George in School House Rock – Live (KAT); many school productions and more. He also sang in Young Artists of America’s Martyrs concert last December. Eitan is thrilled to be a part of this amazing production and wants to thank Rolando and Kris Sanz, along with Alan Paul, for their excellent mentoring. He thanks his family for their support, and especially the brilliant musicians of MCYO, and his fellow YAA actors, for bringing the best out of his performance.

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Adam Settlage (John).

Adam Settlage (John).
Adam Settlage (John).

How did you feel when you were selected for this role? What did you do to prepare for your audition? 

I felt nervous to be taking on a lead role in a kind of show I had never done before. To get ready for my audition, I prepared the audition selections and studied them until I had them memorized.

How have you been preparing for your performance? Are there any particularly challenging aspects of this piece? 

I have been preparing twice a week with the rest of the cast to learn the music, but have taken time at home to memorize as well. This show is a very interesting show seeing how something like it has never been done before, but overall I would say the music is really great and a challenge to learn well

What kind of training have you been receiving? 

About the same time that I joined YAA, I also started taking vocal lessons, so my official vocal training only consists of a little more than a month, but Rolando Sanz has taught me things as well that are so important for me to have learned to be able to perform this difficult role.

Is this your first YAA production? What is unique about Young Artists of America? 

This is my first YAA performance, and when I came to the first rehearsal, I noticed right away that it was a great environment to be in and yet we get so much work done in one rehearsal, unlike most high school level productions.

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Adam Settlage (John) is a junior at Winston Churchill High School, and is excited to be part of his first “non-school” production!  After being coerced into auditioning for the middle school production of H.M.S. Pinafore in 8th grade, Adam was bitten by the stage bug and immediately decided to audition for the choral department at Churchill.  His freshman year found him singing in two choirs, including Churchill’s premier show choir, Showstoppers. He added even more dancing to the mix that year with a small part in the CHS musical, Anything Goes. But it was his sophomore year that solidified his love of song and dance, with a hands-down-favorite winning performance in “Churchill’s Got Talent,” an a cappella National Anthem solo for Churchill’s first football playoff game, solo and supporting performances in Blast-Revolution, and the leading male role of Emmett Forrest in last year’s stellar production of Legally Blonde.

This year has been a non-stop ride from one production to another, as Adam continues to broaden his experience and repertoire.  From a hard rockin’ solo of “Love Somebody” (Blast-American Bandstand) to his return performance as reigning champion of Churchill’s Got Talent (channeling Michael Bublé with “Feeling Good”), to the challenging vocals of John in this glamorous production of Madama Butterfly/Miss Saigon, Adam is exactly where he wants to be: onstage with a mic. He can be seen next in the upcoming CHS production of Peter Pan.

Adam would like to thank his family and friends for their love and support, and both Sanz brothers for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing experience.

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Nicole Sergeyko (Ellen).

Nicole Sergeyko (Ellen).
Nicole Sergeyko (Ellen).

How did you feel when you were selected for this role? What did you do to prepare for your audition?

I was so excited when I found out I was cast as Ellen! I’ve always wanted to play the role because I feel that beneath the surface of “Chris’ wife” or “the other woman” that the audience expects, there is so much potential for depth, and I feel so fortunate that I get perform my take on it.

To prepare for the audition, I struggled a bit in choosing between the lower or higher keys for the audition repertoire, because I felt like in order to get the role I wanted (Ellen) I would need to present myself in a very particular way. I ended up choosing the piece that flattered my voice best, even though it wasn’t “quintessentially Ellen.” In the end it proved to be the right decision! The directorial team worked with me to see how I would fit any role they had me in mind for because I showed them the best my voice could sound instead of trying to mold into what I thought their expectations for the role were.

How have you been preparing for your performance? Are there any particularly challenging aspects of this piece?

Since I found out I was cast as Ellen I’ve been so excited to start preparing for this role. Madama Butterfly was the first opera I saw as a child and I’ve been completely obsessed since. Before I heard Miss Saigon I didn’t think the music would be anything like Butterfly, but it’s so stunningly beautiful and quite difficult. I started preparing for my role by listening to the Saigon cast CD alongside the score. I wanted to understand the show entirely before diving into my character. After that, I looked at my individual pieces and wrote out the emotions line-by-line. It’s been my goal to be as thorough as possible in playing this role. During the group rehearsal process, we speak the text in rhythm before adding music, which makes memorization much easier, and really helps when working with such a large orchestra. The rhythms in this show are among the most difficult I’ve ever had to work through, so it’s nice to be able to go so in depth during the rehearsal process while we have experienced musicians like Rolando and Kris to train us.

What kind of training have you been receiving?

I take voice lessons and coach my repertoire regularly. I’ve been operatically trained for most of my singing study, and Ellen doesn’t call for that at all. While at YAA, Rolando has taught me how to safely use the lower part of my voice efficiently without interfering with my classical training. My coach, George Peachey, has been very helpful with emotional connection to the text, diction, rhythm, etc. I definitely have them to thank for all of my technique!

Is this your first YAA production? What is unique about Young Artists of America? 

This is actually my fifth production with YAA. I started out in Villains as a soloist last year, and then moved on to play Madame Giry in The Phantom of the Opera. YAA is an absolutely amazing organization. Singers have the opportunity to perform huge works with full orchestration under the direction of the best musicians in the DC area. We are trained like professional musicians and are expected to conduct ourselves as such, (i.e. having our pieces memorized as soon as possible, being very efficient during rehearsals). I’m currently in the process of auditioning for conservatories for classical vocal performance, and after two years with YAA I feel totally prepared to enter college level training for the “real world” of performance.
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Nicole Sergeyko (Ellen) s a senior at Richard Montgomery High School. She has been performing with Young Artists of America since Fall 2011. Recent credits include Marian Paroo in The Music Man, Rose Lennox in The Secret Garden, Rona in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Madame Giry in The Phantom of the Opera, as well as performances as a soloist in concerts of the Rutter Requiem, YAA’s Villains, and YAA’s Martyrs. She plans to pursue classical vocal performance in college next year.

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Chani Wereley (Kim)

Chani Werely.
Chani Werely.

How did you feel when you were selected for this role? What did you do to prepare for your audition? 

When I saw the cast list with my name next to Kim, I was more than ecstatic. I have always dreamed of playing Kim and I was so happy that I would have the opportunity to not only perform the role, but also perform it at the main stage at Strathmore. To prepare for my audition, I learned, analyzed, and memorized. the music and lyrics; then I just got into the mindset that I could only do my best and go from there. I sang “I’d Give My Life For You,” the act one finale, at my audition.

How have you been preparing for your performance? Are there any particularly challenging aspects of this piece? 

I have been doing textual analysis of the music ever since they gave us the scores. Miss Saigon is a very rich score, both musically and lyrically, so I looked at everything and tried to make sense of the character in my mind. The challenging aspect of Kim is that she is so complicated as a person. She is emotional but sometimes reserved and is so tender but strong, and on top of that she’s gone through so much that I can’t even imagine happening to me. I think it’s difficult for a person my age who hasn’t felt any of the pain or true love that Kim has felt – to truly capture each emotion. I’m still working hard on that.

What kind of training have you been receiving? 

I have been taking voice lessons on and off since my sophomore from a couple voice teachers. Currently, I am studying with Marilyn Moore, and she has helped me a lot both with the technical and artistic aspect of singing. During rehearsal, Rolando has pushed me outside my comfort zone to get the best sound and emotional take on the music.

Is this your first YAA production? What is unique about Young Artists of America? 

This is not my first YAA production. I’ve done every YAA production, except Martyrs, since the very first Inaugural Concert a while back. I love the fact that students around my age get the change to work with a full orchestra and professional singers on very difficult music. The first concert, we got to sing with Eleasha Gamble. I talked to her afterwards and she really inspired me to at least try and pursue this. I’m sure she doesn’t remember but that’s the magic of YAA. It’s a totally different experience than any school or community theatre.

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Chani Wereley (KIM), 17, is a senior at Winston Churchill High School and has been performing in school and community productions in the DC area since she was in middle school. Having been in several operettas of the Gilbert and Sullivan variety at Hoover, at the Opera Naples company in Florida, and in the Fringe Festival during middle school, she auditioned for show choir her freshman year and was invited to be in the all-female choir, Simply Irresistible, and her junior year she was invited to the mixed choir, Showstoppers. Her four-year Churchill stage career has included appearances in these musicals: ChicagoAnything Goes (Reno Sweeney), and Legally Blonde (Vivienne Kensington), and the annual production of Blast From the Past as both a soloist, featured dancer, and Vocal Captain. Having been Vocal Captain for the show choirs and for Blast the past three years, she has since decided to become involved with the spring production of Peter Pan solely as the student vocal music director.
Outside of school, Chani has performed at Montgomery College as a part of their Summer Dinner Theatre company for the past two years. Acting as both a performer and as waitstaff, Chani has been seen in Aida and in Hairspray! (Dynamite). At the same time, she has worked part-time for the aerospace department at the University of Maryland building and refurbishing model wind tunnels for educational use. She hopes to pursue musical theatre in college, but would love to maintain her interest and knowledge of aerospace engineering. After years of performance, her parents have always stood by her for constant support, and she would love to thank them for always believing in her.

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Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon will be presented on the main stage of The Music Center at Strathmore at 4 pm on Sunday, March 10, 2013. For tickets, purchase them by phone (301) 581-5100, or online.



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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.