Prepared with the skills she had learned as a vocal performance major at NYU Steinhardt, Mara Friedman, of Merrick, decided to go on an audition. In May, right after she graduated, Friedman submitted her résumé and headshot to be considered for Broadway Rising Stars’ annual concert. After an initial audition of her classical repertoire and a callback a week later, she was asked to sing alongside 17 other recent college graduates at the concert on July 22.
The Broadway Rising Stars concert at The Town Hall, on 43rd Street in Manhattan, is a showcase that introduces New York audiences to the next generation of up-and-coming talent to help launch their careers. Performers come from institutions such as Steinhardt, Marymount Manhattan College and the University of Miami, and are selected by a panel of judges who work in “the biz.”
Friedman, 22, was one of two Steinhardt graduates — and one of seven women — selected for the 13th annual showcase.
“I was so speechless, insanely honored and crazy grateful,” said Friedman, an alumna of John F. Kennedy High School. “At NYU you get used to the people around you, but here I was thrown into a bigger pool on a bigger stage, so there was more pressure, but there was so much to learn.”
At the first rehearsal, the performers were asked to start singing in front of one another to break the ice. Friedman said that day was filled with “healthy, competitive energy,” but she also gained networking connections, and 17 new friends.
For her slot in the concert she sang “Electricity” from the Broadway show “Billy Elliot.” The song was selected by the producers to coincide with the concert’s theme, which Friedman said consisted of “songs that say, ‘This is the moment to take on the field,’ like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Although a boy typically sings the song, Friedman said she was encouraged by producers to make it her own. “In the song, he’s explaining what it feels like to dance, and for me [that’s] what it feels like to perform,” she said. “I’m bursting, there’s sparks everywhere . . . It’s a feeling I can’t really describe.”
While Friedman’s training focused on classical vocal performance, she is no stranger to musical theater. At Kennedy, she was part of six performance groups, including drama and concert choir.
English teacher Daniel Sheffield, the director of JFK’s drama club, said he wasn’t surprised to hear of Friedman’s inclusion in the showcase. “We knew Mara was bound for great things even when she was in high school,” he said. “She’s a talent powerhouse.”
Sheffield considered Friedman a triple threat, as she “has an incredible acting ability, a strong singing talent and is an incredibly likable person,” he said. “Audiences love her. She’s the kind of person we root for, and she truly deserves to be recognized.”
JFK choir director Jeanette Pincus remembers watching Friedman in the club’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” in 2014, where she played Broadway starlet Janet Van De Graaff. In the song “Show Off,” Janet tells reporters that she will be through with acting once she gets married, but the number eventually evolves into a big production that features the actress baton-twirling, throwing ribbons and tap dancing, among other stunts.
“She really is this multi-talented character,” Pincus said. “I remember her decision to major in classical [voice], but she can just migrate to anything. She’s so gifted.”
Through Rising Stars, Friedman received feedback from different coaches and even shared the stage with an award-winning performer. Ali Stroker, who this year made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award, was the concert’s special guest star.
“Watching her sitting and singing, I realized how much she has gone through, and that [this field is] not easy,” Friedman said, “but it’s very exciting.”
Rising Stars has taught Friedman to “say yes to everything,” she said, and has also better prepared her for the journey ahead. Now living in Merrick, she plans to move back to the city and audition as much as possible.
As far as a “dream role,” Friedman said, “I just want to tell stories, and tell them truthfully. That’s what performing is: making the audience feel something.”