From the South Shore to the East End, Long Island's got talent. Here, we put the spotlight on locals who are making names for themselves in the entertainment world.
DAN PURCELL, East Northport
Purcell, who now lives in Brooklyn, was on a path to a career in the restaurant business until his senior year at University of Michigan. During a school break, he recalls seeing the film "A Beautiful Mind" and being moved by Russell Crowe's performance. "For some reason, I started to picture myself doing that," he says. So he signed up for an acting class at school and after graduating enrolled at The Neighborhood Playhouse in Manhattan. "I was so scared, but I was looking for something that would get me come out of my shell," he says. He then took the full two-year program and appeared in "As You Like It," "An Ideal Husband" and "The Glass Menagerie." In 2018, he appeared in "La Traviata" at the Narnia Festival in Narni, Italy. He's tentatively slated to star in the play "Kiss the Fortune Teller" in May at the IATI Theatre in Manhattan.
SARAH KHAN, Brookville
Khan released her single "Home" from her EP "Dust It Off." She has been singing since she was a girl and would spend hours on the swings singing to radio hits, especially those by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. In her 20s she honed her singing and songwriting skills and performed frequently at the Manhattan club Bitter End. She had planned for "Home," written while she was looking for a mall parking space, to be her only song, but says the recording process was so fulfilling that she wanted to do a six-track EP. Upbeat and positive best describe Khan's music, such as the title track with its message about being resilient or the electro pop beat of "Home." When not working on her songs, Khan runs a successful music school, Eskay's Music Lessons, based in Syosset that operates online. She's hoping to line up some performances once clubs and concert venues reopen. "It would also be a dream to get my music featured in an independent film," she adds.
COURTNEY FEKETE, Babylon
Fekete, who grew up in Deer Park, had an epiphany in high school. "I remember saying to one of my teachers that I wish I could do all of this — singing, acting, dancing — for a career, and they said, 'You can.' " And she has, first appearing at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater in children's productions and then mainstage shows like "A Chorus Line" and "Annie." She was also in "The Producers" and "Legally Blonde" at Argyle Theatre in Babylon. A highlight was filling in for the ailing actress playing Lily St. Regis in "Annie." "I love understudying. To me that's a skill, to have the mental capacity to understudy someone knowing that you might have to go on at a minute's notice," she says. And who wouldn't want to live next door to her? "I give my neighbors a concert every day while I'm doing the dishes," she says.
Makayla Joy Connolly, Northport
Makayla is already a Broadway veteran who appears as Harry Potter's daughter, Lily, in "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child." Makayla, who started performing at 6, was afraid to perform for an audience until friends at a summer camp got her to sing on stage. Entranced by the applause, she then played Molly in "Annie" at Northport Community Theater. More shows followed, including "The Little Mermaid" and "Seussical the Musical," both at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, and in 2017, she was in the national touring company of "White Christmas." "Harry Potter," which she joined in September, is her first nonmusical, and it's been amazing, she says. "In a musical, you're more focused on the rhythm of the song or the melody, but in a play, you're talking the whole time and hanging out and telling the story." An added perk has been meeting celebs who've come backstage, including pop star Billie Eilish, magician David Blaine and golfer Tiger Woods. For now, more time with "Harry Potter." "I hope it goes on forever," says Makayla.
Victoria Liu, Garden City
Victoria started singing when she was 9 after her mom heard her crooning in the shower. "When she found out I liked singing, she found a singing teacher nearby," Victoria says. The lessons paid off -- when she was 11, Victoria won a singing competition at Carnegie Hall, which she described as "a moving experience," and in eighth grade she played Belle in a production of "Beauty and the Beast." Victoria, a member of the New York State School Music Association and a freshman at Loyola School in Manhattan, is trained as a classical singer, but she also enjoys performing pop songs. Last fall, she won a bronze medal for her rendition of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" on "Teen's Talent Show," which airs on Sinovision, a U.S.-based Chinese television station.
Justin Schuman, Huntington
Schuman is a swing performer in the hit "Tina -- The Tina Turner Musical" at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Since graduating from Northwestern University, Schuman has been a mainstay in regional theater in shows like "Mary Poppins" (as Bert), "The Sound of Music" (Rolf) and "Hello, Dolly!" (Ambrose Kemper). For "Tina," he primarily covers four roles and has to be prepared to go on at any time. "As a swing, you really have to know the whole show," says Schuman, who also serves as fight captain on "Tina." Being a swing also means having a vast wardrobe. "Every costume has been custom built for me," he says. "I have an unbelievable number of wigs." Schuman says he doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a dancer or musical theater performer. "I want to try different things," he says. "One day I'd like to do a play or maybe something experimental Off-Broadway that's cool and strange and polarizing."
AVA DELLA PIETRA, Setauket
Ava has been singing professionally since she was 7 and started writing songs at 10. With titles like "Sparkle" and "Optimist," it's no surprise that Ava says "my songs are centered on inspiring others to believe in themselves and follow their dreams." Certainly her own dreams have been coming true: At 7, she played Cosette in a national tour of "Les Miserables." "I didn't realize people acting in 'Les Miz' were getting paid. I didn't think it was a real job," she says. In 2014, Ava toured in "White Christmas" which led to getting cast in "School of Rock" on Broadway. These days, her focus is her music, and she performed at My Father's Place in Roslyn in October. She has a new single "Christmas Tonight" and her next gig is singing at the New York Open tennis tournament at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum in February.
LYDIA VON HOF, Commack
Von Hof is a singer-songwriter who has performed at The Bitter End in Manhattan. She's a classically trained pianist and vocalist who appeared in "Carmen" with the New York Opera Exchange. In 2016, von Hof won the Long Island's Got Talent competition with her rendition of "Feeling Good," which she also sang at a Knicks halftime show at Madison Square Garden. Over the summer, she focused on writing and describes her original songs as "a little Sara Bareilles" while her vocal stylings are along the lines of Adele and Amy Winehouse. "I'm also a big fan of Billy Joel," she says. "I feel like if you're a young musician on Long Island, you have to be influenced by Billy Joel." Von Hof, who attends the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, hopes to line up some performance dates while home for the holidays. "As long as I am working with music, whether it's performing or writing, I'll be happy," she says.
NICK BARROTTA, Huntington
Barrotta has a recurring role on the BET series "Tyler Perry's The Oval," which premieres Oct. 23. Prior to "The Oval," Barrotta did some commercials. Then in 2018, he started getting plenty of face time as the Bailiff to Judge Lynn Toler on "Divorce Court" -- and apparently people have taken notice. " 'Entertainment Tonight' and Wendy Williams began to refer to me as the 'bae'-liff," he jokes. "I'm not sure where that came from." In "The Oval," which follows the soapy exploits of an interracial first family in the White House, Barrotta plays an aide to the chief of staff. "I had to audition in front of Tyler Perry and his team. It was a little nerve-wracking," he says. Barrotta studied broadcast journalism at Hofstra and hopes to put those skills to work in the future. "My dream has always been to be a TV host and be a Ryan Seacrest type of personality," he says.
JACLYN MANFREDI, St. James
Manfredi is a singer-songwriter who'll perform at The Bitter End in Manhattan on Oct. 28. She began singing when she was 7 and was about 16 when she appeared in a showcase at the Apollo Theatre backed by a full band. "The guy who went on before me got booed off, so I was really nervous going on," she says. "But they loved me there. It was one of the best feelings in the world. That was the pinpoint of me knowing this is what I want to do." In the summer, she released five original songs, which she'll perform at The Bitter End. Her musical influences include Bruno Mars and especially Amy Winehouse. "I am in In love with soul type music and R&B," she says. "I fell in love with Amy's voice. It's so pure and authentic." Manfredi plans to release two more singles in November and January, and in November, she'll head to Nashville to shoot a music video.
KELLI BAKER, Huntington
Baker, a singer-songwriter who says she grew up singing in the church choir, moved from Phoenix to Long Island in 2012. "I always knew that New York was where I was supposed to be even when I was a kid," says Baker, whose musical tastes run toward the blues and rock. In the past year, she's been especially focused on honing her songwriting ability. "I spent a full year finding out what I'm really made of," she says. Her songwriting process on her single "The Living," for example, often found her waking up in the middle of the night and writing about whatever was preying on her mind. Baker performs every Tuesday at Bar Petit in Huntington and also has appeared with Rolling Stones tribute band Let It Bleed. She's working on an EP which is slated to come out in January.
ARIANA VALDES, Lindenhurst
Valdes, who recently moved to Harlem, was practically born in a trunk. Her mom was a costume designer for a theater group, so Valdes accompanied her to rehearsals. Her first role was Charlie Bucket's dad in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" in a local children's production. After graduating from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, she appeared in the ensemble of "Show Boat" at Gateway. She toured as Mrs. Hopkins in "My Fair Lady" and won a Broadway World award for playing Abuela Claudia in "In the Heights," a part for which she had to appear older. "I'd had an ankle injury," she says, "and I used that to my advantage and used a cane." Through Aug. 17, she is playing Sister Berte and a party guest in "The Sound of Music" at The Gateway in Bellport and understudies Mother Abbess. Valdes will next appear in the Off-Broadway musical "The Green Room" at the Sargent Theatre Sept. 25-Oct. 27.
MISSY DOWSE, Smithtown
Dowse made her stage debut at 7 in "The Music Man" at Star Playhouse in Commack. "I thought, I can sing, dance and act all in one place. This is the best thing ever," she says. While attending Hofstra University, Dowse took a year off to appear as Louise in a national tour of "Gypsy." Another highlight was a staged reading of "Agnes of God" with another Hofstra alum, Susan Sullivan, and Talia Shire at the school in 2007. Playing Stephanie in "Saturday Night Fever" at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport has been another winning experience, she says, though not an easy one. "The challenging thing with doing a show that's so culturally iconic is trying not play the idea of what you know of it, but bringing yourself to it," she says. Dowse says her goal is to make a comfortable living and work consistently in New York.
EUSHIN VITALE, Bellerose Village
Vitale has been performing with TADA! Youth Theater, whose alumni include Jordan Peele and Kerry Washington, since she was 12. Her most rewarding experiences have been doing shows that touch on her experiences, Vitale says. "I did one show where I played a girl who moves from Missouri to New York City and is going through all these changes," she says. "I could relate to the idea of meeting new friends and being in a new environment. In her most recent show, "Game Changers," she played a contestant on a game show that has never had a winner. "One of the things I learned on this show was how to leave my problems at the door and bring the energy," she says. Vitale will spent three weeks this summer in Korea and will then be auditioning for TADA's next show "The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood."
JASMINE GOBOURNE, Wheatley Heights
Gobourne is a trained dancer who is an ensemble member in "Aida" at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport through June 30. She studied at the Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset, and after two years at Marymount Manhattan College, furthered her dance training at the Ailey School in Manhattan. Stints performing with major troupes, including Vissi Dance Theater and Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company, followed, but "Aida" marks Gobourne's first foray into musical theater. "I always had just seen myself as a dancer, but here I have to be an actor and a singer," she says. "It's opened my eyes to being a multidimensional artist, and being around people that have experience in theater has been inspirational to me." Now bitten by the theatrical bug, Goboourne wants to audition for more musicals. "I want to look toward Broadway now, or wherever this takes me," she says.
JACKIE ROMEO, Massapequa
Romeo will perform June 8 at the Rising Stars Tour at Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station. She started performing two years ago after attending Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth Workshop, a mentoring program for young performers. "I was always afraid to move and to show emotion on my face," Romeo says. "She told me I didn't have to worry about what other people thought but to go out there and have fun. I also learned to understand what I was singing and to communicate with the audience." Gibson also gave Romeo a pep talk before the teen performed "And I Am Telling You" at Harlem's Apollo Theater in April. "That was the first time I ever sang with a live band behind me, and I got a standing ovation," Romeo says. "It was so exciting, it was an out of body experience." Romeo wants to venture into songwriting this summer before attending Long Island High School for the Arts in the fall.
RYAN DOBRIN, Westbury
Dobrin is making his directorial debut with the physical theater piece "She's a Witch!," which premieres at The Tank in Manhattan at 3 p.m. June 8. His interest in theater began at Friends Academy in Locust Valley where he acted in shows. Dobrin says he "stumbled into directing" as a student at Wesleyan University. "I started doing these 15-minute shows, and I realized that my love for theater could exist in this other way that I found so fulfilling and exciting," he says. "She's a Witch!," an expansion of a solo dance piece created by his friend Carina Goebelbecker, of Manhasset, who is doing the choreography, marks Dobrin's first time helming a project. "Carina and I had collaborated on some things in high school, but we both had a need to create something that was ours," he says. "It was exciting to see where we now are as artists." After this, he will be serving as assistant director on three productions at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan during the 2019-2020 season.
MICHAEL DONATELLI Huntington
Michael plays one of the ancestors and is an ensemble member in "The Addams Family" opening May 23 at the John W. Engeman Studio of the Performing Arts. He got the acting bug when he was 5 after seeing a cast call for a local production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." "I was curious about what would happen, and I wanted to sing in a show," he says. Not only did he get a role, but he has since appeared in more than 20 productions, including "The Wizard of Oz" and "Peter Pan" at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. He has also done a couple of films, most notably, "The Famine," a Long Island-shot drama dealing with the 1845 potato famine in Ireland. Michael, who started playing the banjo in September, plans to audition for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York.
PAIGE PATTERSON, Port Jefferson
Patterson is a jazz vocalist who specializes in songs from the American Songbook, which she's performed at The Metropolitan Room, Don't Tell Mama, The University Club and other venues. She put her career on hold in 2009 after getting married. Music was her solace when the marriage ended, and Patterson, who also works as a freelance makeup artist, resumed her career five years ago singing "Feeling Good" during a Broadway night at the Apollo Theater. On Friday, she'll do a cabaret-style show in the Sky Room at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, where she plans to do at least one song tied to Mother's Day. She's asking guests to bring a framed picture of their moms to place on their tables. "I don't like it when someone sings and it's all about them, and people sit there," she says. "I try to give you an experience. And I want people to get up and dance." Patterson will also sing at The Carltun in Eisenhower Park on May 18.
McGREGORY FREDERIQUE, Elmont
Frederique's foray into acting came about by chance in 2017 after seeing a notice from a casting agency. That led to his first job, which was doing background work in the Long Island-shot Adam Sandler-Chris Rock comedy "The Week Of." More recently, he's landed sizable roles in the short films "The Moth" and "Brothers," a drama about two siblings trying to care for themselves after the death of their mother. "In that one, I play the irresponsible brother trying to pay the rent on time," he says. The movie, which premiered April 30 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, is starting to hit the film-festival circuit. He also has leading roles in the upcoming indies "Circle," "The Red Maze" and "First Love."
MATT PARIS, Lynbrook
Paris made his stage debut at age 5 as a Lost Boy in a local production of "Peter Pan." "They made up a character for me named Okey-Dokey, and my one line was 'okey-dokey,' " he recalls. Since then, his roles have grown substantially. After graduating from the University of Miami last spring, Paris played Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls" at Priscilla Beach Theater in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in July. In March, he made his New York City debut in "Empty Frames," an original piece about the interaction between a museum security guard and a strange man who is revealed to be the subject of a stolen painting. He had auditioned for a play being put up at the festival. After the reading, he was barely down the block when he got a call to come back so the "Empty Frames" team could hear him sing. "When you have a weird, special audition experience like that, you have a feeling about it," he says. He'll next play Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in "Young Frankenstein" in the fall at Priscilla Beach Theatre.
GINA MILO, Island Park
The actress, who also grew up in Long Beach, stars as Ulla in "The Producers" at The Argyle Theatre in Babylon through April 20. Milo made her stage debut in first grade singing "Memory" from "Cats. Far more memorable was her big break appearing in the touring company of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in 2001, starring Ann-Margret, whom she called "a gem of a human being." Milo followed that with her Broadway debut as Eponine in "Les Miserables" in 2003. "Talk about a dream come true," Milo says. "And to get to do that on a Broadway stage with my entire family out there, truly for me that was like my wedding day." Performing in "The Producers" is a real homecoming for Milo, who also played Ulla at the John W. Engeman Theater in 2015 shortly after becoming a mom. Up next for Milo is playing Sibella in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck, Michigan, in August.
BELA SNOW, Mount Sinai
The young singer-songwriter said she's been singing "pretty much since I could talk." Her first performance before an audience was at a middle school variety show doing a number from "Hannah Montana." "I had so much fun just running around and singing, even though at the time I probably wasn't too good," she jokes. About the same time she started penning thoughts on experiences happening in her life and then putting melodies to her words. "My mom was a singer and songwriter, so I've always been obsessed with music." Snow says she feels most alive when she's performing onstage, whether it's a charity event or performing the national anthem at Monster Jam shows. These days, she's spending much of her time in the recording studio working on her first album which she and her producer plan to shop around to various labels.
RYDER KOEHLE, Oceanside
Ryder is the epitome of a Broadway baby. After all, he's playing an infant in the hit Irish family saga "The Ferryman." Ryder got his show-biz start after his mom, Courtney Pincus-Koehle, who runs Oceanside-based theater school To the Stage, was sent a casting call for the show. After a Facetime meeting with producers followed by an in-person audition, Ryder was hired in December when he was 6 months, the legal minimum age for appearing on stage. Ryder, part of a brood of seven in the show, has a few scenes in the first two acts of the three-act play. "It has been great for him to interact with the other kids and he gets so much attention. Plus there's a goose and a rabbit in the show. When we're at home he's almost bored," jokes his mom. Another perk: after seeing the show, Syosset-raised filmmaker Judd Apatow mentioned Ryder on his Instagram page. While it's too soon to know if Ryder will keep acting, his salary is being saved for his college education, says his mom.
SYNDEE WINTERS, Brentwood
Winter, who plays Nala on Broadway in "The Lion King," first tried out for the show in 2008, but didn't make the cut. Two years later, she auditioned again and landed the part in the North American tour before making her Broadway debut in the show in 2012. After roles in two more Broadway shows -- "Motown the Musical" and "Pippin" -- Winters was the principal standby in "Hamilton." "I was in the theater every show, and in the event one of the actors was not available, I went on," she says. During the run, she appeared as all of the Schuyler sisters. Last year, Winters appeared in NBC's popular "Jesus Christ Superstar Live" and she's also toured with her one-woman show on Lena Horne. She next hopes to take a European vacation and to tour with her recently released jazz album "Lessons From a Lady."
MARC BUJNICKI , Wading River
Before his current job as director of production for Feld Entertainment, the company behind "Sesame Street Live!," Bujnicki worked as a TV producer for 24 years. His credits include specials starring Lionel Richie, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett and Rod Stewart. As associate producer of "Sesame Street Live!," he's been involved in creating the show's concept and working with the writers and scenic designers. "When you get the opportunity to work on a show like 'Sesame Street Live!' and you get the instant gratification, there's nothing like it," he says. "When you start hearing kids scream for Elmo like he's this amazing rock star, it just puts a smile on your face."
LEANDRA McNAIR, Westbury
McNair is a singer-songwriter whose EP "Lucky" came out in 2016, but she's been a performer since she was 3 and sang in the choir at St. Brigid's Church in her hometown. At 10, she began voice lessons and furthered her musical education at the Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset and the Berklee College of Music in Boston. When she was 15, McNair won during amateur night at the Apollo Theatre, a moment she'll never forget. "My parents rented a school bus and brought all of my friends and family to Harlem so they could come to the show," she says. McNair has performed both as a backup singer for Debbie Sledge of Sister Sledge, and performed her own cabaret show throughout the world. Her next EP is also close to being released. "I go a little more jazzy with this one," she says. "It will have more live instrumentation."
ROBERT VINCENT MONTANO Centereach
The young singer-songwriter played Patrick, a teen seeking the magic of Christmas, in the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" in 2017 and 2018. Montano, a classically trained pianist, made his stage debut in 2015 performing a medley of Billy Joel songs in Patchogue Theatre's "Star Search" and the following year started writing his own songs. On a lark, he went to the Radio City audition in 2017 and impressed producers with his vocals. During the two seasons he played Patrick, one of his favorite moments was meeting Paul McCartney, who came backstage after a performance and shared some advice. "He said that when you write songs, your songs are your babies and you have to take care of them and you have to nurture them and you have to let them grow," says Montano. He also teaches music to children with special needs and performs at the pediatric unit at Stony Brook Hospital.
SALINA SOLOMON, Huntington
Solomon is an indie singer-songwriter, now living in Nashville, who recently released the EP "20/20." Her love of music began at age 6, when she began studying the cello. At 12, Solomon switched over to guitar, a better fit for her burgeoning interest in writing songs. "I take a very sarcastic approach most of the time," she says of her music, before adding, "I tend to write a lot sentimental music as well. A lot of the songs I write are in layers. So they can be about more than one life experience. It's just kind of threading them all together." Solomon, who has performed at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Nashville's Bluebird Cafe, calls "20/20" her "rebirth": "I always worried too much about what other people wanted. With '20/20,' this was the kind of music I wanted to create," featuring songs where the guitar is the star. As she keeps writing new songs, she says her goal is to reach as many people as possible.
LIESL JAYE, Garden City
Jayes stars as Punky Who in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater, but it's not her first time performing in the Seussical musical. At 12, she appeared in the ensemble of the Broadway production of "Grinch" and then played Danny Who in the national tour. "It's just so heartwarming," she says. "I love the finale when the Grinch realizes that Christmas is not all about the presents and the wrapping, but about family and friends gathered together." Jaye, who also appeared in the national tour of "Hello, Dolly!," is a trained gymnast, a talent that comes in handy for "Grinch." "I get to flip in one scene," she says. "It's rare to find someone who can sing, dance and flip." Though she plans to keep performing, Jaye also dreams of someday opening her own dance or gymnastics studio.
MATT KUNKEL, Northport
Kunkel, who directed the John W. Engeman Theater's holiday show "Elf," has a deep connection with the Northport theater. He started as a volunteer usher at Engeman and worked his way up from backstage crew member to directing children's shows and classes there. Since graduating from the University of Michigan, Kunkel was assistant director on the Madison Square Garden production of "Elf" and in the spring directed "An Evening of Stars" featuring Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune in St. Louis. Directing "Elf," Kunkel put his stamp on the production by setting the entire show within a snow globe. " 'Elf' is just a joy machine," he says. "It brings people into the theater and makes them happy. Even if you've had the worst day in the world, if you leave this show and even just have a smile on your face, we've done our job." Kunkel will next serve as associate director of "The Music Man" at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center in February
CHRIS RUBEN, Farmingville
Ruben started playing drums when he was 13 and soon after was performing in bands. By 16, he had learned the guitar and was penning his own songs, most of which were based on history and his own life experiences. "Stomach Coil," the latest single by his Chris Ruben Band, which was formed in 2014, was inspired by events of World War II. "The song is about unifying people and not letting history repeat itself," he says. "Even in our troubled times, the message is that we have to stick together and embrace the world around us." His goal for the band is to "travel the world and bring the music everywhere." Ruben and his band will perform at Revolution Bar & Music Hall in Amityville on Dec. 21 and their debut EP "Fortune Favors the Bold" will drop in March.
KIERA STELLA, Oyster Bay
Stella grew up listening to country music which fueled her desire to be a singer-songwriter like Taylor Swift. As a junior at Belmont University in Nashville, she's majoring in songwriting. "I'm inspired by relationships in my life, and I look at other people's relationships," she says. Her single "No More" has gotten considerable radio play since coming out earlier this year, including on Long Island's station My Country 96.1 FM, and her holiday single "Last Christmas," will come out immediately after Thanksgiving. She'll perform at The Nutty Irishman in Farmingdale on Nov. 27 and will sing the national anthem when the Long Island Nets play at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 4. In addition to eventually playing the Grand Ole Opry, Stella says she has one other goal: "I want to inspire other young girls who are in their bedrooms writing songs to get out there and make their voices heard. We need more female voices in this industry."
JOHANNA TAYLOR, Wheatley Heights
Taylor has been a dancer since she was 4 and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance from University at Buffalo. While at Buffalo, she received a scholarship to the Dance Italia summer intensive in Lucca, Italy. "We had an improvisation performance in one of the piazzas in the city," Taylor recalls. "It was incredible to be a part of an immersive performance like that, with locals and tourists all around us, in a country I'd always dreamed of going to." She is an ensemble cast member in "Annie" at Axelrod Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, which runs through Nov. 18. The production, which is helmed by renowned choreographer Al Blackstone, marks Taylor's first time doing theater since middle school and she's hungry to do more. "I have a lot of goals including getting to Broadway someday soon," she says. Taylor will be spending the holidays in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she'll perform in the ensemble of "The Wiz" from Dec. 7 to 31.
EVAN PETRUZZI, Plainview
"My dad's a professional trumpet player and my mom's been a singer since I was in the womb, so I always knew I wanted to have music a part of my life," Petruzzi says. That became clear when she won a high-school talent competition performing one of her original songs. Since then, Petruzzi has performed at venues including 89 North in Patchogue, The Mercury Lounge in Manhattan and the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. The video for her single "Breathe," which came out in October, deals with animal rights and pet adoption and was filmed at local shelters and dog parks. "Going to the dog parks was very rewarding, because I got to speak to the owners and listen to the stories of how much having these animals as part of their families affected them in a positive way." Petruzzi will take the stages at The Bitter End in Manhattan on Nov. 18 and Rockwood Music Hall on Dec. 22. Also in December, Petruzzi will drop her new single, "Sideshow."
VAEDA BLACK, Centerport
Black began singing in kindergarten and has performed in local theater productions. In the fall of 2017, she released her first single, "Face Down," which was about accepting your deep, dark desires. "Suicide Love," which comes out Oct. 10, is a love song that Black says was inspired by a text message her boyfriend sent to her. "I thought it was very poetic and wrote a whole song about it," she says. Black adds that she's not into "bubble-gum pop" and describes herself as an alternative artist, whose strong suit is writing lyrics and melodies. You can hear her perform her songs live on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. at the Long Island Fall Festival at Heckscher Park in Huntington. Then on Oct. 9, she'll do a nine-song set at Arlene's Grocery on Stanton Street in Manhattan. "Ultimately, I would love to have a following and go on tour and connect with people," she says.
STEVE MASON, Merrick
Mason, who grew up in Patchogue, left his finance job to pursue show biz in 2010 and has acted and done stunt work on such series as "Gotham" and "Orange Is the New Black." For the past year, his pet project has been "Eight," a short film that he directed, starred in, co-wrote and co-produced. In the intense film, which premiered at Bellmore Movies in September, Mason plays his father, a former Suffolk County policeman. The title refers to Mason's age -- he was 8 when his father killed himself. Making the movie has been cathartic, he says, but he also hopes it provides a service. "I want enough people to see it, so that even if one person might be contemplating taking their own life, it might influence them to go seek help." Mason is working to book more screenings for "Eight," and he'll next be seen in an episode of Syfy's "Happy" and USA's "The Sinner."
ERIC SCHELL, Rocky Point
Schell, who now lives in New York City, wanted to be an actor after appearing in "Les Miserables" at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson while a senior in high school. His first role since graduating from Pace University in June is playing Capt. Robert Scott in "Peter and the Starcatcher" at Argyle Theatre in Babylon, and he's the only cast member who portrays a real person. "He was this great British captain who sailed to the Antarctic," says Schell, who researched the role, "but then he didn't have enough food or supplies to come back. He ended up staying in the Antarctic and kept a diary of what happened." Schell's dream is "to end up in Colorado with a big dog and a family" but not before either landing a role on Broadway or working in television and films.
CHASE VACNIN, Merrick
Merrick native Chase Vacnin co-stars with Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale in the movie "Once Upon a Time in Staten Island" which is slated to come out in 2019. He began acting 12 years ago and has appeared on "The Wendy Williams Show" and played the bully Butch in the 2014 video "The Little Rascals Save the Day."
BRENDAN RORKE, Huntington
Rorke is a composer and musical director whose credits included bkONE's Brooklyn production of "Godspell." He began taking piano lessons when he was 4 and says he knew immediately he had a connection with music. After seeing "Godspell" as a youngster, he fell in love with the show and would ask his piano teacher if he could learn music by Stephen Schwartz, the show's composer. Working on "Godspell," his first professional production since graduating from Hofstra University was a dream job and one he sought to put his own mark on by reworking the finale, which he thought was too abrupt. "I added five to six minutes to it and rearranged the music and gave it a more pop-punk sort of vibe," says Rorke, who now lives in Queens. "I added an extra guitar part and a piano part." The company is in the process of finding an Off-Broadway theater for "Godspell."
AMARA JAMES AJA, West Hempstead
Aja's first role was Mr. Bumble, who takes in the orphan Oliver Twist in a sixth-grade production of "Oliver!" and has since appeared in many Shakespeare productions including "Twelfth Night" and "Macbeth." In "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Argyle Theatre in Babylon, he's making his professional musical debut as the seafarer Alf, whom he calls an "experienced, pretty unflappable sailor." "It gives me so much more respect for people who can achieve that level of performance," he says. "This show relies heavily on ensemble. We're running, jumping, singing, slipping. It's been fun to stretch these acting muscles I've never used before."
ZACHARY PODAIR, Smithtown
Smithtown native Zachary Podair, who plays Les in "Newsies" at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, started performing at 6 and has had roles in many Long Island productions, including Donkey in "Shrek." He was in a commercial for a local camp and appeared in re-enactment scenes for an ad about Irish immigrants that was shot in Northport.
CAROLYN MILLER, Massapequa
Miller started acting when she was 8 and has appeared in commercials, theater, film and television, including a 2004 episode of "Law & Order: SVU." "I was in a bar last month and someone actually recognized me from it," she says. Miller, who graduated from the Berklee College of Music, began doing YouTube music videos a few years ago, which developed a massive social-media following. She caught the attention of Russ DeSalvo, who has worked with Celine Dion and Lionel Richie, and is the producer of "Unbreakable." Miller describes the country-pop disc, which came out in July, as "Kelly Clarkson meets Carrie Underwood." "For me, country music was a no-brainer because I love the storytelling and purity and the honesty of the genre," Miller says.
GEORGE PAPADIMATOS, Mineola
Papadimatos started acting after he finished college and studied with actor Chazz Palminteri. "Chazz makes you a better actor the minute you walk through the door," he says. Papadimatos put his career on hold for five years to care for his now-deceased parents while also working as a bartender. Through bartending, he met a casting director who was impressed with his personality and his mixology skills. When he returned to acting, he looked her up, which led to jobs including the Off-Broadway comedy "Bromance-aroni" and a role as Elektra's chauffeur in the Marvel Comics series "Daredevil" for Netflix. "That was a big thrill. I really felt like I was in a comic book," he says. Papadimatos also appears in the web series "Wholly Broken" which was filmed on Long Island. Up next, he has a recurring role on an HBO series premiering in the fall, and he's working on "Cheers"-like pilot set at a Greek diner based on his father's experiences.
MATTY EVERS, Coram
The career of Coram native Matty Evers has gotten off to a strong start: He landed a role on the July 15 episode of "Sharp Objects" after acing his audition -- his first. In the show, he plays a neighborhood bad boy, and to get the right tough-guy attitude, Matty worked with his mother to channel his "inner Norman Reedus," a nod to his favorite actor.
MADDY SEITLES, East Moriches
Most teens are more into hip-hop than bebop, but not East Moriches native Maddy Seitles, who says she's been singing since she learned to talk. At home, her parents played songs by Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, and she fell in love with their style. "That kind of music has a history to it and it's so much more interesting intellectually and is more creative," she says. At 14, Seitles performed during halftime at a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, and at other venues in Manhattan.
LAURA BRANDEL, Malverne
Director-choreographer Brandel, who now lives in Manhattan, says her many trips to Broadway as a child led to her career path. After earning a bachelor of arts degree in dance and dance education from Hunter College, she got involved in developing and directing works for the New York Musical Theatre Festival and companies such as New York Theatre Barn and 59E59. "I'm drawn to projects that push the envelope," Brandel says, such as the New World Stages production of "Rent" in 2011, on which she served as a choreography consultant. "I saw it on Broadway 13 times ... so I had this crazy-person knowledge of the show," she says. On Aug. 22, Timothy Huang's one-act musical "Koi Story," which Brandel is directing, premieres at the Samuel French Off Off-Broadway Festival. In September, she'll direct two scenes in the ABC Discovers Talent Showcase and in October will direct The Dramatists Guild Fellows Presentation at Playwrights Horizons
CRYSTAL CIMAGLIA, Dix Hills
Cimaglia, a singer who graduated from the Long Island High School for the Arts, has been a real-life Disney princess. She has played Snow White and other animated heroines on Disney cruise ships as well as Hong Kong Disneyland. "The kids think you're the real deal and are completely in awe about meeting their favorite character from the movie they've loved," she says. As a performer for Celebrity Cruises, she got to create her own cabaret show, which led to a gig at Feinstein's/54 Below in November 2017. "I was able to get back to my roots of jazz. I love the '40s and '50s and everything about the culture," she says. Her June 2018 show at the Triad Theater in New York City is a similar affair with "female crooner tunes from back in the day" like "Mambo Italiano" and "Sway," she says.
Dontius started performing as a child and won a talent competition in Brooklyn when he was 14 for his rendition of "Billie Jean." His wake-up call to become a serious artist came a few years later after he was shot in the leg at a party in Amityville. "I'm a strong dancer, and after that I decided I was never going to take my career for granted," he says. A turning point came when his songs "Fighter" and "Turn Up" were featured in the 2017 movie "Love Beats Rhyme" directed by Wu Tang Clan frontman RZA, one of his idols. "After submitting my songs to one of his labels, I got a call from the CEO," which has led to an ongoing collaboration with RZA. The rapper's label 36 Chambers released Dontius' EP "The Fourteenth," appropriately, on Valentine's Day, 2018.
GRACE GAUSTAD, Sagaponack
The up-and-coming singer started playing piano when she was 6, writing songs at 9 and then making music videos at 15 (her video of "Take Me to Church" has more than 5 million views on Instagram). "We block out two days and will do six songs," Gaustad says. "I do a combination of originals and covers." With each video, she likes to include stories about her connection to each song. "I love allowing people to have a personal window into your music, which is great for engagement," she says. For her originals, like "Walk," Gaustad writes from personal experience. "I think it's important to write about being 16 and the world you're growing up in," she says.
MIKE MILLAN, Bay Shore
Millan, who plays Jesus and "a hockey goon" in "Escape to Margaritaville," started dancing as a kid after seeing "West Side Story" and telling his mom, "That's what I want to do." He studied musical theater at the University of Hartford's Hartt School and made his Off-Broadway debut in 2014 in the jukebox musical "Piece of My Heart," also serving as swing and dance captain. At his "Margaritaville" tryout, Millan says he felt confident when the choreographer told those auditioning to act like "you're all really stoned or drunk on the beach," he says. "I said, 'OK, I know exactly what you want.' From there I thought, let me just really ham it up. I could see her watching me the whole time and whispering to her assistant, 'Who's that?' "
ASHLEY HOD, Great Neck
At 4, Hod studied at the Great Neck School of Dance and three years later entered New York City Ballet's School of Ballet. She joined the company in 2012, landing solo spots as Dewdrop and the Sugarplum Fairy in "The Nutcracker." In March, she won one of the Lincoln Center Awards for Emerging Artists, which, she says, gave her "a little bit of reassurance and hope that I can make this dream of making it all the way to becoming a principal come true." Audiences can see Hod in action when the New York City Ballet kicks off its spring season April 24, which will include salutes to Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine.
GERRY FERRETTI, Lindenhurst
Ferretti had a desire to perform since he was 11 and sang with a church choir. He has acted at Long Island theaters, and he has also run a murder-mystery theater company. Writing has always been a passion for Ferretti and last year his original musical "Bridge the Gap," about garage band members who reunite decades later, premiered at South Shore Theatre Experience in Lindenhurst. With "The Mark," a film noir throwback/romance which premieres May 7 at Sayville Cinemas, he took on the entire project from writing to editing, acting and directing. The movie was filmed entirely on Long Island, at locations including St. Bernard's Church in Levittown, Great South Bay and Park Avenue Grill in Amityville.
JACK HATCHER, Commack
Commack native Jack Hatcher plays young Harry Potter in the Broadway smash "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" through mid-March. He made his professional stage debut last year in the Public Theater production "The Low Road," a comedy set in 18th century New England. Though he started performing when he was 4, Jack says he got "super-serious" about acting when he was 9 and began taking acting classes at Gateway Playhouse in Bellport.
STEVE O'BRIEN, Lake Grove
O'Brien started out as a TV news reporter before becoming a special-ed teacher in his late 20s. He started doing stand-up comedy on weekends and took acting and writing classes. After some roles off Off-Broadway, he joined The Actor's Green Room in Manhattan, where he began working in short films, including "The Cartographer," for which he won a best actor award at the 2017 Long Island International Film Expo for playing a bipolar man. Acting, he says, has helped him better understand himself and others. "You analyze characters and scripts to the point where you have to put yourself in their positions and have their point of view," he says. O'Brien, who now lives in Manhattan, also wrote the 2017 short film "Spilt Milk," based on his experience telling his parents that he's gay. He's creating a web series called "Love Your Life" about the first year he came out as gay.
TOM HUMBERT, Garden City
Humbert studied classical guitar at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, and juggled his studies with performing in dinner theater. He's since performed at the Goodspeed Opera House and at the White House as part of the touring company of "Shining Time Station Live." He's the writer, director and star of a musical pilot called "Wholly Broken," which won the Best Feature Film USA Award at the 2017 International Film Festival Manhattan. The film combines his passions of music, acting, singing and faith. Among the cast members is Baldwin's Martha Wash of the Weather Girls, who performs Humbert's song "Come Into the Light -- Shine On." "Her role didn't call for a song, and I thought, if I'm going to cast Martha Wash, I need to write a song for her," Humbert says.
LILY TAMBURO, East Setauket & ANNABELLE DEANER, Melville
Lily Tamburo, left, began performing at 4 and has appeared in "Guys and Dolls" and "Seussical." AnnaBelle Deaner was 5 when she started doing theater and has done voice-over work, including a Korean animated series, "Magic Adventures: The Crystal of Dark." The two girls split the role of Ivonka in "Once," and the role of Molly in "Annie," which both ran at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.
ALISON BERKE, Oceanside
Alison Berke got her start in Off-Broadway shows when she was younger, but has since begun going by Ali B and says she's been taking music seriously in the past three years. Since the summer of 2017, she played more than 30 club dates, including Amityville Music Hall and Revolution. She also performed "God Bless America" at Citi Field, released two singles, and set plans to produce an EP.
SAMMI RAE MURCIANO, Long Island
Singer-songwriter Sammi Rae Murciano started writing her own songs in 2016 and released her first EP in early 2018, "The Story." She says her ultimate goal is to be signed to a record label and tour throughout the world.
GIANNI CIARDIELLO, Albertson
After Gianni Ciardiello recovered from a serious back injury in high school, he turned to acting. He began taking acting classing in June 2016 and got his start in commercials. He eventually landed a recurring role in Lifetime's "You," playing a younger version of Penn Badgley's character.
MEAGHAN McINNES, Huntington
Meaghan McInnes' love of musical theater started with roles in local productions, including Blue Bird in "Cinderella" and Zuzu in "It's a Wonderful Life." She appeared in several theatrical productions afterwards, however, her breakout role came when she played the lead in "Annie" at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.
MACI AND MEADOW FERRIGNO, Babylon
Twins Maci and Meadow Ferrigno had their first role at just 9 months old as Uma Thurman's daughter on the short-lived NBC series "The Slap" in 2015. They then played Ruth Wilson's daughter in season 2 of Showtime's "The Affair" and Sebastian Arcelus' daughter on CBS' "Madam Secretary," their first role that required them to learn lines. "Every year they seem to get something," says mom Jennifer Ferrigno, who added that she feels "fortunate that they have this memory as children."
LIAM ATTRIDGE, Ronkonkoma
Liam Attridge began playing guitar at 12 years old and says he's "been singing since birth." He joined the boy band Forever in Your Mind in 2014, six months after it was created on TV's "The X Factor." The group has since played major venues including Citi Field and Jones Beach, where they were part of WBLI's Summer Jam in June 2017.
JENNIFER COLLESTER TULLY, East Northport
Jennifer Collester Tully, who grew up in Setauket and started appearing in musicals at 8 years old. She studied jazz performance in college but eventually went back to musical theater and played Nancy in "Oliver!" and Diana in "Next to Normal" at Theatre Three, John W. Engeman Theater, Take One and other venues. She was also director of production for "Gypsy" at Engeman.
JOSHUA SHUBART, West Islip
Joshua Schubart got his start as an actor in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat," in high school. However, his unusual talent for fencing landed him a regular gig doing combat scenes at the Metropolitan Opera, where he got to work with noted director Bartlett Sher. He has also appeared in numerous Shakespeare plays and short films. Schubert has also played a recurring villain on Amazon Prime's "The Tick" and holds a leading role on HBO's "High Maintenance."
KATHERINE LAFOUNTAIN, Bayport
Katherine Lafountain starting taking dance lessons when she was 2, and by age 7 she had her first role in the children's musical "Pinkalicious." She then appeared in many productions at both Gateway Playhouse in Bellport and the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, including "Billy Elliot" and "Mary Poppins." Lafountain also had roles on TV in "Boardwalk Empire" and appeared in a sketch with Paul Rudd on "Saturday Night Live."
JAMES ALEXANDER, Central Islip
James Alexander studied theater at Suffolk Community College in Selden but followed the family tradition of joining the NYPD in January 2012. After getting injured and being confined to a desk job, he left the force in September 2013 to pursue acting. "I just knew I could be happier doing this and felt like it was a better way that I could reach people," he says. His love of Shakespeare led to roles in "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and King Henry in "Henry IV -- Part One" at the Long Island Shakespeare Festival. Soon after, he began a one-year tenure with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in June 2017.
REBECCA LYNN GOLDFARB, Oceanside
Rebecca Lynn Goldfarb has performed since she was 6, her first job being a TV commercial for a plumbing company and then the musical "Children of Eden." She started acting and singing lessons and eventually landed roles in "White Christmas" at Gateway Playhouse in Bellport and in the Broadway event "The Godspell Cast of 2032." Goldfarb has also performed at the Apollo Theater and portrayed Nina in "In The Heights" at Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset.
CLAUDE SOLNIK, Plainview
Claude Solnik began developing an ear for dialogue by listening to conversations among locals while living in Paris after college. He turned his observations into playlets, which were performed as readings at Paris galleries. Since then, he's written six plays that have been performed in both New York City and on Long Island, including "Year of the Iguana," about Tennessee Williams. His play "Nowhere Man," which ran at the Theater for the New City in Manhattan during the summer of 2017, tells the story of a man who was hired as a double for Paul McCartney during the height of The Beatles' success.
STEPHANIE TORNS, Bohemia
Stephanie Torns was a competitive dancer as a youngster and fell in love with musical theater after appearing -- as a male -- in her high school's production of "Oklahoma!" After graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Torns joined the national tour and later the Broadway company of "Wicked" as an ensemble member and understudy for the part of Elphaba, a role she did get to play. Torns eventually became a part of Sara Bareilles' Broadway adaptation of "Waitress," as Francine Pomatter and also served as Bareilles' understudy.
PARIS RAY, St. James
Paris Ray got her start as an actress in "King Lear" at the Public Theater in 2007 and on Nickelodeon's "iCarly" in 2009. She became a singer and songwriter while in high school and performed two original songs, "Astronomy" and "Get Well Soon," in Gold Coast Arts Center's "Your Big Break" finale. She won the opportunity to record one of her own songs, was featured by ReverbNation and got an opening spot at The Paramount in Huntington.
DOROTHY JAMES, Kings Park
Dorothy James is a puppeteer who began her career as an actress doing experimental theater. She was introduced to puppetry during one experimental show which she said was "very abstract" but that she "really loved it." James soon mastered both full-body and Bunraku-style, a Westernized version of the Japanese puppetry art involving a few people. James was also a puppeteer in Radio City Music Hall's "New York Spectacular," where she gave life to stage versions of the New York Public Library lions and the Statue of Liberty. On the darkly comic puppet musical "Made in China," James performed along side seven other puppeteers who worked on 30 characters.
JORDAN TYSON, Lynbrook
Jordan Tyson began her musical theater career when she did "In the Heights" in high school. "After that experience, I was so in awe of how this one piece of work could bring people together like a family," she said. She continued musical theater outside of school, eventually landing the title role in "Sweetee" at Ford Foundation Studio Theatre in Manhattan. In the production, she played a runaway in the Depression-era South who uses her singing voice to help a minister and a band of orphans.
JOSHUA DE JESUS, Dix Hills
Joshua De Jesus, who appears in "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" on Broadway, began his acting career in high school and landed his first roles after a semester at SUNY Purchase in City Center Encores! production of "Runaways" and on TV's "Chicago Fire." One of his favorites roles was playing the title character in "Wink," whom he describes as "a homeless and androgynous, gender-fluid, nonbinary teenager who's adrift in L.A." at Manhattan's Theater for the New City.
ETHAN HUTCHISON, Middle Island
Ethan Hutchison began his acting career at 4 when he was cast in Hulu's "The Path" as a detective's son. Afterwards, he moved on to play Blue Bordelon on the OWN series "Queen Sugar." Hutchison, who moved to New Orleans to film the show, says on perk of the job has been meeting Orpah Winfrey, whom he says is "the best present giver." he says. His role in the OWN show has won him Young Artist and Young Entertainers Awards and he also appeared in a sketch with Taraji P. Henson and Chris Rock on the "Empire" star's holiday special.
TOM LUCCA, Smithtown
Tom Lucca was working as an accountant when a co-worker suggested that he take voice lessons after hearing him sing in the men's room. Lucca's teacher encouraged him to pursue theater, and, after getting an agent, Lucca got cast as Jud in the national tour of "Oklahoma!" in 2004. Soon after, he co-starred with Patina Miller in John Patrick Shanley's short-lived "Romantic Poetry" for Manhattan Theater Club. Lucca, who works as a physical therapist between acting gigs, also played John Hancock in "1776" at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater, has performed at Birdland in Manhattan, and played John Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's best friend, in "Jekyll & Hyde" at Engeman in 2017.
RAHUL RAI, Old Westbury
Rahul Rai, who started as a dancer, was spotted by a film director who saw him in a high school talent show and cast Rai in the 2012 indie "When Harry Tries to Marry." "I was completely thrown into the deep end with lights, cameras, angles, acting," says Rai, who relished the experience. He's since appeared in a few more indies and played Happy Loman onstage in an all-Asian version of "Death of a Salesman." In 2017, he also landed a role in "Haram! Iran!" at TADA, directed by Rick Leidenfrost-Wilson of Baldwin, a drama about two Iranian teens who face death for being gay.
KYLA CARTER, Sayville
Kyla Carter joined the national tour of "The Sound of Music" at 8 years old, playing Gretl, Marta and Brigitta. Carter concluded the tour in 2017 but has appeared on several television shows, including HBO's "The Leftovers," and as the voice of Hattie the Witch on Nick Jr.'s "Wally Kazam!"
BLAIR GOLDBERG, Plainview
Blair Goldberg, who now lives in New York City, made her Broadway debut at 10 as an understudy for Annie Oakley's siblings in "Annie Get Your Gun" with Bernadette Peters. After studying voice in college, Goldberg got her first post-grad job in the ensemble of "Carrie: The Musical" in 2012, and was part of the original cast recording. She also worked with Jerry Lewis when he directed a stage version of "The Nutty Professor" in Nashville and was in the national tour of "Sister Act." In 2016, she joined the ensemble of Broadway's "Kinky Boots."
MICHAEL VERRE, Wantagh
Michael Verre, a musical theater performer who appeared in "Mary Poppins" at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, made his stage debut at age 5 in "Frosty the Snowman" and then took acting classes. Since graduating from Queens College, Verre has appeared in numerous productions, many at the Engeman, both in children's shows and main stage musicals, including "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "West Side Story." He appeared in "Zuccotti Park," a musical about the Occupy Wall Street movement, at the NYC Fringe Festival. Verre's tap-dancing skills can also be seen in a video he and two colleagues did to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling."
JESSE RAY SHEPS, Plainview
Jesse Ray Sheps, who voices Fluffy the hedgehog on Nick Jr.'s "Zack & Quack," started modeling at 4, then graduated to commercials and voice-overs. He landed the role of the sensitive Fluffy over about 500 kids because producers liked his voice and personality. "And they liked my gasp," says Jesse about how he reacted playing a scene at his audition. "Blue Bloods" fans saw him as a boy abused by his father. "I got to wear a cast and I got to meet Donnie Wahlberg," he says. Though the role was much darker than Fluffy, Jesse had no trouble handling his scenes. "I always envision that what's happening to the character is really happening to me," he says. Sheps also appeared in the movie thriller "Devil's Five" and in an episode of "Orange Is the New Black." He also enjoys singing, playing guitar and writing songs.
VERONICA KELLY, Holbrook
Veronica Kelly, a senior at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, made her stage debut at age 6 as Molly in Bayway Arts Center's production of "Annie." She's also graced Long Island stages as Rapunzel in "Into the Woods" and Eponine in "Les Miserables." In "Dragon Slayer: The Musical," Kelly played a waitress with designs on a playwright and getting the lead in his show. This is also the first time Kelly has gotten to create a character from scratch, which she's found very rewarding. "We're constantly changing things," she says. "As actors, our input and ideas are really valued by the director. We're getting to make little moments in the show that are special."
MATTHEW MINIERO, Nassau County
Matthew Miniero started acting to earn money for college. But after his first TV role, as a homeless youth in an episode of "Blue Bloods," Miniero knew he had found his career. "It was cool meeting all of the actors," he says. "The first two days I was nervous, but I got very comfortable after that." He also appeared in an episode of "The Blacklist," which was shot in Glen Cove, as a gangster's son being sold at an auction. Miniero also appeared in indie movie "Yellow Fever" and has performed the songs of Led Zeppelin at KJ Farrell's in Bellmore.
WHITNEY ROSE PYNN, Sayville
Upon graduating in 2011 from the University of Maryland, Whitney Rose Pynn moved to Los Angeles, where she landed an agent quickly. Her first TV gig was as a backup singer in a 2012 episode of Nickelodeon's "Victorious," and she's been on a roll since. Her breakout came playing a member of the Manson family in the '60s-set "Aquarius," starring David Duchovny. "I was supposed to be in one episode as a nonspeaking co-star and I was thrilled just for that experience," Pynn says. "All of a sudden they changed my character's name, and gave me lines and had me keep coming back." Her showstopping moment was when her character tripped on acid. "It felt like the writers and producers were saying, 'Let's see if this girl can actually act,' " she says. She stars in the thrillers "Asomatous" and "Dear Diary, I Died."
AMANDA SWICKLE, Jericho
Amanda Swickle began performing at age 8, and has played Jojo in "Seussical: The Musical" at A Class NY in Manhattan and Flounder in "The Little Mermaid" at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater.