To start your FREE subscription to the Triangle Review, click

Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

May 12, 2022 Issue
PART 4 (May 12, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


Joshua Thompson and Symoné Spencer Win 2022 Triangle Rising Stars Acting Honors

DPAC presented the Triangle Rising Stars Showcase and Awards, hosted by Clay Aiken and featuring 2021 winners Joshua Messmore and Elena Holder, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 11th

When I was given the opportunity to review this year's in-person Triangle Rising Stars Showcase and Awards program on Wednesday, May 11th, at the Durham Performing Arts Center, I knew immediately that I had to go. American Idol Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken hosted the event, which featured performances by 2021 TRS Best Actor Joshua Messmore and 2021 TRS Best Actress and 2021 Jimmy® Awards best-actress-award winner Elena Holder.

I first got a glimpse of Elena's incredible talent and positive energy when she played Olive Ostrovsky in Durham School of the Arts' production of The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, in which my son had a part. The following year, she blew me (and everyone else) out of the water in her role as Annie in the DSA production of Annie, in which my son had the privilege of playing Rooster. And the year after that (2021) -- their senior year -- she won Triangle Rising Stars, was named best high-school actress in the entire country (the 2021 Jimmy Award for Best Performance by an Actress), and made her Broadway debut. I had missed Elena's performance in Kenan Theatre Company's production of Urinetown: The Musical earlier this year at UNC-Chapel Hill; but I was not going to miss this second opportunity, particularly since my son was home from college and could go with me.

The ground floor of the DPAC was filled with high-school musical-theater students, teachers and parents from schools across the NC Triangle and beyond. We hadn't even sat down before my son's high-school drama teacher, Mr. Graves, came over to say hi. He was followed by several of my son's DSA theater friends whom he hadn't seen since before the COVID shut down in 2020.

As the lights dimmed, the 20 high-school finalists for this year's Triangle Rising Stars competition bounded onstage with an energizing performance of "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Grease. They were followed by Triangle Rising Stars Executive Director Megan Rindoks, who recognized the show's clearly talented and dedicated director of choreography (Freddie-Lee Heath) and acting director (David Henderson) among others, before introducing us to Mark Hopper, the music director who provided the extensive live band that lined the back of the stage as well as the use of McGregor Hall in Henderson, NC, for rehearsals. She also called our attention to Root Media, who produced all the video that we'd soon see was expertly incorporated into the production.

Guest host and long-time Triangle-Rising-Stars advocate Clay Aiken then took his place behind the podium, bantering with the audience in the positively self-deprecating manner that only he can master. Aiken's dialogue seemed both spontaneous and prepared as he introduced the 20 finalists, in sets of five, to perform their pieces for the live judges (Terri Dollar, Lisa Jolley, and Yolanda Rabun).

Emily Hartsoe, a senior from Longleaf School of the Arts, opened the show with a heart-rendering rendition of "Secret of Happiness" (from Daddy Longlegs) that made clear this was not your average high school assembly. Of the performances that followed, Wake Forest High School student Brooke Willse's Liza-Minnelli-esque performance of "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl; Alex Lim's (Cary Academy) audience-grabbing and perfect-pitch performance of "What Do I Need with Love" from Thoroughly Modern Millie; Clark Phoenix's (Longleaf School of the Arts) clear-as-a-bell, gospel-like rendition of "Charity" from Daddy Longlegs; Madeleine Atwater's (Millbrook High School) entertaining and pitch-perfect rendition of "Right Hand Man" from Something Rotten; and Ellie O'Connell's (Jordan High School) Loretta Lynn-like performance of "Way Back in the Day" from Bright Star were all highlights of the show.

2021-22 Triangle Rising Stars Finalists

Once all the contestants had performed, the first half of the show was concluded with Elena Holder's long-awaited performance of "When He Sees Me" from Waitress. Elena expertly eased between playful sing-song dialogue to high-strength vocals to upper-register notes that were impressive in their softness, while the audience listened, trance-like, before erupting into applause.

After a 20-minute intermission, the production reconvened with the presentation of the group winners in each high-school category (as determined by 20 volunteer judges who attended all of the high-school plays considered this year), with Best Set Design, Best Student Orchestra, and Best Musical going to Jordan High School for Bright Star.

2021 Triangle Rising Actress and Actor Elena Holder and Joshua Messner then graced us with a duet performance of "Only Us" from Dear Evan Hansen, solidly demonstrating the magic two talented voices can create, before announcing the winners of the individual categories.

The Best Actor award went to Weaver Academy's Joshua Thomson of Greensboro for his vibrato-embued performance of "Time" from Tuck Everlasting; and the Best Actress award went to Enloe High School's Symoné Spencer for her soulful vocals and choreography in "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl -- Aretha Franklin would be proud.

The evening's excitement floated above the fatigue as the audience and actors filed out of the theater, groups of high-schoolers congregating on the red carpeted floor to offer congratulations and share in their achievements. It was a pleasure just to be a fly on the wall.

After 11 years, DPAC's Triangle Rising Stars production shines more brightly than ever, reminding us here in the Triangle what a privilege it is to bask in its light.

TRIANGLE RISING STARS SHOWCASE AND AWARDS (In Person Wednesday, May 11th), hosted by Clay Aiken and featuring performances by 2021 TRS Best Actor Joshua Messmore and 2021 Jimmy Awards winner and TRS Best Actress Elena Holder (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). 2021-22 TRIANGLE RISING STARS HANDBOOK: THE PRESENTER/VENUE:,,,, and INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or [RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]

EDITOR'S NOTE: A Durham, NC resident for 20 years, Melissa Rooney is a scientific editor, freelance writer, and author of several science-based children's picture books. She has published children's stories and verse in Highlights Children's Magazine and Bay Leaves. Rooney earned undergraduate degrees in English and Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA; and she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Her stories Eddie the Electron and The Fate of The Frog form the basis of two workshops offered through the Durham Arts Council's Culture and Arts in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, through which Rooney teaches elementary- and middle-school students about electrons and atoms or sustainability and rhyme, respectively. When she isn't writing, editing, reading, teaching, or experiencing theater, Rooney volunteers as an Associate Supervisor on the Durham's Soil and Water Conservation District.


WHAT: Triangle Review is a FREE weekly e-mail performing-arts and film newsletter, edited and published by Robert W. McDowell since April 2001.

TO SUBSCRIBE: To start your FREE subscription today, sign up in the subscription box at the beginning of this e-mail; or e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE-TR in the Subject: line. TO UNSUBSCRIBE: E-mail and type UNSUBSCRIBE-TR in the Subject: line.

QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS? E-mail all questions, comments, and Letters to the Editor to For Letters to the Editor, please include a daytime telephone number in your e-mail.

COPYRIGHT: Editorial content in all formats © 2022 Triangle Review and the author of each article. Reproduction in any form without authorization of Triangle Review and the respective authors is prohibited. Triangle Review maintains an archive of past issues. To request copies of past articles and/or issues, e-mail