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Rising Star again a highlight of Howie night

Two musical theater triple-threats, two musicians, two classical vocalists and four dancers.

That's the field competing this year for the title of Rising Star, an honor bestowed annually at this Saturday evening's Celebration of the Arts. This gala fundraiser — benefiting the Howard County Arts Council — includes food sampling from local restaurants and caters, a silent auction and the announcement of the year's Howie Award recipients, chosen for their contribution to the county's arts community.

But the main event is the Rising Star Competition, where the county's up-and-coming performers compete "American Idol"-style for a cash prize of $5,000. The Celebration is traditionally a grand night of entertainment with young talented performers, and the bonus of raising funds for the arts in Howard County.

"Howard County is home to extraordinary artistic talent, and for one night each year the community comes out en masse to enjoy and support that talent," said Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council.

"The Rising Star competition was created to recognize the work of young performers and to help them advance their careers. The $5,000 award is one of a handful of individual artist awards that we offer each year. I'm so proud of how popular the competition has become, the level of talent that participates and the heights our former Rising Stars have risen to on stages across the US and abroad."

This year's gala starts with a reception in the college's Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center. Young performers from nearby Red Branch Theatre will entertain the crowd, while 2014 Howie winner and popular guitarist Bruce Casteel performs with friends in an adjacent studio.

Guests are then invited into the Smith Theatre for the Howies and the competition. The finalists will perform before an audience of artists and patrons who will select the winner by popular vote.

While judges are counting the ballots in a back room, former Rising Star winner and jazz musician Alex Brown will join his brother Zack on stage.

"To be chosen is to be a winner," said Toby Orenstein, who puts the show together with the help of a co-director, volunteers and the HCC technical staff.

"Like any show, a person has to be talented to get in," said the director and longtime supporter of local arts. "Many, many, many people apply, and out of those 50 plus performers, only 10 are selected by a panel of experts in dance, music, theater, opera and performance art who look for artistic merit, experience in the arts and commitment to a career in the arts.

"You have to be a talented, true. But there's so much more to making it to the top 10. Just look at the list of the finalists who didn't win in past years but went on to a winning career in show business."

She immediately mentions Caroline Bowman and Margot Seibert, both Broadway babies who are getting rave reviews for their performances but were overlooked at the Rising Stars competition.

"We don't know where she placed in 2013, but a year later Margot is a star on Broadway," said Orenstein about the heroine in the hit musical "Rocky."

Soon after Caroline's performance at the Celebration, she was cast in "Wicked" on Broadway, then sang and danced in the Tony-Award winning "Kinky Boots," and is now touring as the lead in "Evita."

The 2014 Howard County Arts Council's Rising Stars finalists who will grace the stage at HCC's Smith Theatre are Curtis Bannister (musical theater), Leiland R. W. Charles (contemporary dance), Joe Duffey (Irish step dance), Steven Eddy (classical voice), Annie Gill (classical voice), Yoshiaki Horiguchi (double bass), Benjamin Lurye (musical theatre), Carolyn Rosinsky (cello), Maya Shivani Thakar (classical Indian dance) and Trent D. Williams Jr. (contemporary dance).

Meanwhile, tickets, if still available, are $50 and $100. Call 410-313-ARTS (2787). Any remaining tickets will be available at the box office opening at noon on March 29.

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