With a flawless, tender and passionate performance of “Journey to the Past” from the musical “Anastasia,” Aurora High School senior Hannah Kulawiak was the champion of Shining Star CLE 2018.
The event raises funds for the Montefiore Foundation, with proceeds going to the memory care programs offered by Montefiore in Beachwood and The Weils in Bainbridge Township. Through donations and ticket sales, the Oct. 7 event at Playhouse Square raised $360,000. There were a total of 920 tickets sold.
Kulawiak told event host Monica Robins of WKYC-TV that the song by Lynne Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty speaks to her own experience.
“It represents my journey as an artist,” she said, acknowledging that she had to overcome fears to perform. “What makes this character real to me is who plays it.” Christy Altomare (the actor who sings the song in the movie), said Kulawiak, demonstrates generosity, graciousness and humility in her interactions with fans on stage and at the stage door, taking time to greet people.
Kulawiak, 17, has performed at nursing homes from a young age, both as a singer in her church choir and as a violinist.
“It’s really inspiring to see how the music brings back memories for people,” she said.
Jordan Cooper, artistic director for the event, said Kulawiak’s initial audition video stood out.
“I knew she had what it takes,” he said. “She’s incredibly personal.” Cooper said the song is exceedingly difficult and Kulawiak made it sound effortless.
Kulawiak’s voice teacher, Cynthia O’Connell, said Kulawiak is a quick study.
“She works so hard, she takes direction so well,” said O’Connell, who teaches voice full time at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea and teaches Kulawiak privately.
Kulawiak said she is auditioning to study musical theater at college.
Both the audience at the Ohio Theatre and five judges participated in the final voting that brought Kulawiak the top honor.
As part of her award, Kulawiak will receive an invitation to sing with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and will receive $10,000 in scholarship awards. In addition, the Aurora High School music department will receive a $2,500 gift.
Dylan Grosh-Hoy, a senior at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Broadview Heights, was named runner-up; second runner-up was Adriana Holst, a senior at Chagrin Falls High School; and Delia Brennan, a senior at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, was third runner-up. All three received scholarships as well.
The six other competitors who made it to the top 10 were: junior Julia Polster and senior J.R. Heckman, both from Solon High School Margaret Brown, a freshman at Nordonia High School in Macedonia; Brenna McWreath, a senior at Lakeside High School in Ashtabula; Hannah Schmidt, a senior at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights; and Christian Thomas, who attends Connections Academy.
Polster sang “Quando M’En Vo” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
She said she was first introduced to ‘popera’ by the voice of Andrea Bocelli and loved the character of Musetta, whom she called “sort of a feminist,” She also appreciated generosity.
Polster has sung professionally at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, and assists in the third- and fourth-grade classrooms there. She is also assistant director to the junior choir and writ es each year’s Purim Spiel musical.
Alternates Kyla Burks, a junior at Ohio Virtual Academy, and Chad Harris, a senior at Aurora High School, also performed. Shining Stars CLE 2017 winner Madelyn Wanke performed “Place of My Heart.”
“These are extraordinary talents,” Robins, a reporter for WKYC, told the audience. There were hundreds of submissions from students across eight counties in Northeast Ohio. She performed the “Glee” cast version of “Jump” with the 10 finalists.
Judging were music performers Liz Huff and Tina D. Stump; Rashad V. Chambers, founder and president of Esquire Entertainment; Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW Television Network; and Carl Topilow, artistic director and conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra.
The Cleveland Jewish News was a sponsor of the event.