Annie Interview with Lauren McAlee

Please say Hello to Lauren McAlee! She plays the title role of ‘Annie’ at Limelight Theatre Company. Her performances are November 23, 24,25 and December 1 (evening show). Enjoy this interview with Lauren – she is absolutely brilliant in the role and will surely melt your heart – a superstar performance!




Limelight Theatre Co (LTC): Congratulations on landing the title and lead character of Annie in our Professional Production. How did you react when you learned you got the part?

Lauren: My mom came up the steps and put her phone in front of my face because the cast list was out and I just stared at it and for some reason thought she was tricking me because I didn’t believe I actually got it. My parents and I ran around the house for days whispering and screaming– “We Got Annie!” I am so excited to finally do this role.


LTC: That’s awesome! Share with us what you did to prepare for the audition – anything special or out of the ordinary in your approach?

Lauren: I don’t think anything out of the ordinary happened. I always sing the songs over and over before the auditions and look at what the possible sides may be for the role I want. I do think I just prayed EXTRA harder for this part because I knew it was in my reach but I was in the running with my friends who are super talented girls.


LTC: How has your previous stage experience or classes helped you prepare for this huge, iconic role?

Lauren: I have been performing since I was a little kid and watching other actors has always been a huge learning experience for me. My acting teacher at my school (CPFA), always tells me to live truthfully. Which means to not pretend or fake but to truly be the character. I think that is a statement which helped me lose myself in my performances and auditions in order to become the character.


LTC: That’s great advice from your teacher. Annie made its Broadway debut on April 21, 1977 – that was 41 years ago! How familiar were you with the show before you decided to audition?

Lauren: I am more than familiar with this show! I was fortunate enough to be cast in the ensemble at Walnut Street Theatre’s production of “Annie” last year. I auditioned in September, rehearsed through October and performed in about 40 shows from November through January. It was an amazing experience and I just love this musical and I am SOOOOO excited to be Annie.


LTC:  What qualities about Annie can you most identify with? What qualities of Annie would you most like to have?

Lauren: I can identify with Annie because like her I always try to stay positive and optimistic. I admire her stealthiness. She has a way of getting things done in an orderly fashion while making it look easy.


LTC:  What is your favorite song from the entire show?

Lauren: So this is kind of weird but my favorite song is one that Annie isn’t even in– “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.” I think it’s a catchy song, it is always a great dance number to watch and participate in and I love to smile and make people smile. 🙂


LTC:  Annie takes place in the year 1933 – during America’s Great Depression – why do you think Annie was able to keep such a positive attitude despite her own hardships and surrounded by so much sadness?

Lauren: Ummmm I don’t know… I guess you could call her a fighter!


LTC: Ain’t that the truth! What other role in the show would you love to play one day?

Lauren: I would love to play Lily St. Regis because she is so funny and her “Easy Street” is a great number. In the Walnut Street production, I truly admired the actress who played Lily (Lynne Philistine). She really took the role and made it her own and I would love the chance to dance and be comedic like that. I had a small comedic role in West Chester Summer Stage last year and it was fun to try that as opposed to the princessy roles.


LTC:  True or False: You have been singing the songs of Annie since you can remember.

Lauren: False – but I think I sang it enough to make up for it in the past year and a half. HAHA


LTC:  Wow – that’s a surprise! Do you know the significant connection of Annie to our hometown of Philadelphia?

Lauren: Yes! Andrea McCardle, the original Broadway Annie, is from the Philadelphia area. Believe it or not I got to meet her in person when she starred as Dolly in “Hello Dolly” at Media Theatre a few years ago. My friend Mrs. Hockenberry was in the show also and she arranged it for me. I was star struck -have her autograph and playbill hanging in my room. It’s a favorite memory!!!


LTC: So cool! Have you been enjoying the rehearsal process working alongside your friends as orphans and our adult professional cast and creative team?

Lauren: Absolutely!!! It has been a joy to meet and watch new adult actors and it’s always fun to hang out with buddies too. Being with my friends is the best part- we are a super close group. I can’t wait for rehearsals each week!


LTC: What is the funniest memory you have from the rehearsals?

Lauren: Nothing specific I guess but the little girls are always making me laugh. I love them.


LTC: What do want our audiences to know about this production? 

Lauren: It will be awesome like all Limelight shows!!!


Thanks Lauren – break legs this weekend, we know you will be AMAZING!


Annie Interview with Molly Hopton

Please say Hello to Molly Hopton! She plays the title role of ‘Annie’ at Limelight Theatre Company. Her performances are November 16, 17, 18 and December 1 (matinee). Enjoy this interview with Molly – we hope you love her performance as much as we do – she’s absolutely fantastic!



Limelight Theatre Co. (LTC): Congratulations on landing the title and lead character of Annie in our Professional Production. How did you react when you learned you got the part?

Molly: I cried!  Tears of joy!  I was so happy!!


LTC:  Share with us what you did to prepare for the audition – anything special or out of the ordinary in your approach?

Molly: I just gave it my all! I know I need to work on showing more emotion in my scenes, so I tried to focus on that.


LTC:  How has your previous stage experience or classes helped you prepare for this huge, iconic role?

Molly: Developing eye contact.  I have had lead roles in a few other productions before, but never this huge.  The most important thing is getting ahead of the game by memorizing my lines, memorizing choreography & trying to be on top of everyone else.


LTC:  Annie made its Broadway debut on April 21, 1977 – that was 41 years ago! How familiar were you with the show before you decided to audition?

Molly: I sang “Tomorrow’ in my school talent show when I was in Kindergarten. Then I saw Annie on Broadway for my 8th birthday.  I couldn’t wait to audition!!


LTC:  What qualities about Annie can you most identify with? What qualities of Annie would you most like to have?

Molly:  Tough, mostly positive, considerate, kind, a leader.  I can be negative sometimes, so I’d like to be as positive as she is all the time.


LTC:  Annie is probably the world’s most famous orphan – how are you preparing for the role, what have you done to really understand her journey?

Molly: I have watched the movie countless times and got a feel for the character, even though my director Wendy tells me it’s nothing like the movie. lol. But it still helps me prepare.


LTC:  What is your favorite song from the entire show?

Molly: Ooohhhhh, ok. tough one.  probably Hard Knock Life. It just shows how the orphans are troubled and what they are going through.  For example, Miss Hannigan is sitting back eating pizza and they are cleaning out hairballs from the sink.


LTC:  Annie takes place in the year 1933 – during America’s Great Depression – why do you think Annie was able to keep such a positive attitude despite her own hardships and surrounded by so much sadness?

Molly: Annie grew up in an environment which was very sad and upsetting because she was abused and not properly taken care of by the headmistress, Miss Hannigan.  For all of her life, she believed her parents were going to come find her one day and come back to her.  She has always been positive.


LTC: What other role in the show would you love to play one day?

Molly: I would love to play Grace! I feel like she relates to my poised personality (being neat and tidy at school – but which is NOT anything like what I am at home!)


LTC: True or False: You have been singing the songs of Annie since you can remember.

Molly: TRUE!!!!


LTC: Have you been enjoying the rehearsal process working alongside your friends as orphans and our adult professional cast and creative team?

Molly: I most certainly have! Everyone in the cast is wonderful and so nice.  I love working with all the younger kids there.  They are so sweet and adorable.  It feels good to be working with my friends and be surrounded by them.  It’s fun to make jokes and laugh, but never when we aren’t supposed to!!


LTC:  What is the funniest memory you have so far during the rehearsals?

Molly: Hmmmm…….Little Emily, who is one of our Molly’s, found this big furry white sweater thing in the lost & found bin.  It was so big on her, she put it on, threw the hood way up over her head and wrapped herself up in it and walked downstairs to show us all. She is so cute!!!


LTC:  What do want our audiences to know about this production?

Molly: It is a very upbeat production and it shows that even when you are going through hard times you can still be positive and optimistic, even when everything around you is falling apart and people are losing money and people are less fortunate than us.

The Limelight version is very creative! I just wish we were using a real dog in the performance, but that’s not my decision to make, so……I encourage people to come see the show, very much so! You might not be having such a good day, but maybe the person that plays Annie can help lift their spirits! It’s a great family tradition for the holiday season!!!


LTC: Thank you Molly for participating – you are such a joy to watch on stage – as Miss Ann says “you have amazing instincts as an actress at such a young age”… Break Legs and enjoy your performances!


Annie Interview with Samantha Hires

Please say Hello to Samantha Hires! She plays the title role of ‘Annie’ at Limelight Theatre Company. Her performances are November 9, 10, 11 and 30. Enjoy this interview with Samantha – and don’t miss her in this iconic role – she’s absolutely fantastic!








Limelight Theatre Co. (LTC): Samantha – Congratulations on landing the title and lead character of Annie in our Professional Production. How did you react when you learned you got the part?   

Samantha: I was in shock and really happy at the same time. Annie has been my dream role since kindergarten! After it really hit me that I was Annie, I started jumping up and down with happiness!


 LTC:  That’s awesome. Can you share with us what you did to prepare for the audition – anything special or out of the ordinary in your approach?       

Well, I did practice my audition song (Tomorrow) at least 100 times. But, something out of the ordinary that I did was looked up scenes from the old Annie movie and looked at how she acted and how she would move from tough to kind.


LTC: How has your previous stage experience (or classes) helped you prepare for this huge, iconic role?

This is my third year at Limelight and all of my past experiences really helped me become the actress I am today.  I have been taking some classes at Limelight with Geo and it has really helped me with my dancing. Also, all my other roles have helped me learn how to memorize my lines better and I feel I’ve gotten better as a singer, the more I get to practice and perform.


 LTC: Sounds like practice makes perfect! So, Annie made its Broadway debut on April 21, 1977 – that was 41 years ago! How familiar were you with the show before you decided to audition?

I was familiar with the role of Annie, as it is one of my favorite movies, but I am not familiar with the Broadway production of Annie.


 LTC: Tell us, what qualities about Annie can you most identify with? What qualities of Annie would you most like to have?  

I think I have the spunkiness and sassiness of Annie and I share her optimistic way of looking at things.  I would most like to always be there for my friends and help them when they are feeling sad, like she always did in the orphanage.


 LTC: Annie is probably the world’s most famous orphan – how are you preparing for the role, what have you done to really understand her journey?

I am preparing for this role by thinking “what would Annie feel at this moment” or “how would Annie act”. Also, I am practicing my lines and dances a lot. I am trying to picture how I would feel if I was an orphan and always wondering if my parents would ever come back for me.  That helps me feel both the sadness and hopefulness she shows during her journey.


LTC: We are curious – What is your favorite song from the entire show?

Personally, my favorite song in the whole show is “Tomorrow” because of the meaning of the song…how you should always have positive thoughts like “the sun will come out tomorrow”.  Also, whenever I’m sad, I always sing that song to make myself feel better.


 LTC: Annie takes place in the year 1933 – during America’s Great Depression – why do you think Annie was able to keep such a positive attitude despite her own hardships and surrounded by so much sadness?

I think Annie had a positive attitude, because she wants everyone to keep their heads held up high (like in the song “Tomorrow”), because you can always find the good in people and have things to look forward to in life. Also, I think Annie is just an optimistic person about everything.


 LTC: Just for fun, what other role in the show would you love to play one day?

I would also love to play Miss Hannigan.  She is the villain role, but she is also funny.  I think it would be fun to go from being Annie to being her enemy.


LTC: True or False: You have been singing the songs of Annie since you can remember.

100% true. I have watched Annie so many times and I loved every second of it. I remember when I was 6 years old and belting out the words to “Maybe” every time I would watch the movie.


LTC: I can only imagine – Do you know the significant connection of Annie to our hometown of Philadelphia?

I didn’t, but I looked it up on Google and I think it is that the first actress to play Annie in the Broadway musical (Andrea McArdle) was born in Philadelphia.


LTC: You got it! Have you been enjoying the rehearsal process working alongside your friends as orphans and our adult professional cast and creative team?

YES! I love every second of it! Everyone is so nice and supportive! They are very helpful and if you don’t know a dance move, they will 100% show you how to do it.  We always have so much fun together, no matter what we’re doing!


 LTC: What is the funniest memory you have so far during the rehearsals?

Probably when Emily (Molly) said to Jerry (the music director), “we already know that”.  It’s an inside joke…another really fun part of working with my friends and the creative team at Limelight!


LTC: Lastly, what do want our audiences to know about this production?

Annie is such a heartwarming, fun and enjoyable show to watch and, from the moment it starts, you will love it!


Meet Lisa McCusker Sherer

10553862_10152224375286806_5169693584578451651_oMeet Lisa McCusker Sherer –  a performer, supermom, lover of the arts and passionate about bringing smiles to children every day. We have known Lisa for many years — performed together onstage at Upper Darby Summer Stage back in the day and have kept in touch over the years. Like many — she’s a hardworking, super proud mother of two amazing kids — who believes in the value of exposing children to performing arts as a fun way to build the value of teamwork, instill self-confidence and self-expression. We think you’ll love her story!

Lisa – thanks a million for participating in our Limelight Interview series. We love your story because it could apply to so many moms and dads who are thinking of how to get their kids involved in activities that work on the inner child. You have a long love-affair with the arts. Whether it is performing or supporting — it’s clear it is important to you. How was this instilled in you?
From an early age I loved TV.  I had a wonderful dance teacher who saw I could sing much better than I could dance and took me to the Al Alberts Showcase taping at the ABC Studio on City Line Avenue.  I was hooked and knew if my mom could curl my hair, I could be the next Shirley Temple.  Al Alberts, is a Philadelphia kids talent show that no one knows of today, unless you are in a certain age group and Shirley Temple who kids are clueless about!

That’s great — and yes — you really do need to be of a certain age to remember Al Alberts. Tell us about your first show. What are your memories of that experience?
My first high school show was at Cardinal O’Hara, my grammar school took a bunch of us kids (I was in 3rd grade) to audition and I was the only blonde princess in the King and I. A classmate who was Asian also was cast and he needed a “traveling buddy” so I got chosen. For the shows I had to shoe polish my hair to look the part.

And that led to your first lead role — what was it and how was that experience?
My first lead was at Upper Darby Summer Stage.  I was a Junior in high school and auditioned for the role of “Mrs. Darling” in Peter Pan.  I was typing in the theater office and Harry Dietzler (Founder and Director) told me to audition – I got the part and Matt Cloran was my first summer stage director, I did shows in high school but was a chorus girl. It was magical and frightening! I cried on stage I was so scared. Matt told me my solo was amazing and that I had nailed the role as a mom who was worried for her kids. LOL!  The 2nd show was a little better! I performed for 4 days and it was awesome!! My confidence grew each show.

We love Matt – doesn’t surprise us that he was so supportive. How did that exposure to the performing arts guide you in your adult life?
Well, for example in my business, I have had to stand in front of several people and give presentations. That takes self-confidence. I have had several jobs over the years where my lessons learned during the summer stage years stuck with me and the confidence was there to “perform” in the corporate world.

So true! We hear that a lot. Let’s change gears to your children — obvious you love them like crazy and are a huge supporter of their endeavors. I heard you once say something along the lines of “exposing my kids to the performing arts was not about encouraging them to be professional actors — but more about giving them critical skills to be successful in any career”. What specifically did you mean there?
To give kids a foundation in the arts in my opinion is priceless.  The confidence you see grow, the leadership skills developing over time, even knowing you need the proper diction and enunciation for doing presentations at an early age has given my kids a head start.  For example – Matthew, my oldest, was given a ‘job’ in middle school (he attended a private college prep school).  During visitation weeks, he was giving tours of the school by 7th grade.  The head master told me he was the only boy in the class who did not “grunt” when he spoke.  He was able to be a role model for the school during a marketing period which normally is left to adults. You learn loyalty and dedication and a true love of something.

That’s great! Your kids — they do it all — marching band, movies, stage, TV – is it more of a hobby or a passion for them now?
Both!  Matthew continues to model and act.  He now has his own apartment at 22 years old and auditions for background acting jobs in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. He is a waiter during his down time to ‘pay the rent’.

Olivia loves music and has leadership values that will take her to Penn State this fall.  One of her college goals is to be “on stage for THON” and to be in a leadership role that will require her to wear a headset and radio while studying business and sports management.

How will this exposure better prepare them for their adult life?
They are both actually shy kids.  But because of their love for the arts they step out of their comfort zone once they feel the warmth of the stage lights.  Both are responsible and have life skills and leadership skills that were formed during their younger years.  They have patience which is rare for kids today.  Being on a set for a TV show is very much “hurry up and wait”. I enjoy live stage better, but have done work with Matthew on TV during his younger years.  He has more patience than I do while on set!

They often say – the friendships you form in a theatrical show are lifelong. Is that really true? Why are they so lasting in your opinion?
Yes. It’s really true.  Being a theater kid is being special.  Years ago, you were a geek with nowhere to go — today there are several day camps, summer theater programs all which sell-out because parents realize that importance of the theater  — you learn to be in a team, you learn patience and determination. Not everyone wins a lead, you earn it – you learn respect for your fellow cast members and bond to them.  Being on a live stage you need to trust the cast and crew around you. I am still friends with my summer stage friends from 1980.  Before it was hours worth of telephone calls, now we are all on Facebook and we don’t skip a beat.

You performed in the 40th Anniversary Season at Upper Darby Summer Stage last summer — what was it like getting on that stage again?  Were you a bundle of nerves or was it like riding a bicycle?
It was so much fun and just like riding a bike I loved every moment of it. I saw people where conversations picked up where they left off and harmonies that I had not sung in years stuck in my head for weeks after our performances!

It was clear you were having a blast — and you were great in those numbers. What was the role that got away? If you could turn back the hands of time (or even now) — what juicy part would you be sinking your teeth into?
As a kid, it was the role of “Star To Be” in Annie in 1984. You see, this little bratty kid showed up to audition and blew the house down with an amazing set of pipes.  To this day, it’s one of my favorite roles, not because I performed it, but because I saw a kid who deserved to have that role and do an amazing job.  I have done the show Annie several times, I performed in several different roles but never as “Star To Be”. Oh – and that bratty kid — we formed a friendship that year that has lasted to this day.  Now she runs an amazing theatre studio in Chester County!
Hahaha – that is hilarious! Wait until Ann (Ann Pinto McCarney, founder of Limelight Performing Arts Center) reads this — you will surely be getting a phone call. 

Let’s talk about your passion with kids. You do some pretty incredible work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation – surely some performing is present when you engage with those courageous children. What skills are you drawing from to succeed in that role?
I perform every time I meet a Wish Child.  From wings, to wand, crazy-colored sneakers and of course a tiara. I meet the children either at their homes or in hospitals.  My job is to interview them and being the magic of their wishes.

What is the most rewarding part of your work there and how do you remain such a positive light for the kids?
To see the kids’ faces when we return with the paperwork or ‘go light’ for a wish to be fulfilled is amazing. After paperwork, there are still medical approvals that need to be done. My job is to make sure at the initial interview that no matter what the outcome — that day was a fun and exciting day spent dreaming and not thinking about “I’m too sick” for anything. Being with Wish Kids is truly the most amazing, magical, humbling, sad, and frustrating of adventures. No child deserves to have a life-changing illness as a child.
Wow! What a job — and we can’t think of a better person to fill those crazy-colored sneakers and tiara.

Do you have any parting words for moms and dads reading this interview?
I would only say to young parents, don’t miss out on the joys of the world of live theater.  My generation is the last generation of “before too much technology” when kids played outside, created shows in the back yard, played house and recreated shows from watching family TV shows that are a lost art.  Sports are great, I played softball, my kids played sports but being involved with the arts is so different.  It’s magical.  So take your kids to see shows, go to see summer theater productions, participate and feel the magic and let it touch the imagination of the next generation.

Love that!!! So true — well thanks Lisa for sharing your thoughts — lots to think about. We understand that directing is your passion these days but we hope to see you back onstage someday soon — maybe at Limelight?!


UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance (UEA)

Meet UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance (UEA)



It seems like the perfect storm hit in the West Chester / Chester County area lately. The opening of Limelight Performing Arts Center (a place where performing hobbyists and professionals of all ages can learn and sharpen their craft) coupled with the exciting news of a downtown theater in the heart of West Chester driven by the talented and amazing folks at Uptown! Entertainment Alliance. We thought we would get to know what’s on the horizon with this energetic and focused organization and how it will help to bring more performing arts awareness and opportunities to our area. Please welcome Leslie Telthorster, Marketing UEA to our “Step Into Your Limelight” interview series.

Hi Leslie – what is your role at Uptown! Entertainment Alliance?
I serve on the Board of Directors as Marketing Chair.

Can you briefly describe UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance?
UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance started as a conversation among friends. Over the past three years, that conversation has evolved into a formalized, passionate effort to bring a theater to West Chester. With the Zoning approval and Successful Footlights & Fun Raising event, we closed on the purchase of the Armory on December 18th and excitedly begin it’s transformation into the theater of our dreams right in the heart of West Chester.

See what happens when passionate people get together and start dreaming! What is your overall mission?
UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance is a non-profit organization promoting cultural, economic, and civic life experiences in our community through live theater, music, dance, film and other local events in the heart of West Chester, Pennsylvania’s historic district. UPTOWN! will do this by creating a cultural hub for individuals and families within walking distance to West Chester’s bustling boutiques and restaurants. Engaging underserved age and income groups through age and culturally sensitive programming. We believe we are preserving an important part of local and national history.

How did you become part of the team?
I started out volunteering to help with the Gala in 2013.

Where is your theater’s home?
In February 2013, UPTOWN! found a home for its theater — the historic West Chester National Guard Armory located at 226 High Street. With the help of local legislators, Pennsylvania State Senator Andrew Dinniman and Pennsylvania State Representative Dan Truitt, UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance secured an Agreement from the State of Pennsylvania to transform this grand old building into a multi-use theater.

What an incredible building! Tell us a little more history about the Armory?
The West Chester National Guard Armory building was built in 1916 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It housed the National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry and 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which traces its lineage directly to Benjamin Franklin, who formed the unit in 1747 to protect the Colonies in the French and Indian War.  This unit of soldiers has represented the United States in nearly every war since and is the most decorated unit of our armed forces. This grand 10,900 square foot space with its barrel-vaulted ceiling offers the perfect venue for a large-scale theater and a lasting tribute to courage and sacrifices made by the men of the Bravo Company!

Can you tell us about your fundraising events that our Limelight and West Chester Summer Stage staff, alumni, fans and students could attend?
Attend any one of our programs! Each month Uptown puts on music and jazz concerts, Broadway in the Borough with the Resident Theater Company and Salsa evenings.  We also invite anyone to visit our website and make a gift to support the theater.

We love lending a hand to our fellow artists — what type of volunteer opportunities are available for adults and children at UPTOWN!?
Absolutely!  All of our events require volunteer support.  Handing out programs, taking tickets and setting up tables. We could not run our events without volunteers.

Tell our students about your in-house theater group? What and when will be the first production?
The Resident Theater Company (RTC) is a group formed specifically to work in the new theater. It is a professional theater company with actors from our area as well as New York and Washington DC.  Right now we are hosting monthly cabaret evenings and special theater events.  RTC is planning to open the new theater with a production of Spamalot.

How can Limelight students and performers learn about audition opportunities for future productions?  
Students can visit for any volunteer or audition opportunities.

Limelight is so happy to be a “Partner in the Arts” with UPTOWN! Limelight hopes to help UPTOWN! in its’ efforts to fulfill its mission. Can you explain to our readers how our “partnering” can help our collaborative efforts for a theatre revival in our town? 
Uptown! is looking to have a variety of arts organizations utilizing the space in the new theater as well as classrooms and rehearsal space. Our partners will have an opportunity to rent space and gain exposure as we grow.

We are sorry you were unable to attend the Limelight production in our black-box theatre on Westtown Road – we produced Seussical The Musical with an adult professional cast. It was a huge success for us. We have elementary, middle school and high school versions coming in January and we would love to extend an invite to you then. Thanks for your time Leslie!


Daniel Gorman

Please Meet Daniel Gorman!

Danny has been a part of our West Chester Summer Stage program for many years now – he even performed in two of our productions in our first year at Limelight. He has a no-fear approach to performing, gives the Director everything he’s got and he’s not afraid to take chances which always leaves the audience wanting more. We thought it would be great to share the experiences of this young accomplished performer with our members. Enjoy!

Danny Gorman

Danny – It’s been such a pleasure watching you perform on stage over the years — you seem to always commit to the role you are playing and give it 100% every time. For us in the audience — we always have fun watching you, too. What has been your favorite role to play so far?
It is definitely difficult to choose, as I have played some very fun and good characters over the years. But I would have to say portraying Feargal McFerrin III, the nerd from Back to the 80’s was a favorite. He was such an over the top comedic and likable character and it was a blast being able to create all of his quirks while defeating the bully in the end. When I was younger, I was Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol the Musical and Gavroche, in Les Miserables, they would also be my favorites childhood characters I played.

When did you become involved in performing arts — how old were you and what was the production?
My first production was with West Chester Summer Stage in 2005, The Wizard of Oz. I was five years old and part of the Little Rascals, now known as the Broadway Babies. All I remember was being really excited to play a munchkin. I also got one line in TV Time, where I played Herman Munster from The Munsters. I remember I practiced and practiced to get that right.

I love it — even with one line you were super committed. Were you hooked from that moment or did you need to be encouraged more to continue to perform?
I enjoyed doing The Wizard of Oz, but I wouldn’t say I was hooked right away. It wasn’t until the next year that I really found I enjoyed doing theatre. Summer Stage was a big part of why I continued to perform. My family also enjoyed doing talent shows and stuff like that…so that was fun too. At one point I decided I wanted to be a movie director too.

Be honest — when doing a show — do you still get nervous seconds before walking on stage?
Definitely! There is always a little voice in my head pointing out all the possible things that can go wrong in a scene. I know I just have to think positive and hope for the best.

We mostly see you in musicals — have you ever tackled a dramatic or comedic play?
I have been doing musicals for almost 11 years but didn’t do a play until this past spring. I participated in the Academy of Notre Dame’s spring production, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (it is a mouthful to say). It was a terrific experience and differed greatly from any past productions I’ve performed in. Putting on a play is more laid-back and character focused. The set was just a few blocks and a chalkboard, so the show really depended completely on the performances of the cast members. I don’t think I have enough experiences with plays yet to have a preference between the two. I will say, though, there is nothing  I love more than a show stopping musical number!

You have a great singing voice — has that always come naturally?
It definitely took work. When I was younger I had a pretty severe lisp, so I really had to come over that. Luckily, I have been able to really grow vocally with the help of my amazing voice coach Kim Russell (Kim Russell Voice Studio). I started with her last year.

It’s clear you have a love for music — what Broadway score do you find yourself singing in your head the most?
There are lots of amazing shows but my favorite is West Side Story. Every song in that show is incredible and the story is fantastic. I hope to be a part of that show cast someday.

That is an amazing show — couldn’t agree more. It can’t always be about the performances — do you actively train, take acting or other performance classes to keep you in shape for when it’s showtime?
Definitely! As I mentioned, I have started taking voice lessons and have participated in many acting lessons workshops, some of which were at Limelight! I also participate in Forensics, a public speaking/acting club, at school. Through this I compete in the performance of prose and dramatic plays. Students act out a 10-minute piece from a play or literature and you are judged on your performance. I really enjoy bringing characters to life and this “sport” has helped me a lot.

Last winter – you stepped in last minute (with maybe two days before opening night) for another actor who got sick for Limelight’s production of Annie – how exciting or scary was that experience? What prepared you to step into that role so effortlessly?
It was very exciting but definitely stressful. It was lots of fun meeting the cast and getting acquainted with the set and choreography. Playing Rooster Hannigan has been a character I’ve always thought would be fun for me. My years of Summer Stage really helped with my ability to memorize and the production staff and cast were both so helpful in making sure everything would go smoothly. I had a great time.

Well, you did an awesome job — and not one line missed I might add. Let’s change gears a bit — for our readers who are contemplating joining a theatre group — share with us what excites you the most about being on stage?
The most exciting thing is the spontaneity and energy. Every time you go on stage, you are taking a risk. You don’t just give the same performance each night of a show, you change things up to see how it goes over. Someone in the audience is going to love what you are doing, so be fearless. Actors feed on the energy of the audience — if an audience is inactive, the show might lose steam. I love grabbing the audience and bringing them into the brilliant world the cast and crew have created.

I agree — positive risk-taking at its finest. That said — participating in a musical production takes focus and dedication to the craft — learning the music, memorizing lines, the choreography — does it feel like work or fun during the rehearsal process?
It is always a mix of both. It takes lots of hard work and self-discipline to get through the rehearsal process. Though it can be exhausting, it really is lots of fun to learn new music, blocking, and choreography. And its great camaraderie when the finished product is performed. Your cast is like your family and great memories and friendships come from it.

What part of all of that doesn’t come as easily as the others — and requires more focus and work from you to make it look so easy?
Memorization of lines comes easily to me now, but it takes lots of effort to master choreography and music. Luckily I have been blessed to have so many helpful mentors that help work on these things.

You can’t always get the lead or featured role (although you have had many) — tell us about a time when you didn’t get the part you wanted. How did you handle the rejection and what did you learn about yourself in the process?
Not too long ago, I auditioned for a show and didn’t get a main or supporting role. Initially I was very disappointed-that is only natural. I spent that night wallowing in my disappointment. When I woke up the next morning, I picked myself back up and found I was over it. I had done my best and needed to move on. The show ended up being an amazing experience, and I learned that it is important not to get too caught up in the shenanigans of casting. When cast lists come out, it is natural for there to be some negativity from some people. It is important to not be one of those people stuck in the self-pity stage and spreading the bad vibes. Embrace the show and do your best and you will have a much better time!

Wow – such great life advice too! Tell us how your experience working with a team and putting a show on it’s feet have positively impacted you in other areas of your life?
It has helped me tremendously in many different areas. Socially, theatre teaches such valuable lessons about teamwork and communication. It also teaches time management, which is very important with my hectic schedule. I am confident on stage and that has come from having amazing teachers and friends to learn from. Teamwork and respecting your fellow cast mates creates an environment where we all do our best. Not to mention that I’ve made some of the best friends of my life. We truly enjoy each other and build each other up.

You were honored (deservedly so) with the Nick Mullin Scholarship at West Chester Summer Stage this year — only one person each summer is bestowed this honor in memory of a young man who lit up the stage and the lives of his family and friends like you do. What was going through your head the seconds leading up to Mrs. McCarney announcing your name?
There are so many kids who would be deserving of this scholarship. It was a truly surreal experience for me. I wasn’t thinking it was going to be me until the moment Mrs. McCarney mentioned that the recipient was someone who had been with her for a very long period of time. That was the moment I realized it might be me. Then she announced my name! I started shaking and tearing up. I was honestly taken aback by the whole thing. I’m not normally a very emotional person, but I immediately started bawling. It is such an amazing honor – Nick seems like he was a fantastic guy from all that I’ve heard. And the foundation Mr. and Mrs. Mullin have started, Nick Smiles on the Fine Arts, has already done some truly amazing things for fine arts programs in many schools. Mrs McCarney has been such an awesome teacher for me since I was five years old, so it meant the world to me to receive that honor from her. I am very honored to be the 2015 Nick Mullin Scholarship recipient.

What’s in your near future — any shows you are already committed to doing or hoping to audition for soon?
I was so happy to be a part of Bishop Shanahan’s production of White Christmas and Notre Dame Academy’s production of Anything Goes. I also hope to participate in some of the Limelight high school productions coming up soon.

Well, folks — there you have it — keep an eye out for Danny in theatres this season (including Limelight) – we guarantee you will love all of his performances. Thanks Danny – have a great season!


William Mayo

bill mayo

Please Meet the Incomparable William Mayo

He is the Vocal Instructor at Limelight Performing Arts Center. Bill goes way back with Limelight’s owner Ann Pinto McCarney – in fact he was once her vocal instructor many moons ago. Bill is a busy guy — a member of the professional actors union (AEA), a member of the Temple University Voice Faculty, a voice teacher at Limelight, and the Musical Director at our West Chester Summer Stage and Limelight PAC. He is also at a handful of other theatres where he puts his best talent to use, teaching, motivating and inspiring voice students to reach their absolute best in voice performance. Bill has such a wealth of experience and we just had to share it with you all. Enjoy!


You have been teaching voice for many years and it is clearly obvious the joy you have with instructing your students — what is the most exciting part of vocal instruction?
Actually, the reward for me is two fold: Providing a beginning student with an informative start on how voice production takes place in their own voice and leading a student to an “ah-ha” moment in their singing.

How old were you when you started to sing and when you knew this would be a lifelong passion?
I actually came late to singing compared to some students. I entered college on a trumpet scholarship and after my first semester, I realized that I had a voice and that I wanted to pursue it.

When you were a young singer — did you have any mentors or instructors that really impacted your approach or philosophy to singing?
Yes, the organist at my second professional church singing job became a lifelong musical mentor and friend. He was a Curtis Institute of Music graduate and was and still is inspirational concerning voice and music.

Tell us about your credentials and education for teaching.
I currently have a Master’s Degree in Opera Theater and a Professional Certificate in Vocal Performance. I lived, studied and performed in NYC for ten years before coming back to Philadelphia and teaching in the Voice Department of Temple University which I’ve done for the past 30 years.

What a great accomplishment! Share with us some of the highlights of your own signing career?
While in New York City I premiered several new compositions for voice, opera and oratorio. I sang for two years on the National Tour of the historic Men of Song. We were a quartet of professional singers who backed up one of the leading Bassos at the Metropolitan Opera.  In those two years I believe I sang in all five provinces of Canada all but four states of the United States. After I returned to Philadelphia, I had the honor of auditioning and being chosen to sing at Vice President Biden’s father’s funeral. I then sang for his mother’s 90th birthday party two years before she passed. That was quite an honor.

Wow – what an honor indeed! What can a prospective student expect to learn while under your vocal instruction?
I teach all of my students how their voice works, all three aspects: Breathing, phonation or making sound and resonation, the natural amplification of the human voice. I also include musicianship, style, diction and posture and song presentation.

What are the top 2-3 things you see today’s singers doing that are not healthy for their voices?
Young singers for the most part, don’t see the relevance of connecting breath support with the act of singing. Young female singers, try so hard to mimic the current female singing stars that all they want to do is use their “belt voices” often disregarding the need to develop their “head voices.” For me, those two items are truly the main issues. You MUST develop the whole voice not just part of it.

Good point! On that note — what tips do you prescribe to your students to protect their voice?
First and foremost, study voice privately so that you can learn how your voice actually works. Avoid screaming and talking too much.  Singers must monitor the use of their voice and take care of it.  Also, sleep. Young singers need plenty of sleep.

You spend quality time with your students teaching them to breathe and sing properly — why is that so important and how do you keep the student interested when all they want to do is sing?
You develop the technique of singing so that your voice will be free enough to tell stories by way of the music. The better your vocal technique, the freer you are as a performer to tell your story through song. I always try to give students songs that are just in reach of the level of their technique.

I love that — “the better your vocal technique — the freer you are as a performer to tell your story through song”! I know you are all about helping students characterize their songs  — what are some of the ways you instruct your students when preparing for an audition?
All songs are stories. If there weren’t any melody, the words would probably be a monologue or a scene with other characters. Singers have to treat their songs as if they WERE monologues with emotional levels and a beginning, middle and an end.  We also talk about the emotional design of a song. Rarely is the character in a song just ONE emotion throughout the whole song. Just like a spoken acting seen, the song takes the singer through a range of human emotion and these shifts MUST be identified in the song.  You just can’t sing pretty notes!!

I have read articles in the past where business executives will take singing/vocal lessons as a means to improve the strength of their speaking voice — projecting, enunciating, breathing — the works. As a result — some execs have described improvements in their posture and body language when speaking in front of large groups as an added benefit. How often do you hear students share with you the benefits of lessons in their personal/business life aside from just improvements when singing?
Often. The study of vocal presentation benefits everyone in every capacity. I have worked with CEO’s, teachers, actors, public speakers, students and people from all walks of life. Your voice is one of the most PERSONAL unique “identities” a person owns. Using your voice with quality and confidence promotes assurance and positivity in everything we do. I believe we ALL benefit from speaking and carrying ourselves in a positive manner!

From a performing perspective — explain the joy you get when teaching a student during the entire cycle — from struggling to get the lyrics and notes correct to belting out the big number with full confidence on stage?
The satisfaction of helping a young singer develop confidence while performing is immense for me. It’s why I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. There is no nobler aspiration that I can think of than wanting to be a “teller of stories.” Creating ART raises the HUMANITY of all communities and enhances the dignity of ALL human beings. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

There you have it folks – some sage advice and tips from the Master himself… Thanks Bill for sharing – hoping we will see you onstage very soon sharing your vocal talents as well. Hmmm – maybe something at Limelight perhaps? 


Sherer Family

It’s Thank You Thursday — Tinkerbell Style!

It is time to thank some very special people again, folks who have been big supporters of Limelight – our great friends the McCusker-Sherer family.

Our relationship goes way back – Ann attended Prendie H.S. with Lisa and they shared several years together at Upper Darby Summer Stage, too. Over the years the arts kept them in touch – with Lisa working a season at our West Chester Summer Stage and her son Matt participating in several productions that Ann directed and produced. In fact – Matt was a huge help last year when we went through the exhausting task of moving 15 years worth of costumes, scenery, set pieces, props and other theatre stuff to our new location. On days like that — you need all the help you can get and when a big, 6’4″, strong young man with endless energy arrives to help — you are grateful to have him there and we certainly appreciated his eagerness and enthusiasm (did we mention he is also a model and actor?).


Lisa has always been a huge advocate for the arts in many ways. She’s a great supporter of people in general — always there to cheer you on and give you that friendly push to do your best. When we opened the doors at Limelight – Lisa and her husband Stephen (who also shares the same gift of helping others) were at our sides with lots of encouragement and support. They jumped at the chance to fund one of our studio classrooms, Lisa chose the Peter Pan theme and our talented scenic designer, Peggy Fotusky came through with the design — they made a great team. We absolutely LOVE the embellished classroom. Please swing by the studio and —check it out yourself.











IMG_2735 IMG_2731










Much thanks to Lisa, Stephen, Matt and Liv for your continued love, support, encouragement and being a champion of the arts. You all have such a wonderful “service to others” mentality which makes us proud to be in your company!




Mullin Family


Seussical Studio Dedicated to Nick Mullin

We would like to thank some very special people for supporting Limelight. When we began our GoFundMe campaign last year our dear friends made some very thoughtful contributions. We are eternally grateful and to show our appreciation we dedicated space in our Performing Arts Center and our set designer, Peggy Fotusky, really outdid herself with her design and beautiful artwork.



Tom and Dee Mullin’s son Nick was involved in our West Chester Summer Stage Program during his battle with cancer. Despite his struggles, he lit up our stage with his huge talent and a smile that inspired everyone he encountered. One of our studios is now dedicated to Nick – a beautiful tribute to him and the show Seussical he starred in (in fact – we are proud to display his unicycle and red converse sneakers that he used in our production). It is our privilege to honor Nick and his courageous parents who are succeeding at keeping his memory strong and making a difference through their Nick Smiles on the Arts Foundation.

Honestly – the pictures don’t do the studio justice – we encourage you to visit our performing arts center and see this studio for yourself – it’s a great place for learning. Thanks Mullins for allowing us to share Nick’s story with our students and for your continuous loyalty and support of Limelight!




For more information on the Nick Smiles on the Arts Foundation and the wonderful causes it supports – please visit:

For more information on Limelight Performing Arts Center –please visit:

IMG_2710 IMG_2724 IMG_2725





Please Meet Karen Toto-Hockenberry


We have known Karen for many years – in fact our paths have crossed in many ways from directing to choreographing to performing together in a production or two. She has a ton of energy and keeps herself busy with a lot of interesting stuff. The proud mom of two amazing sons and the wife and co-pilot to an incredible guy – we thought her story would be great for our “Step Into Your Limelight” interview series. It’s always nice to see a person hit their stride several times in life – and Karen definitely fits that bill. Enjoy!

Karen – welcome to the “Step Into Your Limelight” interview series. You always seem to have a positive outlook – What is making you smile these days?

Playing Electra in Gypsy at the Media Theatre and finding out that my name (Karen Toto) is on the Billboard on highway 95 as one of the Burlesque Dancers…what a hoot!

That’s awesome and fun – we have seen it and it is a hoot! You have had such an admirable professional performing career – tell us about some of your fondest memories and productions.

Wow – there are so many it’s difficult to pick…I loved touring with both My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and 42nd Street starring Barry Nelson…in addition to the thrill of performing in those productions I had so many fantastic experiences seeing the country, hanging out with the MOST FUN people, and doing what I loved, all at the same time. I went Hot Air ballooning in California, did aerobatic gliding over the desert in Arizona, and went to the Magic Castle in L.A., just to mention a few. But the epitome was definitely Opening Night of My Fair Lady on Broadway…My Dream come true!

It’s a lot of fun looking at your old pictures from those productions – you can immediately tell you were enjoying every minute and were surrounded by incredible people. You were a bona fide triple threat (singer, dancer and actress) in the business on stage and television – yet you switched gears in life and pursued a career in helping people find their dream homes – what prompted this life change?

John and I wanted to have a business together as we were about to start raising a family and wanted more control and to not have to travel away from home …I always had a great interest in Real Estate so it seemed like a good transition.

Tell us how your experience in the performing arts has contributed to your success as one of the nation’s top rated Realtors? What tools do you find yourself using today that are a result of your arts education and experiences?

Hard work, discipline and great preparation are needed in both …also every time you go on a Listing Presentation it’s similar to auditioning. You need to be totally prepared. So I went from auditioning for Shows to auditioning for Listings!

That’s a lesson we hear a lot – the preparation process of being in a show helps with the preparation of so many other aspects in life – love hearing you make that connection again. Recently you put your toe back in the water and landed a role with Media Theatre’s “Hello Dolly” with Philly’s own Andrea McArdle – how much fun was that?

It was a fantastic experience! Andrea was super nice, very down to earth and we had a super cast! It was a blast!

Was this your first performance in a long time? How nervous were you auditioning?

Yes, I was nervous but since I have a day job, there is much less pressure. I really wanted to do it, but if I didn’t get it I figured there would be another opportunity in the future.

So share with your fellow performers what you did to help you prepare to nail the role? Did you take refresher classes?

I took singing lessons from Bill Mayo at Limelight. That was really helpful as I had not sung in a really long time. I teach Zumba so I do still dance and I workout, so I was not as concerned about my dancing.

So basically back to that “being prepared” thing, huh? What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself during the rehearsals and performances of that production?

The joy of performing never leaves you and I felt the same as I did 30 years ago when I did 42nd Street. The years just melted away.

Does this mean we can expect to see more of you on the stage?

Hopefully, I’m very fortunate to have my husband who can takeover when needed.

What excites you most about performing in front of a live audience?

There is an energy that cannot be duplicated when performing before a live audience. It’s great to hear their responses, their applause, their laughter…there is nothing like it!

Tell us, have you performed your dream role yet?

No, I have not performed my dream role yet… I would love to play Adelaide in Guys & Dolls. (tee-hee)

We hear you have exciting news about a new role you are preparing for. Can you share with us what’s on the horizon for you?

Gypsy rehearsals start Aug 31st. I was asked to be on the Board at the Media Theatre and I have accepted. And continuing to sell lots of homes & find folks their Dream Home. It’s a Busy life!

Wow – I guess you will never slow down – such exciting things ahead of you. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. 

Folks – make sure you get your tickets to see Karen knocking them dead in Gypsy – opens September 23rd at Media Theater!  Congrats and break a leg, Karen – We couldn’t be more proud!