Fortune favors the brave

High school seniors score roles in New York production of ‘Aida’

Depending on how his theatrical career develops in the coming decades, Carlos Zarzuela could have one heck of a great “how I got my big break” story to tell on the “Tonight Show” one day.
A Secaucus High School senior who has been performing in musicals since he was in the sixth grade, Zarzuela, 17, recently scored the lead role of Prince Rademes in a concert version of “Aida” that was showcased last week at the Discovery Times Square Exposition.
Directed by Darren Gage, co-founder of the New Jersey Arts Collective, this production of “Aida” – performed in what’s called concert form – was showcased last weekend as part of the King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs Exhibit.
“I found out about the audition from my friend Julia [Giambona]. She heard about the audition and was going to try out for the show,” Zarzuela recently recalled.
“I know the director, Darren Gage,” Giambona said, adding to his story. “I did a show with him last year. We did ‘Titanic: The Musical,’ [also] in concert form. He emailed me about the audition. I went to Carlos’ house to practice with him. He’s like my musical friend. I feel like I can get honest opinions from him. Then, I was like, ‘Why don’t you just come with me [to the audition]?’ “


“Congratulations. You are our Prince Rademes.”

At her urging Zarzuela agreed to tag along to the West Orange audition “just to give some support to her.”
When the pair arrived at the tryouts, Giambona introduced her friend to one of the judges, mentioning that he had played Emile de Becque in Secaucus High School’s spring 2010 production of “South Pacific.”
“The judge asked me, ‘Oh, could you audition, please? We need a few more males to audition to balance out the ensemble.’ I didn’t really want to do it at first. Then I was like, why not?”
With the “South Pacific” score still fresh in his mind, Zarzuela decided to sing “Some Enchanted Evening,” de Becque’s signature love song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
He was stunned when he received a “callback” for a second audition a week later.
“There were four young ladies there auditioning for the role of Aida. I was the only one who was auditioning for Prince Rademes, I noticed,” Zarzuela said. “So, I asked them how come I was the only guy auditioning and the [director] said, ‘Congratulations. You are our Prince Rademes.’ “

That’s what friends are for

Giambona, 17, was also cast as a featured vocalist in the production’s ensemble.
“This is a good performance opportunity for young students because it makes you more well-rounded,” said Giambona, who played the role of the Sour Kangaroo in the high school’s 2009 production of “Seussical.” “Doing high school shows and summer shows, that’s all good. But working in a production like this, it’s very professional. It’s not high school. It’s more like a professional theater production. We have workshops with people from Broadway. So this is experience that helps us grow and looks good when you audition for other things.”
The friends each plan to study theater in college next year.
Giambona, a student in the high school’s Media Arts Academy, hopes to attend either Emerson College or Boston Conservatory, both of which have strong communications programs and well respected theater departments.
For Zarzuela, who had previously been interested only in a career in music, his recent hot streak with live theater has opened his eyes to a new path.
“I’ve been doing musicals since I was in sixth grade. It’s funny, though, I never had a lead role until last [school] year,” he commented. “So, as you can imagine, it was a beautiful honor. Being cast in ‘South Pacific’ was a huge confidence booster for me.”
He is now looking at several schools that have good music and theater programs and lists Wagner College as his first choice. A small liberal arts college in Staten Island, Wagner’s theater program has been ranked by the Princeton Review as the second best in the country – right after Yale University’s School of Drama.
A fan of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Michael Bolton, Zarzuela said he still plans to have a career in music because, “I don’t think Broadway is something you can live off of. You might do 13 or 14 shows, and then it’s over.”
Zarzuela said he is now looking for vocal training, training that could help him with both his old passion (music) and the new love of his life (theater).
He is, he exclaimed, excited about the possibilities.
“I used to live it [life] out now. But now I’m living for the future. I’m looking forward to my future. That’s exciting!”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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