If you ever needed positive affirmation to dream big, several recent stories on Niagara natives starring on stage and screen should definitely do the trick.
First off, we’ve got a couple of stars on Broadway.
Ayla Ciccone-Burton, a 26-year-old Niagara Falls High School graduate, was one of just a few performers to join the Broadway production of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”
“It was surreal,” she said of her debut among a cast led by recent Tony winner Adrienne Warren, who plays the iconic Tina Turner with a powerhouse voice and signature dance moves critics have raved about.
It’s been a long road for Ciccone-Burton who starred in a Niagara Falls High School production of “Annie Jr.” while in grade school and during her years at NFHS, she acted, danced and sang in a variety small and large roles under the guidance of supportive music and drama teachers, especially Linda Werder and Kate Muldoon.
The greatest lesson, she says, is that it is possible to manifest your dreams if you take the time to do the work. “I’ve been saying for years that Broadway’s the goal and was very much also aware that I couldn’t go straight to it, that I had to take small steps to get there and work my way up.”
Litha Portiaeyne Johnson would likely agree. She said recently she knows how important the arts can be to a young person’s life.
“It’s what I was raised on. It gave me purpose and hope,” she said and recalled with gratitude her mentors at Niagara Falls High School including Music Teacher Marva Frails, who also directed Portia in the chorus at her family’s church, New Hope Baptist Church.
Known professionally by just her first name, Portia had been working full-time as an actor since 2003. She performed on Broadway with Patrick Stewart in “The Ride Down Mt. Morgan,” and on stage and in the touring company of “Fences.” Prior to the COVID shutdown, she had a successful run with Marisa Tomei in the Tennessee Williams play “The Rose Tatoo.”
Currently, Portia is playing the role of Calpurnia in “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway.
And then there’s Joshua Vacanti — the guy with all the signs in Lockport. The local worship leader is currently wowing the country as a contestant on NBC’s “The Voice.” The Lockport resident made the latest cut Tuesday and is competing among the final 11 vocalists on the popular show.
In addition to getting a lot of positive attention, Vacanti has also rallied the local community behind him as he’s progressed during the weekly performances.
He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.
This past week, Vacanti, with Team Legend, performed “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen” and dedicated the performance to his high school drama and music teachers.
“If I had to pick someone that I think has been supportive and influential, I’d maybe say the music theater department educators at Lockport High School,” Vacanti told our reporters. “I struggled a lot in school and when I got to the music department in high school it was definitely a safe haven for me. It was such a great place, an encouraging place to be and I really came out of my shell. I’ve been blessed to have so many musical educators in my life.”
It’s great to see these stars shine. The three performers are just the latest examples of where hard work, dedication and the right influences can lead in life.