Mr. Anything You Can Do (Harrison Smith) is crowned the 2018 Mr. East

April 14, 2018

For the East community, April 13 was a wild night filled with tearaway pants, flamboyant choreography, middle-school flashbacks, and even a giant sock puppet. Described by this year’s chairladies as “the greatest show on Earth,” this year’s Mr. East competition was a dazzling, shameless festival of flair from start to finish.

The night was emceed by this year’s chairladies, Sabrina DeAbreu (‘18), Maggie Hallinan (‘18), Jillian Rivera (‘18) and Hope Rosenblatt (‘18). This year’s dance chairladies were Sari Cohen (‘18), Carly Greenblatt (‘18) and Maddie Levin (‘18).

The night was split into several segments: opening number, swimwear, talent (bisected by a brief intermission), formal wear, question and answer, a brief presentation about this year’s charity cause – Tools for Schools, which was founded by current East students Montana and Lilly Checkoff (‘21 and ‘18, respectively) – and finally, announcement of a winner.

Bright circus music greeted the hundreds of audience members who swarmed the seats around 6:40 in preparation for a 7:00 show. After a unique but harmonious rendition of the national anthem by Abby Calistero (‘18), Evey Grika (‘18) and Claire Tremper (‘18), the contestants – dressed in costumes befitting their specific circus roles – made their first impressions on the audience with their opening dance number. With jumps, hip pops, and a steady stream of dramatic hand gestures, contestants broke it down to an upbeat medley of songs including “Formation” by Beyonce and “Circus” by Britney Spears. In between Rockette kicks, chair dancing, cracking whips, and pairing off to lift each other into the air, contestants took turns stepping out onto the runway. This year’s lineup of contestants included both several boys known specifically for great dancing skills (see: Mr. Just Lou It, Mr. Anything You Can Do, Mr. Big Sean), but every contestant made the most of their moment with the crowd. No move was too extra, from sashays to shimmies, from the Worm to the dramatic tearaway costume, and from splits to death drops.

One wouldn’t usually think to look for circus splendor on a beach, but the ten Mr. East hopefuls still pulled out all the stops for the swimwear portion. No matter how you like to enjoy the beach, from a preppy boys’ day out to a surfside study session, you can bet it was represented in some way on the stage. Baywatch, eat your heart out. 

As always, the talent portion performances ran the gamut along wide range of raw talent, thoughtful comedy, and common Mr. East tropes. Sean Escareal (‘18), aka Mr. Big Sean, was the first, but not the last, to start his act with one talent, then shift into a different routine after being taunted by a friend on stage. Escareal began with soulful (and mostly on-key) singing, backed up by a live three-piece band. He then transitioned to “poetry” at the behest of his mother, which involved speaking the words to a Migos song and a Dr. Seuss book, before dancing to live music by the band. His act finished with an incredible, futuristic dance sequence to a techno soundtrack, then a sequence filled with guitar music and emotional body language.

 

Mr. Scholarcoff, usually known as Josh Sodicoff (‘18), set up his rhythmic and intellectual act by outlining a fictional doomsday scenario where he peaked while competing in Mr. East, flunked out of college, and ended up regaining his mojo on the streets as a bohemian poet and ultimately returning home as a diss track master ready to exact revenge. He engaged in rap battles with a young challenger, and then with a giant sock puppet played by David Le (‘18) and its two dancing minions. Mr. BrowNish, Nishaad Khedkar (‘18), made a guest appearance as a skilled but apologetic challenger whom Sodicoff ran offstage before finishing up with a dramatic mandolin solo.

Next up was Brad Coolahan (‘18), alias Mr. Big Sexy, who utilized the classic Mr. East scenario of bringing his friends on stage as if he were brainstorming ideas for his Mr. East act, in order to set up his Bachelor-themed act. Coolahan attempted to find a Mr. East escort, choosing between Maddie Levin (‘18), Isabella Cammisa (‘18), and Justin Tobolsky (‘18), dressed as a Miss Piggy-esque character named Justina. With the help of clever transitional videos mimicking the flow of an actual episode of The Bachelor, Coolahan took his contenders on dates to his middle-school dance and his job at Saladworks before presenting Cammisa with a Ring Pop and choosing her as his escort. Along the way, Coolahan made sports jokes, poked fun at East culture, and mocked the extreme speed with which Bachelor love stories progress.

Mr. Just LOU It lit up the stage with a chronological tableau of dance styles through the ages, from the 1920s to the 2000s. With glitzy props and a troupe of backup dancers at his side, Mr. LOU It, usually known as Louis Zimmermann (‘18), captivated audiences with jazz-era staples, tap dancing steps, and 20th-century trends from the jitterbug to the moonwalk, including a highly energetic and dramatically lit tribute to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock”. Zimmermann said that his favorite era to portray was the 70s, which translated into a few moments of energetic, twirly disco moves. After bringing major acrobatic swagger to the 1990s and 2000s, Zimmermann finished off his presentations with a breathtaking ballet sequence embodying his own personal dance style. As his act finished, Zimmermann looked as if he was flying across the stage, or perhaps ascending to some higher plane.

A performance by Kevin Stankiewicz (‘18), aka Mr. Stanky Leg, carried the audience to intermission. In the style of 2017 contestant Mr. Oh No’s live cooking demonstration, Stankiewicz riffed on his job at Smoothie King and demonstrated how to make a smoothie, accompanied by Andrew Hudson (‘18) and Vinnie DiFrancesco (‘18). Stankiewicz’s creation may not have been the healthiest, with his comedic use of “pure sugar” fruit concentrate and the addition of a “secret ingredient” delivered by a shady figure in a trench coat. However, it certainly made good use of a broken blender and a laugh track.

After intermission, Kriswel Rivera (‘18) stepped into the spotlight; and while this year’s acts did rely somewhat heavily on standard Mr. East concepts (such as a friend-guided transition from a subpar talent to a spectacular one, or a skit involving the need to isolate a Mr. East act), no one could ever accuse Rivera of unoriginality. Rivera, aka Mr. Wellfire, incorporated unique humor and refreshing self-awareness into his act, which questioned why clowns have come to be known as scary. Over the course of his comedic act, Wellfire snuck in a brief cooking demo, dancing, rapping, anti-Trump jokes, pop culture references, and even a soulful string duet. With the help of a few scene-stealing background dancers, who featured in an opening video clip, frolicked across the stage as Rivera did his thing and even played kazoos onstage, Rivera certainly convinced the audience – and his often-mentioned parents – to side with the clown for once.

Drew Hoffman (‘18), alias Mr. Hoffline Bling, was the only contestant to receive a standing ovation during his act. This was because the audience was explicitly asked to stand and recognize him when he was formally introduced to the stage. Hoffman took a very different approach to his time on stage, choosing to re-create scenes from his bar mitzvah. He got the crowd on their feet to welcome East students playing his “family”, performed the Horah and the blessing over the challah, and took advantage of the traditional candle-lighting ceremony to present a roast targeting the East football team, the Cherry Hill Board of Education, and fellow  competitor Mr. Big Sexy, to name a few. The act ended with t-shirts thrown into the crowd.

 

Those captivated by the nostalgia of Hoffman’s act may also have been drawn to the act of Nishaad Khedkar (‘18), aka Mr. Brownish, who was presented as a member of the “nerd” race resulting from an acrimonious separation between the Gods of Academics and Social Life. Khedkar performed a rap tribute to math, physics, and his own childhood. Despite having clashed with fellow contestant Mr. Scholarcoff earlier this week for similarities between their acts, Khedkar featured him in another rap battle sequence before delivering a stirring message of support for “nerds” and finally achieving the act’s final goal; the love and acceptance of Khedkar’s parents.

Next, audiences were inspired to get active by DJ Gorenberg, aka Mr. DJ Fit, who performed a parody of the 90-day fitness program P90X. In Gorenberg’s parody, two groups of people, one motivated and one not, attempted to follow his examples of P90X activities, where the P and the X stood for Xtreme Pain. Throughout the course of his act, the motivated group of people experienced one onstage birth and one onstage death from overexertion, while the unmotivated group texted, ate donuts, and slept onstage. Throughout all of the chaos and hilarity, Gorenberg’s character stayed focused on the program, performing perfect pushups even as his “dead” volunteer was wrapped in a sheet and carried offstage.

Harrison Smith (‘18), accompanied by a cadre of D-Wing powerhouses, closed out the talent portion with an elaborate Vaudevillian performance of an original song. Smith, aka Mr. Anything you Can Do, sang an incredibly dramatic and vocally impressive ballad about how he was done with getting attention as a performer and was going to stop showing off. As he sang these overly modest lyrics, Smith swaggered his way through a hilariously over-the-top choregraphed sequence; hula hooping, breaking a board in half with a karate kick, playing water glasses like a xylophone, playing the trumpet, twirling a baton, and even singing in French. As he powered through his aggressively modest lyrics, Smith donned a fur coat and demonstrated complex dance steps like tumbling and lifting members of his flamboyant eight-person backup dancing team. With a key change, a dramatic pose, an exuberant encore and plenty of jazz hands, Smith ushered in the formal-wear portion of the evening with a bang.

Each Mr. East contestant was escorted down the runway by an East girl during the formal-wear portion, and gave roses to their parents and escorts while the chairladies described their ideal dates. Some of the dates imagined were elaborate, like a private jet trip to Hawaii to hike a volcano, while some were more Cherry-Hill friendly, turning “dinner and a show” into “Chik-Fil-A and mini golf”. Eight out of the ten female escorts wore black, and nine out of ten wore dresses; Smith and his escort Jackie Cotter (‘19) opted instead to wear matching tuxedos, perhaps in a nod to Smith’s defiance of gender norms by wearing a dress during the opening number. This was followed by a question and answer portion, where the chairladies asked each contestant a question that took their circus role and related it back to East. Many of the contestants were quick on their feet: Khedkar riffed on his snake-charmer role with a reference to shedding his skin, and Smith invited unconfident audience members to either be themselves or be more like him, just to name a few memorable answers.

While the judges tallied up the scores, East freshman Montana Checkoff took the stage to discuss the evening’s charity, Tools for Schools. Checkoff and her sister Lilly founded the charity, which donates backpacks and school supplies to children in need in nearby Camden, when they were 10 and 12. Checkoff made the point that for families who cannot even afford food all the time, it can be hard to justify the expense of new school supplies, and expressed her pride that the group has helped over 2,000 kids so far. Mr. East contestants then collected donations to Tools for Schools in a quick round of Minute to Win It, where they ran down the aisles with buckets competing to collect the most donations from the audience.

After alumni judges Mike Fogler (‘10), Drew Handler (‘10), and Jack Pinsky (‘10), finalized the results of the competition, the ten Mr. East hopefuls filed on stage together one last time to learn their fates. Ultimately, Mr. Anything you Can Do, Harrison Smith, proved that there is truly nothing that anyone can do that he cannot do better, winning the title of Mr. East 2018. Mr. Wellfire took second place, and Mr. Scholarcoff took third.

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