Jake Latts will tell you he doesnâ€™t remember his first experience of theater at age two, but his mother Kate Latts certainly does. It was the stage show of Barney the Dinosaur. As she recalls, it left him transfixed, immobile and thoroughly immersed. He himself, though, will point to another more authentic toe dip into theatrics at the age of six â€“ a trip with his mom to New York City. It was there that he saw â€œThe Sound of Music,â€ with dollops of dancing, singing and live music to boot. A Broadway show â€“ the real thing. And heâ€™s been performing ever since.
But this September, Latts wonâ€™t be singing, dancing or gliding his hands over the ebonies and ivories, something heâ€™s become very adept at. Instead, he will be sitting next to WAVE3 anchor Dawne Gee and Heyman Talent Agencyâ€™s Kathy Campbell â€“ watching, listening and last of all, judging. As part of preparations for his bar mitzvah, Latts has spent the best part of a year planning â€œLouisvilleâ€™s Got Talent,â€ a show thatâ€™s inviting anyone between the ages ofÂ 7 and 18 who can sing, dance, act or play an instrument to take part. There are open auditions Aug. 25 and a grand finale Sept. 8. While there are cash prizes for the winners, the real intent of the contest is to raise money for Lattsâ€™ real Louisville love, the Jewish Community Centerâ€™s CenterStage Acting Out program â€“ a touring childrenâ€™s theatre troupe that travels to schools and community centers to present educational and relevant musical theatre to students of all ages.
â€œI am really fortunate that throughout my childhood, Iâ€™ve been able to go to so many plays and musicals at CenterStage, or the Kentucky Center for the Arts and even in New York City,â€ Latts explains. â€œSo I wanted to raise money for Acting Out so that other kids could be introduced to the arts and have the same wonderful experiences with theater I have had.â€
â€œItâ€™s typical for a child to pick a community service project to do in honor of their bar mitzvah,â€ explains his mother Kate Latts, who still remembers the first time her son saw a piano at his grandparentsâ€™ house and started making so much noise on it that they had no choice but to buy him one. â€œGiven how much Jake loves the arts, this cause was a perfect fit. He knows more about Broadway and itâ€™s history than any adult.Â Itâ€™s remarkable.â€
Since becoming a keen member of CenterStage, Latts has started notching up shows to his ledger, appearing in his first show, â€œThe Wizard of Oz,â€ and subsequently â€œJoseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.â€ But he is quick to add that he has opera to his name too. â€œTwo years ago I did â€˜Carmen,â€™ and last year I did â€˜Tosca,â€™â€ he says proudly. And although he wonâ€™t be a contestant on Louisvilleâ€™s Got Talent, it does not mean the self-confessed â€œactor and pianistâ€ wonâ€™t be itching to take to the stage.
But for the contest Latts will be a nervous judge, alongside two esteemed colleagues, one of whom perhaps may be more anxious than Latts himself. Despite delivering the news to thousands of Louisvillians each night, WAVE3â€™s Dawne Gee is approaching the audition process and the final with optimistic trepidation, hoping her decisions will not be too hard to make.
â€œOne thing I donâ€™t like to do is judge kids,â€ laughs Gee. â€œIt could be singing, cooking or throwing rocks, because unfortunately in something like this not everyone wins. Iâ€™d much rather be cheering on the kids like a mom from the seats, but Iâ€™m doing this because itâ€™s such a good cause. One thing Iâ€™ll say though is that there is so much talent on both sides of the river, Iâ€™m fearful that this is going to be even tougher.â€
In the meantime Kathy Campbell, director of the Louisville branch of Heyman Talent, who knows a thing or two about spotting gifted individuals in a crowd, will be the third and final judge. But even though Campbellâ€™s day job may consist of constant scrutiny, sheâ€™s keen to stress sheâ€™s not volunteering to be Simon Cowell for the night.
â€œOh no, I donâ€™t think anybody is going to be like that,â€ laughs Campbell. â€œPeople are going to be nervous already, so we want people to be comfortable as possible. As judges, all weâ€™re looking for is people with sparkle and stage appeal â€“ and in a town thatâ€™s produced Jennifer Lawrence and Nicole Scherzinger, there is a good chance of that.â€
But no matter who walks away with the cash prize, everyone involved â€“ especially Latts â€“ knows a great non-profit cause will receive a much needed boost. â€œI just thought that it would be great to show all the talent Louisville has,â€ concludes Latts.
As for his mom, she could not be prouder. â€œIf Jake does not do acting or performing later in life, then he wants to be a theater critic,â€ she laughs. â€œBecause heâ€™ll get to go to all the shows for free.â€
Tickets for the Sept. 8 showcase are $7 for children and $12 for adults. To register to participate or purchase tickets, visit www.centerstagejcc.org/talent or call 502.238.2763.
Open auditions are at 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 25 in the Jewish Community Centerâ€™s Dance Studio. Participants must register by Aug. 23. The entry fee is $10 per person. The live finale is Sept. 8 at 2 p.m.