JM's Samantha Zarate Rangel named finalist in Triangle Rising Stars theater competition

SILER CITY, N.C. — Samantha Zarate Rangel dazzled audiences last fall when Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, “In the Heights,” filled the Jordan-Matthews High School stage. And now it appears she dazzled some judges as well.

The junior from Siler City was named one of 10 finalists for Best Actress for her performance as Nina in the annual Triangle Rising Stars musical theater competition.

About 150 students in central and eastern North Carolina were evaluated for individual awards this year before judges trimmed the field to 10 male and 10 female finalists.

Zarate and the other individual finalists will attend a weekend workshop and perform on stage in the Triangle Rising Stars Awards Show on May 15, 7:30 p.m., at the Durham Performing Arts Center. General admission tickets are $10 from the theater or Fees apply to purchases online.

“Playing the role of Nina was an amazing experience,” Zarate says. “It was definitely a challenge, but I can relate to her so well as I come from a Hispanic household. I am so excited to share this with others on the DPAC stage."

Zarate is no stranger to local audiences. One year before “In the Heights,” she earned acclaim as Hodel in the Jordan-Matthews production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” another role featuring an emotionally charged solo. The honors vocal music student and JMArts Scholar also performed last month with Chatham’s All-County Chorus.

As Jordan-Matthews's choral music teacher and music director for musicals, Matt Fry has high expectations for his student. Still, he was moved every night when Zarate performed that emotional number, her character's mournful tribute to a neighborhood matriarch who had just passed away.

“Samantha made me cry every night when she sang ‘Everything I Know,’” Fry says. “The amount of feeling she put into that song was mesmerizing. I tried not to, but the tears just came."

Zarate, the daughter of Victoria Rangel Lopez and Elias Zarate Amador, is the fifth Jordan-Matthews actor to be selected as a Triangle Rising Stars finalist.

Ashley Griffin was the first, in 2013, for her performance as Fiona McLaren in “Brigadoon.” She was followed by Heath Smith in 2014 for his performance as Daddy Warbucks in “Annie,” Nick Guaraglia in 2015 for his performance as Kenickie in “Grease” and Jasmine Brower last year for her performance as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Students from the Triangle and Greensboro regions who performed a qualifying role in their high school musical were eligible for consideration as finalists. Judges attended performances and evaluated video highlights to make their selections.

Triangle Rising Stars is part of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, a showcase for student performers across the United States. Best Actors and Best Actresses selected from 40 regional competitions receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York, where they participate in a nine-day intensive workshop with Broadway coaches and accomplished professionals before performing at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.

“In the Heights” was made possible by significant contributions from JMArts, the Jordan-Matthews Arts Foundation, a nonprofit supporting arts education at Jordan-Matthews High School.

The organization conducts the JMArts Scholars program, offers the New York Arts Adventure and conducts many other projects to enrich the school’s artistic community. More information is available online at

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