BWW Interviews: Broadway's Sweetheart, Jessica Grové, Comes Home to Celebrate CCT's 50th Birthday
Recently, we featured Columbus Children's Theatre (CCT) as our Regional Theater of the Week. Under the Artistic Direction of William Goldsmith, CCT is a premier theatre company in the Central Ohio area.
BroadwayWorld caught up witih Broadway sweetheart, Jessica Grové, who is coming home to Ohio to celebrate Columbus Children's Theatre's 50th Birthday on Sunday, September 22, 2013. Jessica is one of the featured alumni who will be performing along with Josh Radnor, Michael Milligan, Jake Borelli and more, including some of CCT's current cast members.
Grové most recently starred at Paper Mill Playhouse, Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight as Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid. Her Broadway credits include the recent revivals of A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park with George, as well asThoroughly Modern Millie and LES MISERABLES. Her professional career began at age 15 when she played Dorothy in Madison Square Garden's production of The Wizard of Oz, which also toured North America. Jessica also toured as Polly in The Boy Friend, directed by Julie Andrews. Regionally she has appeared as Amalia in She Loves Me (CT Critics Circle Nom.), Laurey in Oklahoma!, Luisa inThe Fantasticks, Maria in The Sound of Music and Eva Peron in Evita. Jessica is married to actor Dan Cooney. They are the proud parents of two year old Gavin.
Jessica: 21 years?! Oh my goodness, I guess I am a grown up! The main thing I remember from my days at CCT is how happy I was to be there. I think I did 4 shows onstage, and worked the light board for The Velveteen Rabbit, and even before How to Eat Like a Child, my parents had signed me up for classes (I was maybe 6 or 7). I remember it being a fun place to be, where I got to hang out with friends who also loved theatre and knew show tunes...Where I learned a work ethic that has stuck with me throughout my career....Where Bill Goldsmith expected the same professionalism of us children as he did the adults.
BWW: What projects are you currently working on and tell us a little about them?
Jessica: I am currently auditioning, but being very selective about what I audition for. We are fortunate that my husband is in Mamma Mia on Broadway, so I am trying to stay in NYC for work and only auditioning for very select out of town jobs. I am also working on putting my cabaret together (a much slower process than I anticipated!)...maybe Columbus will even get a sneak peek before I debut it in NYC! In addition, I am singing in concerts and teaching workshops/masterclasses, and will be doing a reading of Michael John LaChuisa's new musical called First Daughter Suite playing Julie Nixon next month.
BWW: Think back to when you got the first call at 15 years old, casting you as Dorothy in the National Tour of THE WIZARD OF OZ. What went through your mind and how did you handle all the attention at such a young age?
Jessica: That call was a total dream come true. At the time we only knew the production was going to be at Madison Square Garden, and I had seen my friends Andy and Lindsay Jobe (also from Columbus) in the gorgeous production of A Christmas Carol there, so I knew that this was going to be a big deal. I don't really know what went through my mind...they weren't "my life is changing forever" kind of thoughts. It just felt right...like I was going to be doing what I felt I was meant to do and everything had aligned and there I was. But, this wasn't my first time away from home for showbiz. 4 years earlier I had gone to NYC to do an opera at Manhattan School of Music, and the next year I went on the road with the non Equity tour of Oliver as an orphan and member of Fagan's Gang, so maybe it just seemed like a natural progression. However, I was EXTREMELY excited when the Wizard of Oz call came in, screamed, then realized I probably should stop screaming since that is a big aspect of my budding career, and then proceeded to clean my room! I often transfer excess energy into cleaning.
As far as handling the attention, I didn't really think about that either...I guess at 15 one still lives very much in the moment. I suppose that is where my parents come in. As proud as they were, they never led me to believe that I was better than anyone else. They were supportive and helpful and one of them was always right there to keep me on track. I believe that if I wasn't able to handle it they would have pulled me out of the situation and shipped me back to Ohio to get my head screwed on straight! But I was well taken care of by everyone around me, and I believe I was just ready for it.
Jessica: I used to believe that success in this business was all about being in the right place at the right time (you could call that luck), but now I am realizing that the only thing lucky for me was that I had the opportunity to audition for The Wizard of Oz when I was young and before I knew how to get in my own way...so it is not just being in the right physical place at the right time, it is being at the right mental and spiritual place at the right time.
BWW: What was it like performing with greats such as Bernadette Peters, Elaine Strich, Eartha Kitt, Mickey Rooney, and of course the great Julie Andrews, and what did you learn from them?
Jessica: I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunities to perform with these living legends. And, of course, Eartha Kitt, who is no longer with us, ended up being a dear family friend as well as an important mentor to me. Eartha for one, taught me that it doesn't matter how small the part you play is, it is what you do with it. I remember half apologizing when telling her about a secondary role I got in the US Premiere of Notre Dame de Paris when I was 17, and she said those words to me. A week or so into the rehearsal process, they offered me the starring role for 3 performances a week in addition to my original role 5 performances per week! Eartha was right...I worked hard, gave it my all and notice was taken.
From Bernadette I learned to stay out of the sun - that gorgeous skin! And also her dedication 8 times a week to her role was inspiring. She never missed a performance - the kind of work ethic I aspire to.
In A Little Night Music my character offered a cookie to Elaine in the 2nd act , which is why she affectionately named me "Cookie Girl", and she gave me a lesson in how to help make her response to her rejecting the cookie get a laugh.
Julie Andrews! I mean, c'mon! Are you kidding me? That was the most surreal experience. First of all, she is just lovely and down to earth and treated all of her actors with respect and appreciation. She modeled grace and humility, and those are the best qualities you can learn from anyone.
BWW: You mentioned that Eartha Kitt taught you that it doesn't matter how small the part you play is, it is what you do with it. Would you advise actors to take ANY role offered, or should you be more selective?
Jessica: I think that is an individual thing. It depends on your goals, beliefs, financial situation...I mean, in a perfect world, maybe I would say "be selective...only do the work that excites and inspires you!" but that doesn't always pay the bills. And you never know what you will take away from an experience, or who you will meet and what it might lead to. My advice would be to stay as open minded as possible and to approach everything you do with joy and enthusiasm and it will bring more of the same into your life.
BWW: You certainly are a testament to a small town girl making it in the Big Apple. Do you believe there are enough opportunities for young actors in small cities?
Jessica: I do! At least, in my experience, Columbus was a great place to grow up doing theatre. I performed everywhere from Opera Columbus to Davis Discovery, Imaginating Dramatics and CCT. I had big dreams of Broadway from a very young age, but would never have had succeeded at age 15 without the incredible training I got in Columbus - especially at CCT where I learned how to work professionally.
BWW: How do you juggle being a wife of actor Dan Cooney, a new mom, and your thriving career? What role is most important to you?
Jessica: It isn't always easy! I have the most supportive husband though, who celebrates my successes, and who is an amazing father to Gavin. So when jobs like The Little Mermaid come up, I am not worried at all about how he and Gavin will get along without me. My incredible mom also helps us a great deal by facilitating an agreement we have to not let either of us go more than a week without seeing Gavin. She flew with Gavin back and forth several times while I was out of town with Mermaid...she is Super Grandma!
BWW: You are definitely a role model to all the young actors and actresses out there, especially in your hometown of Columbus, Ohio. What advice would you give young actors who want to pursue professional acting? And how do you stay so well-grounded?
My advice is to do lots of community theatre and take your voice, dance and acting lessons. Work hard. And only do it if you really love it, because as a career there are lots of ups and downs. Be easy-going and pleasant to work with and always show up early and with enthusiasm!
I think having a full personal life helps keep me grounded. I also had a wholesome upbringing. But honestly, most show people are really grounded - you almost have to be because you get knocked down so often!
BWW: Tell us about the Jessica Grové Fund for the Performing Arts? How did it come about and what is it intended to do?
Jessica: It is a fund my dad helped me start to help kids in my hometown of Hilliard, OH have opportunities that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. For instance, the high school Drama Department often has the honor of going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, but it is an expensive trip and difficult for some students to afford. So the fund is there to help.
BWW: What's it like being home again? What are some of your fondest memories or places to go in Columbus, Ohio?
Jessica: I really like coming home. I still have roots here - family and lifelong friends. It is usually a short and busy trip as I often come in for just a few days for a performance or event of some kind, plus fitting in visits. My parents live downtown now, so we usually go to one of the great restaurants in the area. I can't wait to take Gavin to COSI! It probably won't happen this trip though - too many wonderful CCT festivities happening!
The last time I was home I took Gavin to CCT to see Little Mermaid Jr. It was so much fun for both of us!
BWW: You have reached so many milestones as an actress. What are your goals now, and where do you hope to be, say, 10 years from now?
Jessica: That is sweet of you to say! I still feel like I have a lot to accomplish, but I do feel like I am finally coming into my own, especially playing adult roles. I have been so fortunate to play so many of my dream roles at Regional theatres, but the ultimate for me would be to originate more roles in New York. In 10 years...oh my gosh, Gavin will be 12! And I will be, well, older...but I hope to have at least 5 more Broadway shows under my belt, a few Tonys (hey, why not!?), a successful concert career...My ultimate goal is to make a very sustainable living doing what I love to do.
Photo Credit, The Little Mermaid Photo: Charr Crail