FRIDAY 5 (+1): The Stars of Belmont University Musical Theatre's 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL
For a rare opportunity that you'll really be able to appreciate as time goes by: Now's the time to catch the future stars of Broadway, while they are still learning their craft, honing their skills and being musical theater stars on campus at Nashville's very own Belmont University. Opening tonight on the stage of the Troutt Theatre at Belmont is 9 to 5: The Musical - the show that won Tennessee's favorite daughter Dolly Parton her first Tony Award nomination!
The show's national tour launched in Nashville back in 2010 and it quickly became a favorite of regional, academic and community theater companies throughout the USA. And if we have learned anything over the years of reviewing musical theater at Belmont it is this: There is so much talented on the campus that musicals are filled with some amazing performers certain to go on to stardom on the Great White Way.
Today, in our latest Friday 5 (+1), we introduce you to a group of Belmont University Musical Theatre leading ladies - Katie Bays, Emily Anne Ludwig, Lizzy Hinton, Cassie Donegan, Mary Kate Hughes and Katie Grogg - and their leading man, the Franklin Hart Jr. of this particular revival, Graham Trout! Remember their names, gentle readers, they are sure to impress you now over on Belmont Boulevard just as much as they are destined to dazzle critics and audiences (in theaters along other notable streets) alike in the years to come...
Graham Trout (Franklin Hart Jr.)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? My first taste of "live theatre" was my high school production of Brigadoon during my freshman year. Originally, I wanted to run tech for the show, but my director was adamant I audition and join the cast. Having to wear a kilt was quite a way to start off my life in musical theatre, but when I found out I would be dancing with swords, I was hooked and all in.
What's your favorite pre-show ritual? I really don't have any kind of fancy pre-show rituals which sounds bad! Once I get into costume I'll pace the stage for a few minutes, pray over the cast, and then find a quiet place for myself to think through everything that is going to happen in the show whether it be costume changes, lines, sequences, or, in the case of 9 to 5, am I going to get my harness on in time to fly! Other than that, I can't say I have any kind of ritual I follow.
What's your favorite, most memorable, example of "the show must go on"? During my senior year of high school, I played Curly in our school musical Oklahoma!. We had this odd track system where all the music of the show was electronic and no live orchestra was used. Each track had individual "cues" written in to give the actor freedom in interpretation. In the song "People Will Say We're in Love", it got to the cue where Curly begins singing and I heard no music. I ignored this mishap and sang the rest of the song in its entirety, a cappella.
Who's your theatrical crush? Without a shadow of a doubt, my theatrical crush is Laura Osnes. I've seen her in Cinderella on Broadway and Carousel in Chicago and am a huge fan of her work. There was a time a few months ago when my best friend Candace Quarrels texted me saying she was sitting right across the dinner table from her which really made me jealous.
What's your dream role? My dream role would be either playing "Beast" in Beauty and the Beast or "Kristoff" in the future Frozen musical.
Why should people come see 9 to 5? 9 to 5 is truly a feel good musical that has something for everybody. The entire story of the bad guy boss man getting strung up on a garage door opener and the three leading ladies finding strength and courage within is guided by the incredible music of Dolly Parton that will undoubtedly have you tapping your foot in the audience. I guarantee you'll leave this show with a smile and humming Dolly's classic "9 to 5" theme song when you walk out the door of Belmont's Troutt Theatre.
Katie Bays (Violet Newstead)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? The first musical I can remember seeing live was Thoroughly Modern Millie put on by the local high school. It was a truly eye-opening experience for me. The dancing, the singing, the magical technical aspects in the eyes of a 12-year-old were inspiring. A year later I saw Wicked when it toured through my city- talk about magical! I'd been dancing since I was little and was in choir at school, but being in my first musical Disney's Beauty and the Beast, was an experience that I will never forget. It cemented my passions and put me on the path to where I am today.
What's your favorite pre-show ritual? I always arrive way before call time. I hate feeling rushed, so I warm up my voice and body, and then I get hair and makeup and costumes taken care of, but along the way I will play music and dance around for a bit before I center myself with a prayer, usually with castmates, and then it's showtime!
What's your favorite, most memorable, example of "the show must go on"? Oh, I have had many a good example here, but I think my favorite as far as an actual play or musical comes from the terrible middle school years. I was in a play and had an off the shoulder dress that was too big, and so it had to be pinned in the back. Well, of course that pin just happens to break open on stage. Luckily, I felt it happen, so I quickly grabbed the front of it before it fell down, but in about two lines I was supposed to faint into another guy's arms. Well, as an awkward middle schooler, that wasn't going to happen! So, while still sturdily clutching the front of my dress, I just leaned back slightly and pretended like that was a convincing enough swoon! Needless to say, I have learned my share about fabric tape since then!
Another good one is this past summer I was in full-rotating repertory doing four shows, and one night, when we were performing 42nd Street, our Peggy Sawyer completely lost her voice. It was hardly there at all. So, we attempted to shorten her rendition of the title song at the end, but in order to do that, we had to stall so our Anytime Annie could make a costume change. So, we improvised. It was a wonderful, horrifically hilariously scene that will forever remain one of my favorite memories.
What's your dream role? Jo in Little Women, for sure. However, I would also love to be Hildy in On the Town. I'm attracted to really strong, but quirky women, so most anything that fits that bill, I'm all over! I'll actually get a chance to play one of my dream roles this summer, as I will be performing the title role of The Drowsy Chaperone out at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. I'm too excited!
Why should people come see 9 to 5? It has incredible music written by Dolly Parton and is being presented by an amazing group of students. It has been under fantastic direction and musical direction with wonderful choreography and phenomenal costuming, and the cast has worked tirelessly to create a fun and funny show that still manages to have heart in it! It has such a strong message of female empowerment and feminism set in a time when women were only secretaries and had few hopes of moving up the ladder. It has a core message that is still applicable even today. I think it is a great opportunity to come and have fun for two and a half hours for such a low price that I'm not really sure how anyone could justify not seeing it!
Cassie Donegan (Doralee Rhodes March 24 at 7:30, March 26 at 2:00, March 31 at 7:30 and April 1 at 2)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? I was that annoyingly hyper and over dramatic kid that absolutely no one knew what to do with. Instead of just sticking me on some meds and calling it a day, my mother decided to try sticking me on stage instead. At the age of four years old I did my first production as Kaa the Snake in The Jungle Book. I wore this enormous snake head and at the time had a small lisp. I didn't realize that I had one so I added even more of an 's' sound to all of Kaa's lines...it took a while to get through my scenes. Little did anyone know that this small show in a church auditorium would change my life.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I absolutely cannot go on until I have done the Cotton-Eyed Joe and have had my sour patch kids and aloe juice! Then at about 5 until show I like to take a moment and breathe and have some time with the good Lord above. I would never get through a show without Him...and sour patch kids.
What is your favorite "the show must go on" moment? When I played Jane in Tarzan this past summer we used all aerial silks for our flying. "During Strangers Like Me" my Tarzan was supposed to take the centerstage silk and tie them into a swing for me to sit on. In this particular show he tied it way too high. Neither of us could get me up on the swing leaving me dangling on the silks with my legs flailing around for the remainder of the song. That same show I get spun on stage in one scene and I flew around so fast my whole shirt came undone. I spent the whole scene trying to re-button my shirt without flashing the audience.
Who is your theatrical crush? I'm just casually in love with Taye Diggs. It's fine.
What is your dream role? Doralee has always been the role of my dreams. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to play her. I will definitely miss her when this show is over. I would love to play something SO different from me. Doralee and I are pretty similar so playing someone completely opposite - like Velma in Chicago - would be so exciting.
Why should people come see 9 to 5? This show has so much heart. It will leave you dancing in your seat while also being so invested in these characters' lives. Dolly Parton is a genius when it comes to this score. You do not want to miss these fun songs and this absolutely incredible book! The journey you see these three women, who could not be more different, go on as they come together to overcome stereotypes and make life better for everyone is moving. You laugh with them, you cry with them, you truly feel with them. You watch them prevail with so many odds against them while never giving up. While this story is portrayed in a very comical way, there is so much truth and love in this in it. There is a message that needs to be heard and it could not be told in a better way.
Emily Anne Ludwig (Doralee Rhodes in both performances on Saturday this weekend and Thursday and Saturday night next weekend!)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater I played Peter Pan in my fifth grade production and shed a tear when Tinker Bell died. I knew that was it.
What is your favorite "the show must go on" moment? Show must go on moment: On the opening night of my high school production of You Can't Take It With You, I accidentally tore down an eight foot pillar from the set and was left in the middle of the Stage Holding it in my arms like a baby. Whoops. That was a low point in my career.
Who is your theatrical crush? George Washington.
What is your dream role? Dot in Sunday In The Park With George or Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.
Mary Kate Hughes (Violet Newstead. My cast will be performing this Friday (opening night) at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., as well as the following weekend on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? My onstage debut came from my school's production of Oliver! Technically, being too young, I was not allowed to be in the production. Nevertheless, I followed my older sister to every single after-school rehearsal until they had no choice but to put me in the musical as one of the workhouse boys. My character slept with a bottle of whiskey and had one line about "moldy sausages." It was awesome.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? Before every performance at Belmont, all cast, crew, and faculty involved in the production gather together for a moment of prayer. It's a humbling experience that focuses everyone's hearts and minds before the show. It truly makes our program feel like a family.
What is your favorite "the show must go on" moment? During the Act II opener of Oliver! while singing the rowdy pub song "Oom Pah Pah" with a ceramic mug in my hand, I clanged with another person's mug with a little too much enthusiasm, and it shattered into a million tiny pieces, off the stage, and into the audience of middle schoolers we were performing for. I'm still cringing.
Who is your theatrical crush? Viola Davis. She captivates an audience, on both stage and screen, while revealing the most beautiful elements of humanity through her work.
What is your dream role? My dream role has been and probably always will be Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Her story has taught me so much about the power of forgiveness, friendship, and music. It would be an honor to be in her shoes, if only for a day.
Why should people come see 9 To 5? This show was meant for a Music City audience! Dolly Parton's score is a tour de force and will have you jamming out in your seat all night long. Our company of Belmont Musical Theatre students not only sing this show like nobody else, we are also telling a story that is still relevant in our society today, showing how women in the workplace found their voice, employed their own inner strength, and used the power of camaraderie to create a better environment for everyone in a time when their contributions to society were greatly unappreciated. And what better time to pay tribute to America's fierce female workforce than Women's History Month?
Lizzy Hinton (Judy Bernly on Friday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m.; Friday March 31 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 1 at 2 p.m.)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? When I was younger, I was unbelievably shy. The mere thought of singing in front of people turned my face a bright shade of red. I played piano and guitar, and one day, my guitar teacher began encouraging me to sing. He kept at it until I finally agreed to sing a Jonas Brothers song while accompanying myself. A year later, I decided to audition for the 8th grade musical, Seussical. I still had never really sung in front of anyone except my guitar teacher, so when I auditioned, I decided to go big or go home. I sang "Amayzing Mayzie," and was cast as Mayzie. I, therefore, had to break out of my shell, and have never looked back!
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? My favorite pre-show ritual is praying before the show. At around 5 to places, the cast joins together in prayer, which not only unites us, but also allows us to praise our Creator, who has given us the opportunity to perform.
What is your favorite "the show must go on" moment? Oh dear...my favorite show must go on moment would have to be when I was in Grease several years ago. We had a cool set with circular platforms that looked like old records. We danced on these throughout the show, and in one show, one of the platforms broke in the Act 1 finale! As I recall, it split in half, and we still had to figure out how to dance on it in Act 2. It was crazy, but it all worked out in the end.
Who is your theatrical crush? Oh, Aaron Tveit. Done.
What is your dream role? Oh my goodness, how do I choose! I think at this point, Girl in Once, but there are so many runner-ups.
Why should people come see 9 To 5? This show is outrageously funny. Every cast member brings something new to the stage each day, keeping it fresh and us on our toes. The story is just as kooky as you remember, and the music makes you want to get out of your chair and dance! Underneath the surface, the show really deals with the issues of gender equality that are still prevalent in our society, such as the wage gap. It addresses these problems with a light-hearted air, allowing the audience to not only enjoy the show, but walk out with something to talk about.
Katie Grogg (Judy Bernly in the cast that performs both shows on March 25, as well as the evening of March 30 and April 1.)
What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? There was a show in my hometown of Normal, Illinois called The American Passion Play that I started participating in when I was pretty young. It was a yearly, community production about the life of Jesus Christ. My dad played Judas, and my siblings and I were kids in the ensemble. We did that for quite a few years, but I never really thought about theatre being my dream until I saw Wicked in Chicago when I was about eleven years old. THAT changed my life, but how could it not?! So epic, so beautiful.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I like to find my own space if I can and put in headphones and listen to my favorite artists really loudly while doing a crossword puzzle. All of that combined seems to calm my nerves and get me excited for the show. I'll also do some deep breathing, maybe a little yoga, and that helps me to feel open and ready for whatever is to come!
What is your favorite "the show must go on" moment? Last summer I worked at a theme park in Indiana as a singer/dancer in the pop/rock show. It was an outdoor stage that was slightly covered, but if it was raining hard enough, the stage could get pretty slippery. I think you know where this is going. I was super amped about doing a show in the rain because I love a challenge. I guess I was a little too excited because I jumped at one point and when I landed, my feet were not underneath me anymore. I mean I FELL. And there was no hiding it...there were only two other people on stage at the time. It was extremely embarrassing, but I got up, red-faced and all, and yelled something like "Come on, here we go!" to show the audience just how not-embarrassed I was that I just ate it. Not my best moment.
Who is your theatrical crush? Right now I think it's Wallace Smith who is playing Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton in Chicago. I got to see the production in January, and I had high expectations for whoever played that role because it is my favorite part in the show. Wallace Smith KILLED it and won my heart, too.
What is your dream role? Christine in Phantom of the Opera. No question, no hesitation.
Why should people come see 9 to 5? They will LAUGH. There are so many little one-liners that get me every time, and the show as a whole just has so much heart. All of us are having a blast on stage, and we can't wait to show it off!
About the show: Three unlikely friends take control of their office and learn there is nothing they can't do, even in a man's world! This mad cap comedy is based on the 1980 movie and features music by Dolly Parton. Performances are March 24, 25, 30, 31 and April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and March 25, 26 and April 1 at 2 p.m. at the Troutt Theater.