BWW Interviews: Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre's Ciara Renee Makes it Big on Broadway

By: May. 20, 2014
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Roy Berko

(Member: Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

On April 1, Ciara Renée strutted on stage at the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street as The Leading Player in PIPPIN. She became one of seventeen Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program graduates to appear in a Broadway, Off-Broadway or National Touring company during the 2013-2014 season.

Yes, tiny Baldwin Wallace University, in Berea, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, has become a powerhouse in providing polished theater performers for professional stages.

As Victoria Bussert, the program's director states, "It is the goal of the BWMTP to create working professional artists. The team (Scott Plate, Gregory Daniels, David Pepin-the new Music Director who joined the program straight from "Wicked" and "Kinky Boots" and myself, combine our professional and academic careers to create a special environment for our students."

As Ciara said in a recent interview, "The BW program builds a community and we support each other and we are always trying to help BW, which 15 years ago wasn't even on the national map." "The program has a curriculum that changes to make learning relevant, teach each student how to be professional, and how the business works."

The results are obvious. Ciara relates, "Last spring's showcase (an event in New York where students perform before Broadway directors, agents and managers), every student was prepared, was ready to show our talents, ready to work at a high level." "I was totally prepared and jazzed for it." Every student left with an agent or a manager. "A month or two in, I tried out for "Big Fish."

On October 6, 2013, Ciara opened as the witch in "Big Fish." Though the show ran only 34 previews and 98 regular performances, Ciara got positive reviews and after going through the tryout route again, thanks to her agent "being on top of what's going on," she was selected to replace Tony Award winner, Patina Miller, as Leading Player in the mega smash revival of Stephen Schwartz's PIPPIN.

That "tryout routine included a six-hour call back, and a 3 or 4 day wait until I got the good news." Between "Big Fish" and "Pippin," she worked as a fitness instructor.

Her entry into "Pippin" included "watching Patina's performances, rehearsing every day, learning about the character, and molding it all into a structure."

Besides singing and dancing, Ciara has to do aerialist tricks. She had to go through special instruction at the Circus Warehouse (a training facility in New York where circus stars, Broadway performers and the public come to train in acrobatics), learning how to do the tricks incorporated into the show. "The cast, old and new, rehearse and rehearse." Ciara indicated she "started to hit the gym and become more muscular" to be able to do the routines.

"Pippin" is scheduled to come to Cleveland as part of the 2014-2015 Key Bank Broadway Series. In the past, Clevelanders' Michael Cavanaugh who was appearing in "Moving Out," and Tony Winner, Alice Ripley, who was in "Next to Normal" took breaks from their shows to return "home" to do their Broadway Series shows. Any chance of Ciara doing that? "That's not in the plans." Her "Pippin" contract runs until September and then "some other projects are coming up."

In response to the comparison to Broadway's original "Pippin," which starred Ben Vereen and Jonathan Rubinstein, which Ciara was too young to see, she indicates that people comment that "this one is so different." There is the entire circus/acrobatics addition. Lots of "magic to do." But, she indicates, in spite of "lots of stuff going on," the beauty and meaning of the songs "Corner of the Sky," and "Morning Glow," aren't diluted. "Nothing crazy goes on during those numbers."

What advice would she give any kid with Broadway stars in their eyes? Ciara said, "it's not easy, not glamorous, you have little social life, you have to put yourself out, be fearless, not look stupid, there is so much to learn, be nice to people, being talented and nice adds up. It's hard work!"

She obviously practices what she preaches. As Bussert said, "Ciara was always an amazing student -- very intelligent, focused and passionate about her work. She got her equity card doing DREAMGIRLS at Cain Park the summer after her sophomore year. She played a wide variety of roles at BW including Kate in THE WILD PARTY, Emma in LIZZIE BORDEN and Phyllis in FOLLIES." "She is truly special."

Ciara, and the other BW students banner their training in their program bios by including the phrase, "A proud graduate of Baldwin Wallace." Grads from other schools don't necessarily do that. Why the BW tribute? What is so special about the BW program? As Ciara stated, "The focus is on each person individually. We all have our differences and we are taught not to look at another person, don't compare yourself, don't be jealous."

Having seen Ciara in all of her BW performances, and both BIG FISH and PIPPIN, I can attest to her talent, stage magnetism, and dedication. Look for the name Ciara Renée, "a proud graduate of Baldwin Wallace," to appear on lots of Broadway playbills in the future!


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