BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jennifer Elizabeth Smith
Today's subject Jennifer Elizabeth Smith is currently living her theatre life touring the country in Bandstand in which she portrays the lead character of Julia Trojan. The show plays here is DC at the National Theatre from March 3rd through 8th.
Before Bandstand Jennifer was touring the country in Something Rotten. Other previous stage credits include Alice: A New Musical at Wheelock Family Theater, Swing! at Dutch Apple Dinner Theater, and Adam Lives at Goodspeed Opera House as part of their New Works Festival.
Her NY stage credits include Ugly Christmas Sweater, Lili Marlene, Frankenstein, Jack and the Giant, and Flight School. She can also be heard on the Flight School cast recording.
Jennifer holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the prestigious Boston Conservatory.
Bandstand is one of those shows that in my opinion deserved a longer run on Broadway than it received. Here is your chance to see a little underappreciated gem of a musical featuring a talented young lady stepping into the role made famous by Laura Osnes on Broadway. Those are big shoes to fill but I know Jennifer Elizabeth Smith is up to the challenge. Stop by the National Theatre this week and see for yourself.
At what age did it hit you that you wanted to become a professional performer?
I always knew I loved to perform. I was singing and dancing by the time I was 7, but the idea of having a career as a performer really hit me when I was in high school. I applied to colleges for both, musical theatre and liberal arts, and every time I got into a musical theatre program, I got so excited I could cry. I was never nearly as excited to get into any other program so that's when I knew that this was what I really wanted to do.
Did you perform in your high school musicals and plays?
Yes, I did! I did A Midsummer Night's Dream, Into the Woods, West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, and High School Musical! Performing in my high school shows definitely gave me a sense of community I had been lacking, I am so grateful to have gone to a high school with an arts program and to have been involved in it!
What was your first professional performing job?
My first professional performing job was a show called Alice at Wheelock Family Theater, written by my friend Andrew Barbato. It was my first show at an equity theater and it is one of my favorite shows I've done to date!
Can you please tell us almost everything we need to know about Bandstand and also something about the character you play in the show?
Bandstand is a show about a group of WWII veterans returning home from the war to Cleveland, Ohio in 1945. They come home expecting things to be just like they were before, but their new normal is unfathomable. The show follows them and a war widow battling PTSD and grief after the war. They all come together to form a band for a nation-wide radio contest, and find healing and understanding through music. Our show is certified by Got Your 6, a non-profit organization that works to get the military and veterans more accurately depicted in the media, so you can expect our show to be honest about what veterans go through when they come home. My character, Julia Trojan, is a woman working in Cleveland, Ohio, who is living in the past, wishing she could be the person she was before the war. Julia is a war widow and feels she cannot escape the branding "Gold Star Wife" anywhere she goes. Throughout the show, she finds her voice and is brave enough to move forward. Her vulnerability and openness help the men in the band understand their feelings as well. Julia is talking and singing about her feelings during a time no one was really doing that, so her words and emotion help the guys in their healing.
Had you seen Bandstand on Broadway or did you go into your audition not knowing much about the show?
I didn't get to see Bandstand on Broadway! I kick myself for it everyday now. I went into the audition knowing a lot about the show from the cast recording and any synopsis or article I could find online. In a way, I am glad I did not see it before I auditioned because I feel like my Julia Trojan is truly my own, but man I would have loved to experience this on Broadway and seen Laura Osnes, a performer I admire greatly, take on this incredible role.
Can you please talk about your experience of working at the prestigious Goodspeed Opera House on Adam Lives?
My experience at Goodspeed was a dream-come true! I worked on Adam Lives my senior year of college at the New Works Festival. We worked for about 2 weeks learning and putting up the show. Goodspeed was a theater I had always wanted to work at and performing on that prestigious stage was a moment I won't soon forget.
Why should people consider coming to see Bandstand here in DC?
People should see Bandstand because it is a raw, moving story with incredible choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (also known for Hamilton) and fantastic music by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor. The actors who play characters in the band are playing their instruments live on stage, and the energy that comes with that is unmatched. If you are a veteran, or know someone currently serving or has served, our show is for you.
Your tour concludes in June so what lies ahead for you after Bandstand?
Reuniting and cuddling with my dog Pebbles and never letting go!
Special thanks to the National Theatre's Director of Marketing and Sales Ashley Birdsell for her assistance in coordinating this interview.
Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.