Tony-Winning Drama Teacher Recalls Star Students and Reveals Secret of Their Broadway Success

News   Tony-Winning Drama Teacher Recalls Star Students and Reveals Secret of Their Broadway Success
 
Corey Mitchell has never written a Broadway show, never acted on Broadway, never designed a set or invented staging there.

Yet his work can be found everywhere in the world of theatre.

Mitchell is the theatre arts teacher at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, NC, who won the first ever Excellence in Theatre Education Award, given this year as part of the Tony Awards. In his 20 years as a teacher, he has trained dozens if not hundreds of young people with Broadway dreams, and many of them have achieved those dreams.

As part of Playbill.com's Back to School week (#BwayBacktoSchool), we asked him to recall some of his students currently working on Broadway, and to identify the special qualities that may have helped get them there.

Eva Noblezada She made her Broadway debut in 2014 as a contestant in the annual Jimmy Awards given for outstanding performances by high school students. Spotted as a finalist by casting director Tara Rubin, Noblezada was asked to audition and then was cast as Kim in the London revival of Miss Saigon–going directly from Mitchell's program to a lead role in a major professional production at age 18. "She was Maria in our West Side Story, but I gave her the featured role of Andrea instead of the lead in Once on This Island. She was also Ariel in Footloose and in the ensemble of The Music Man. She was always a little bit different. No matter where I put her on the stage, she always wound up on the center. So I knew she was going to be one of those people who would be hard to ignore."

Claude-Michel Schönberg, Eva Noblezada, Alain Boublil, Lea Salonga, Jon Jon Briones, Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Jonathan Pryce
Claude-Michel Schönberg, Eva Noblezada, Alain Boublil, Lea Salonga, Jon Jon Briones, Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Jonathan Pryce

Charles Osborne He appeared in the last Off-Broadway company of Forbidden Broadway, appeared in The Producers directed by Susan Stroman at the Hollywood Bowl, and worked on Barry Manilow's show, Harmony. "He was my Valjean in Les Miz and Younger Brother in Ragtime and Leading Player in Pippin. He played Val in my All Shook Up and he was really really funny in that show. No matter where I put him, he brought something uniquely his own."

Jacob Pinion He played Pepper and was in the Ensemble of the Broadway cast of Mamma Mia! for nearly three years. "He played Sweeney in my Sweeney Todd and the lead in The Robber Bridegroom, and I will never forget him because he directed me and two other teachers in a production of Art and he was tough! He got on my case about not memorizing my lines. He wanted things right!"

Grasan Kingsberry He's been in nine Broadway shows, including The Color Purple, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can and Finian's Rainbow, but his top credit so far is playing Georgie Woods and a member of the Jackson Five in Motown The Musical, which Mitchell came to see. After graduating from Mitchell's program, he was accepted at The Juilliard School. He's now close friends with Mitchell and the two of them went to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch together.

All of them were talented and hard-working, and all of them dreamed of becoming professional actors.

Corey Mitchell
Corey Mitchell Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"One of the things that strikes me about all of them–the thing they had and have in common–is tenacity. It's not always just the talent. If they go to New York, they are going to be constantly surrounded by super-talented people. It's not enough. The ones who succeed are the ones with confidence and the sense of 'I'm going to do it and keep doing it,' that enables them to pull through."

Mitchell said, "I'm currently teaching some tremendously talented kids. I've got a batch in college now, coming out in the next year, that can take Broadway by storm. But there is a certain amount of tenacity that has to be combined with the talent."

Mitchell's own tenacity led him to the front row of Radio City Music Hall on Tony Night 2015 when he received his special award. "One of the things that struck me that weekend was how many industry people stopped and told me stories about the teachers who influenced them. Helen Mirren showed me a watch in her purse that had belonged to one of her teachers. She said she wears it every day. Several people since then have told me how they contacted their old teacher to thank them. So has the award helped raise the profile of theatre teachers? I would say yes it has. If for no other reason than to inspire people to take a moment to express gratitude to those who helped make the decisions that changed their life."

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