"What I Was Born to Do": Bring It On Boasts a Record 32 Broadway Debuts; Meet the Newbies
By Michael Gioia
Maybe they should have called it New Faces of 2012. Playbill introduces you to the 30 first-time Broadway actors of the new high-flying cheerleading musical Bring It On.
Before Bring It On: The Musical had plans for a Broadway life, the production made its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA, in early 2011, and soon after launched a five-month North American tour. In May 2012 the cast and creatives of the new musical, which fuses the worlds of competitive cheerleading and musical theatre, learned that the production's next stop would be Broadway's St. James Theatre.
A whopping 30 out of 35 cast members from the new musical, as well as two members from the production's Equity stage-management team, took their first Broadway bow July 12, marking a modern-day record — Most Broadway Debuts in a Production.
Aside from the Broadway spectacles of the Golden Age, a spokesperson for Actors' Equity Association confirmed to Playbill.com that it's thought that Bring It On has "the most Broadway debuts in recent times" — close seconds were last season's Jesus Christ Superstar, the revival that gave 23 actors their Broadway debut, and Newsies, the Disney musical that welcomed 13 Broadway newcomers.
Playbill.com reached out to the 32 fresh faces via email. They shared how their Broadway dreams turned reality.
Taylor Louderman, the 21-year-old star of Bring It On, makes her Broadway debut as Campbell, the Truman-turned-Jackson high school cheerleading captain. "I had trouble in high school, and it has really pushed me to do something big and make a difference. Being from a small town," said Louderman, who hails from Bourbon, MO, "it was hard to believe it was possible, but I've had a blast defying the mold!"
Louderman, who has performed professionally at the St. Louis Muny, joined the first national tour of Bring It On after completing her sophomore year at the University of Michigan. Following the opening number during her first Broadway preview at the St. James, she thought, "'I wonder if this is what it feels like to be Beyoncé!' It was surreal. I still can't comprehend all of this."
Although leading lady Adrienne Warren, 25, had no cheerleading experience before Bring It On, she was no stranger to the stage. Warren, who originated the role of fierce Jackson crew leader Danielle, performed in the 25th anniversary production of Dreamgirls, starring Jennifer Holliday, in Atlanta, GA.
Warren said, "I knew [Broadway was the goal] when I saw my first show at 5 years old, and I turned to my mother at intermission and said, 'I want to do that.'" The actress, originally from Chesapeake, VA, added that her family encouraged her to see it through. "They have been my biggest cheerleaders since day one," she said. "I love them all and thank them for all of their prayers and support... I definitely remember a couple of points during the [first preview] where tears came to my eyes because I couldn't believe my dream was actually coming true. What a blessing!"
"I always felt ready for Broadway," said 23-year-old leading man Jason Gotay, who grew up across the bridge in Brooklyn. "Now that I'm here, I have to admit that it was a little scary." Gotay, who plays Jackson High's brainy heartthrob Randall, felt the nerves as Broadway turned reality. "Because I cared so much about delivering the best performance possible," he said, "I often second-guessed every instinct I had about the character… Once I learned to trust myself and the creative geniuses around me, I finally started to relax and enjoy the ride!"
His first performance on Broadway, however, he thought he might "explode!" Gotay added, "There was an amazing energy radiating from the audience that night; you could feel everyone's excitement buzzing all around you. Underneath all of that energy, though, was a calm, overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I was almost in disbelief that I had made it to my first Broadway performance. Now, as I'm writing these words on the day of our opening night on Broadway, I can't wait to experience those feelings again in a few hours! Although this time, I might actually explode."
Elle McLemore was "never a cheerleader in school," she said. It wasn't until she landed the lead role in a 2010 cheerleading independent film entitled "At the Top of the Pyramid" that she began to learn extensions, preps and the "scorpion" cheerleading position (knocking out two of her front teeth in the process).
Now, in Bring It On, the 20 year old from Las Vegas, NV, takes the "Top of the Pyramid" nightly at Broadway's St. James, where she stars as manipulative Truman High newcomer Eva. "It wasn't until high school when my dad was the pyrotechnician for Phantom in Vegas [that] I became interested in musical theatre," said McLemore. "Broadway became the ultimate dream after I saw that show. And, to think… Now we're at the St. James — across from Phantom on Broadway!"
"My biggest challenge coming to Broadway was definitely taking on Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography," said 23-year-old Ryann Redmond from Cumming, GA, who faces the challenge head-on at the St. James Theatre. Redmond, who plays Bridget, a chubby teenager determined to fit in among her peers, "breaks it down" in the second act with "It Ain't No Thing" and flies high during her basket-toss moment in the show's finale.
"I have always been a curvy girl," added Redmond, who attended NYU's CAP21, "and it is so rewarding to send such a positive message every night on Broadway. Bridget has so much heart, and it is such a thrill to play her every night. If I can make one little girl love the skin she is in, then I am doing just fine."
The 20-year-old Nick Womack makes his Broadway debut as Jackson High's class clown, Twig, who finds himself intrigued by recent transfer student Bridget (Redmond). Womack knew Broadway was the goal during his junior year of high school at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in his hometown of L.A. "Before, I loved sports," he said, "but now in acting I've found a new love. Yes, Broadway scared me very much, but in a good way!"
On his road to Broadway, Womack admitted to overcoming many hardships. "Being homeless with my mom and two younger sisters [was] the most difficult challenge I have faced," he said. "But if there's anything that experience – and this show – has taught me over and over is that family and friends are all that really matters."
Ariana DeBose, 21, from Raleigh, NC, was "literally bit by the theatre bug my freshman year," she said. "I was — and still am — a big ole' theatre nerd!" DeBose, who plays Jackson crew member Nautica, a sassy sidekick of Danielle's (Warren), got her start in theatre at the North Carolina Theatre, where she performed in Grease.
"The idea of being on Broadway was scary to me, but also what I had been dreaming of doing for the longest time," she said. "So many incredibly talented people have graced the Broadway stages — giants, legends! Stars are born in this community!" Now on Broadway, she added that the first performance of Bring It On was "one of the most amazing nights" of her life. "I fulfilled a promise that I made my 12-year-old self," said DeBose, "and for that, I am incredibly proud."
Dominique Johnson, 22, knew he wanted to be a performer at age 12, when he played an Indian in a community college production of Peter Pan near his hometown in Birmingham, AL. "I wanted to fly so bad," he said, "but the Indians were 'Ground-Bound' — a little nod to a cut song from the workshop version of Bring It On. But technically people still fly in Bring It On... There's still hope."
"I'm one of six children and the second oldest," added Johnson, who plays Cameron, one of the tallest members of Jackson High's crew. "When I feel like it's a lot to bear or difficult to obtain, I persevere for them. I'm their example of 'if you believe it, you can achieve it.' They inspire me and motivate me every day to succeed. Failure is never an option."
For her Equity card, Janet Krupin played a French opera-singing poodle named Chanel in Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities' production of Bark! The Musical — and, "there's evidence on YouTube" to prove it, said Krupin, who hails from Kennewick, WA. She knew Broadway was the goal when "Cathy Rigby flew up to the balcony of the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle," she said, "and threw glitter on six-year-old me. That was it."
Facing her fears, Krupin, who plays Campbell's Truman High gal-pal Kylar, makes her Broadway debut at 24. "Heck yes Broadway scared me!" she said. "I grew up very far away from it. Broadway was like the moon — there, but not in any tangible way. Trusting your instincts is hard, but I've learned it's the only way to get where you're meant to go."
Besides learning how to perform cheerleading stunts for Bring It On, Nikki Bohne's biggest challenge on the road to Broadway was "making the decision to take a leap," she said, "and leave my comfort zone to move to NYC. It was both a scary and humbling choice to take this risk, but once I dove in, I never looked back."
Bohne, 25, from Highland, UT, knew she wanted to be a performer at 14 years old, when she sat front row at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and watched Cathy Rigby take the stage as the Cat in the Hat in Broadway's Seussical. "There are really high expectations for this caliber of theatre," said Bohne, who is the standby for the lead roles of Campbell and Eva. "But it's an absolute thrill to be a part of an incredible art form."
"Very soon after I graduated high school I booked the Bring It On tour," said ensemble member Calli Alden, who makes her Broadway debut at age 19. "As prepared as I was, it was still scary to take the biggest jump of my life into this big world. But looking back on it, I wouldn't have done it any other way."
Alden, who hails from Murrieta, CA, had many people to thank for making her Broadway dreams a reality. "My parents and my grandparents are my anchor," she said. "Annette Tanner (founder of the Broadway Dreams Foundation) has been a part of my journey since I was 11 years old. She helped make my Broadway dreams come true. Rachel Hoffman has been my angel. And, Tyler Hanes is someone I look up to, respect and cherish as a performer and a friend. The support from these amazing people has been the voice in the back of my head — or, very clearly, in front of my face — to keep pushing and never give up."
Antwan Bethea, 27, admitted that he "never imagined [he] would be part of a Broadway production until Bring It On." Bethea, from Greenville, NC, had seven years of collegiate and professional cheerleading under his belt — but no theatre credits to his name. The world premiere production of Bring It On at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA, was his first professional job in the theatre, although he had been performing professionally — as a cheerleader — for the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
"The first preview was an incredible moment," said Bethea. "It just felt really great to receive such a positive response from everyone. I kind of felt like I was cheering at a college football game again! The roar of the crowd reminded me of the ECU [East Carolina University] games back home."
"This is my first professional theatre job ever!" said 22-year-old swing AJ Blankenship from Circleville, OH. "I came from a modern dance background, but always dreamed of being on Broadway… I knew Broadway was an option for me when I found out that this amazing musical was in the works. This show combines all my passions into one fun, thrilling theatre experience."
Blankenship, who studied Dance Performance at The Ohio State University and was a varsity cheerleader there for four years, also coached cheerleading in the town of Sunbury. "I always preached to those little kids about how desire, dedication and discipline can take you anywhere in life," he said. "What kind of role model would I be if I gave up on my own dream? I hope that my experiences can inspire those kids to chase their dreams just as they inspired me to chase mine."
Danielle Carlacci, 21, knew that she would take on Broadway "from a very early age," she said. "I saw Beauty and the Beast when I was four and was absolutely amazed. My mom couldn't get me to stop singing and dancing on our coffee table." From there, Carlacci, from Port Jefferson, NY, performed regionally at the Gateway Playhouse and appeared on Disney's "iCarly."
"It was so exciting to find out we were going to Broadway. It was amazing — I burst into tears our first day in the theatre," said Carlacci, a swing for the new Broadway musical. She added, "I had to learn an immense amount of responsibility and discipline in order to do my job to my best ability. It was my first time being a swing, and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of work!"
Ensemble member Dexter Carr, who wasn't able to respond in time for our deadline, has danced alongside artists such as Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Kelly Rowland. He has also been seen in the film "Step It Up 4."
"I never dreamed that I would be on Broadway," said Courtney Corbeille, 24, from Fort Worth, TX. "As a child, I loved musical theatre and sang along in the car by myself, but I anticipated I would go into journalism or cheer in the NFL. Broadway was not in the cards until I read about the audition for Bring It On in The New York Times."
Ensemble member Corbeille, who cheered for the University of Oklahoma, the University of Miami and the Spirit of Texas all-star team, added, "I felt so confident that Bring It On was the perfect gig for me after hearing the creative team talk about their vision for the show at the audition… My biggest challenge so far has been adjusting to living in new places. Living out of one 50-pound suitcase while on tour and not being able to spend time with my family over the holidays posed a challenge – but it also taught me independence. I have become an expert packer and have practically conquered the subway system!"
"I was in choir every year at [high] school, which introduced me to music and theatre, but I always focused more on cheer," said Dahlston Delgado, 23, from Belton, TX. "My senior year I made the big decision to make a two-and-a-half-hour commute three times a week to be a part of one of the most prestigious gyms in the country, Spirit of Texas. For the next five years I worked toward perfecting every skill and aspect of the sport, winning numerous national [and world] titles."
However, Delgado distinctly remembered telling a friend at the age of 16, "I want to be on Broadway someday, that would be so fun." Now, the Bring In On swing has his castmates to thank for pushing him forward. "I can't help but look around and think that I wouldn't be here in New York without all these people," he said. "We have made lifelong friendships throughout this entire process. Unlike any other show, we all come from such different backgrounds. A group of cheerleaders, dancers, singers and actors were thrown together, and we manage to make magic eight times a week. I've never stopped learning from my castmates, and they are the ones who have inspired me to see it through."
"I never really had my eye on Broadway, but it all fell into place for me," said 24-year-old ensemble member Brooklyn Alexis Freitag. Freitag, who has won numerous Universal Cheerleader's Association and National Cheerleader's Association national titles, made the switch from competitive gymnastics to competitive cheerleading in high school. "I fell in love with my team and the thrill of competing, and never looked back! I went on to cheer at the University of Louisville," said Freitag, who was born in Canada and raised in Paris, KY.
"I've always been a ham," she added. "While the girls around me did their [gymnastics] floor routines to drab music, I chose 'Bad to the Bone'… I made sure when my music started, people wanted to watch me! Of course Broadway is a little more intimidating, but once you get in the groove, it becomes second nature. It's like competing at Nationals… eight times a week!"
Although Shonica Gooden, 23, has always been a dancer, she takes on her first musical with Bring It On. Her biggest challenge, she said, was maintaining proper vocal health. "Over the tour I was diagnosed with nodes. This made touring challenging. Throughout the tour, I had Skype lessons with a vocal coach and he helped my voice get healthier. Coming into Broadway I feared not being able to maintain a healthy voice with the rigorous work schedule, but so far so good!"
Ensemble member Gooden, who comes from Atlanta, GA, said that it was "senior year of college when I decided that I wanted to explore the musical theatre world. I always knew that I could sing, and I always enjoyed seeing my theatre friends perform, so I figured why not give it a try? Now I'm in love with it, and I see a lot of Broadway performances in my future."
"My career goal was actually in business," said Orlando-native Keith Gross, 24, who's been cheerleading for 12 years (a competitive all-star team in high school and the national championship team at the University of Central Florida). "I was working as a financial analyst for the Walt Disney World company when I received an email from Bring It On asking if I was interested in auditioning."
About his journey to Broadway, Gross said, "I think leaving my family and my girlfriend behind to come and do the show was the biggest challenge for me." Gross, a swing in the new musical added, "This is a dream come true for me — a dream that I actually had given up on in high school. I didn't think I was good enough, so I quit dance and theatre and stuck to cheerleading. Who would've thought that the two worlds would combine like this?"
"My nerves were through the roof!" said ensemble member Haley Hannah, who graduated with a BFA from the University of Michigan, about her first Broadway preview. Although the 24 year old from Leawood, KS, had no cheerleading experience before Bring It On, she said that she had "always been a performer, [and] taking on Broadway was much more exciting than scary!"
Hannah, who landed her first professional theatre gig with Goodspeed Musicals in Cutman: A Boxing Musical, added that Bring It On was a huge undertaking. "Bring It On has been the most physically challenging show I've ever been a part of," she said. "The biggest challenge for me was building the stamina to perform the show well… I am happiest when I am performing. I can't imagine wanting to do anything else."
Casey Jamerson was athletic from the start. "I began cheering on an all-star team in Indiana at the age of six after four years of gymnastics," said the 22-year-old Bring It On swing from Pendleton, IN. "I had full intentions of cheering in college until I received a scholarship to play softball at Indiana University."
Aside from cheering — winning multiple national championships from 1996-2004 — and sports, Jamerson also pursued a country-music career in Nashville. "In country music I've performed on various stages from a young age, so an audience was nothing new. What is new," she said, "is performing with a group of my closest friends. I think the fear of making a mistake, which could essentially affect one of my castmates, scares me… A cheerleading coach at Indiana University, Tony Nash, had a lot to do with helping me pursue this opportunity. I owe him endless gratitude for believing in me."
Ensemble member Melody Mills, 25, a competitive cheerleader and professional dancer/choreographer for the NBA, NFL and artists such as Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West and Shakira, took her first job in theatre when she landed the North American tour of Bring It On. "I always knew I wanted to be a performer," said Mills, from Akron, OH, but "Broadway wasn't a specific career goal for me."
However, during the first Broadway preview for Bring It On, "I couldn't stop jumping," she said. "You could have called me the Easter bunny! I simmered, bowed my head to thank the Man" — Jesus Christ, who she says serves as her inspiration — "and let him know it was about to go down. And, it did! We rocked that stage. Throughout the entire show I kept thinking, 'This is me, and this is what I do.' The stage is my home."
Ensemble member Michael Naone Carter, 22, describes himself as a "self-taught" tumbler with a year of cheerleading experience at Hofstra University. "In the beginning of the Bring It On audition process, I didn't believe that I was good enough," said Carter, who was born in Hawaii and raised in Magnolia, NJ. "But when I got a callback for each round, I knew that this was for me."
Now, on Broadway, he said that performing the show is "just like breathing — it comes so naturally." About his first Broadway preview, he added, "At first it felt like a normal show, but it was at the end of the Jackson number 'Cross the Line,' when I did the last dance step and looked to the balcony, that I realized I was on Broadway and a feeling of accomplishment and joy ran through my body. I began to cry. I will always remember this moment in my life."
Adrianna Parson said she was "born a performer… I knew that Broadway was for me the first time I saw Cats on DVD. I watched it over and over and over and made my brother watch it with me until he cried. Seriously…! He literally cried because he didn't want to watch it anymore!" The 23 year old from Indianapolis, IN, is Bring It On's assistant dance captain, an understudy and a swing.
Parson, who participated in all-star cheerleading teams and Indianapolis' Lawrence North High School competition squad, added, "Nothing thrills me more than putting on a show. Broadway was a huge surprise for me. I usually don't go after something unless I know I'm ready for it, but in this case, I guess the Man upstairs was saying, 'You're ready.'"
Ensemble member David Ranck, who wasn't able to respond in time for our deadline, cheered for the Denver Nuggets at Colorado State University. Ranck, from Strasburg, PA, transferred to Morehead State University in Kentucky, where he was a cheered for the school and was an instructor for the Universal Cheerleaders Association.
"Performing is the air I breathe," said ensemble member Bettis Richardson Jr., who was raised in North Lauderdale, FL. "I am an unconventional performer, and I am proud to say I am a self taught singer-dancer-tumbler and cheerleader who has sought out training to advance when I would hit a wall in my growth. I take training seriously, and once I find the appropriate training, I cherish it and would never take for granted someone else's choice to share their knowledge with me."
Prior to Broadway, Richardson Jr. was the owner and creative director of two cheer gyms, All Star Rockets and Cooper City Storm; the in-house choreographer for Top Gun All Stars from Miami Florida; and a competitive cheer and dance team choreographer since age 14. "Broadway has been a career highlight — I love the arts," he added. "The possibility of learning and experiencing any and every part of it has been a pure blessing."
"I never considered Broadway a career goal," said 27-year-old swing Billie Sue Roe from Appleton, WI. "I've always had a bit of stage fright when it comes to singing in public and don't consider myself much of an actor, so theatre itself had never been something I pursued."
Roe — who is also the production's assistant stunt captain — however, had more than enough cheerleading experience to prepare her for Bring It On. "I have been a competitive cheerleader for over ten years," said Roe, who cheered for the University of Kentucky and Morehead State. "Broadway was intimidating because the type of performance is more like running a marathon versus the 'sprint' of a two-and-a-half-minute cheerleading routine. It takes a lot of focus and mental training to be able to hold your wits for a two-and-a-half-hourlong show."
Sheldon Tucker, 22, has been with Bring It On since its first workshop in the fall of 2010. Tucker, from Bentonville, AR, began cheering in high school and continued with the Hawai'i Pacific University coed team. "I have always loved performing and getting the opportunity to create, but I expected that to all end when I moved on from cheerleading," he said. "After being introduced to the world of theatre, I have now found a way to continue doing what I love as a career. I am inspired to see it through simply because I get to make a living doing what I love. What's better than that?!"
Tucker, a part of the Bring It On ensemble, always believed the show would make it to Broadway. During the musical's first preview at the St. James, "it started to sink in that we had made it to Broadway and the audience was so amazing," he said. "It felt like a warm welcoming into the Broadway community."
"If you would have asked me a couple of years ago," said 24-year-old ensemble member Lauren Whitt, "I never thought I would be on Broadway." Whitt, who was also seen in the film "Bring It On: In It to Win It," has cheered for the University of Central Florida, Team USA Coed and UCA Staff (Universal Cheerleaders Association) as well as all-star and high school teams.
On the road to Broadway, she said her biggest challenges were learning how to sing and dance, having been with Bring It On: The Musical since its Atlanta production. "Cheerleading is performance-based, too," said Whitt, from Orlando, FL. "Taking on Broadway was very scary to me, but it was exciting!"
Watch the Bring It On team talk about the show on its Broadway opening night.
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