Austin on Broadway: More Shooting Stars Than Ever
There have never been as many Austinites in Broadway shows as there are now
It isn't as if an Austin actor has never made it to Broadway. Joe Sears and Jaston Williams celebrated A Tuna Christmas there in 1994. Julie White, who first crossed the boards in Austin in the Seventies, made her debut there in 1989 in The Heidi Chronicles and returned in 2006 for a Tony Award-winning turn in The Little Dog Laughed. Kenny Williams, a regular in Zach Theatre musicals in the Nineties, has had a steady gig on Broadway in The Lion King since 2002. And if we count all those University of Texas grads from Eli Wallach to Tommy Tune to Marcia Gay Harden, the capital city has sent quite a few thespians to the Great White Way through the years.
Still, there's never been a pack of locals on Broadway stages like there is now. Austin was already well represented this summer when Barrett Davis, last seen among us dancing up a storm as Tommy Djilas in TexARTS' 2006 production of The Music Man, joined the cast of Mary Poppins and 13-year-old Andy Richardson, who charmed audiences as lisping Winthrop Paroo in that same TexARTS show, was cast in the revival of Gypsy headlined by Patti LuPone and directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote Gypsy's book. But they've just been joined by three more Austinites: David Bologna, 2008 B. Iden Payne Award winner for his turn in the Zach Performing Arts School's Golly Gee Whiz, is sharing the plum role of Michael, cross-dressing best bud to Billy, in Billy Elliot: The Musical, which opened Nov. 13, and Nicole Lowrance, Westlake High class of '97, and Virginia Kull, Bowie High class of '00, are both part of the sizable comic ensemble in Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate, which opened Nov. 20.
Kull and Lowrance followed parallel career tracks before crossing paths in Estate's noted off-Broadway run in 2007. Each graduated from a strong theatre training program (Juilliard for Lowrance, Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University for Kull) and was staying very busy with roles in regional theatres. And despite the size of Estate's cast (13), each earned her share of appreciative comments from the press, in the previous and current runs. Ben Brantley's glowing notice in The New York Times cited Kull as among the young performers who "are impatient and uncomprehending in just the right ways, signaling the future that can't arrive quickly enough for them." And in the New York Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz wrote: "Jenny Dare Paulin and Nicole Lowrance turn their small roles as Mary Jo's pretentious, designer-clad daughters into big fun. The look on their faces when they get a load of Uncle Lewis' working-class girlfriend, Irene (Virginia Kull), in her burger-joint uniform is priceless."
The 13-year-old Bologna may be younger than these actresses, but all signs point to the New Orleans native – whose family relocated to Austin after Katrina – having the showbiz savvy to pull off a big supporting role in a Broadway musical. Greg Jbara, the star who plays Billy Elliot's dad, described the youth this way to Playbill.com: "We all say, we need David Bologna to hold a class in comedy. That kid, we think he is actually an 80-year-old Borscht Belt veteran trapped in a 12-year-old body. That kid blows us away every single night." Bologna had honed his performing chops well before he reached Austin, in numerous stage productions as well as North American Irish Dance Championships. Little wonder that reviews refer to him as charming, delightful, and scene-stealing.
The fact that Bologna has worked with Dede Clark's KidsActing and the Zach Performing Arts School and that Davis and Richardson have studied with TexARTS (and Davis with Austin Musical Theatre before that) reflects well on the kind of musical theatre training that is available for young people in Central Texas. Congratulations to Austin's latest Broadway stars and to the artists who trained them.