Ashland graduate turned Broadway star Steffanie Leigh will sing in Rogue Valley’s Symphony holiday pops concert at Bowmer Theatre
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
In a twist of fate, a woman born in the town of Talent has fulfilled the promise embodied in the name of her birthplace. Steffanie Garrard, now known professionally as Steffanie Leigh, went on to make it big on Broadway.
Leigh made her debut on the Great White Way in the title role of Disney’s “Mary Poppins” and went on to originate the Broadway roles of Liane d’Exelmans in “Gigi” and the iconic supermodel Dorian Leigh in “War Paint,” starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.
An Ashland High School graduate, she will be coming home for the holidays to perform with the Rogue Valley Symphony in its pops concert Dec. 15-17 at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre.
How does it feel to be returning to her home town to perform?
“This is the best Christmas present I could have asked for,” she said. “It is my favorite holiday, and whenever I get the chance to come home and celebrate it here, I do.”
But this time there is a bonus.
“Adding to that, I get the chance to sing in the place where I learned how to perform, surrounded by a community that has always supported me and given me so much strength when I have needed it in this challenging career.”
A reunion of sorts
Another interesting connection is that Rogue Valley Symphony Executive Director Joelle Graves was one of Leigh’s early voice teachers. They’ll celebrate a reunion in December.
“I started taking voice lessons with Joelle in high school,” Leigh said. “By that time, I was becoming pretty sure I wanted to pursue musical theater as a career.”
She started her classical voice training with Graves. Techniques she learned then served her well in the pursuit of that dream.
“All of my teachers and mentors at that time were so formative to the artist I have become,” she said. “It feels very full circle to be able to come back and work with Joelle.”
The New York-based 36-year-old recalls a performance of “Hamlet” at South Medford High School that contributed to her being drawn to the theater.
“My sister was going to school there and my mom took me to see the play,” she said. “I remember sitting in the audience and having what I can only describe as a compulsion to be up there on stage with them all.”
After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting and musical theater. She landed her first professional gig, a summer-stock season at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, just after finishing her freshman year.
“They were auditioning for the shows scheduled for that summer, with each show to run for one to two weeks,” she said. “I was hired to be in the ensemble for the season.”
She performed in “Beauty and the Beast,” “Grease,” “42nd Street” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
“We rehearsed one show during the day and performed another at night. It was fast and furious and so much fun.”
Her big break
The big break came in 2011. She was playing Mary Poppins in the eponymous musical on its first North American tour when she got a call to come to New York to audition for the same role at the New Amsterdam Theatre production on Broadway.
Laura Michelle Kelly, the London West End’s original Mary, was going to play her last performance at the Broadway theater on Oct. 9. They needed a new nanny, starting Oct. 11.
“I got the call when I was on the road,” Leigh said. “They flew me to New York during my day off, I auditioned, and then I was back to work on tour.”
On the road, she tried not to think about being on the brink of realizing a dream.
“But, of course, I was pretty unsuccessful with that,” she laughed.
She managed anxiety of the potential disappointment for about a week. Word came when the touring company was at a rehearsal for an upcoming press event on “Dancing With the Stars.”
“Our resident director pulled me aside and told me I would be making my Broadway debut as the next Mary Poppins. I’m getting emotional, thinking about it now,” Leigh said.
In a bit of a shock, she called her parents with the good news on the walk back to rehearsal.
“Those are the moments you live for.”
An international career
Leigh has performed in film and television, and internationally on stage.
Her stage credits include “Venus in Fur” at Singapore Repertory Theatre, “Gods of Comedy” at the Old Globe in London, and “Passion” at the Signature Theatre, a Tony Award-winning theater in Arlington, Virginia.
“Passion” is a one-act Stephen Sondheim musical, adapted from Ettore Scola’s 1981 film set in 1863 Italy. Leigh won a Helen Hayes Award nomination for her lead role portrayal of Clara.
“I love doing any Sondheim show,” Leigh said. “I find his point of view so wise and am fascinated by the questions his work brings up. In my role as Clara in ‘Passion,’ I was grappling with the difference between love, obsession and passion. It also dealt with what selfless love is and what role possession plays in attachments.”
In the RVS holiday pops concert, Leigh will be the featured vocalist in the following numbers: “O Holy Night,” “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas,” “The Night Before Christmas,” “My Favorite Things” and the Carpenters hit “Merry Christmas, Darling.” The program includes several additional orchestral pieces celebrating the season.
RVS has arranged for noted composer William Malpede to score the Carpenters song for soprano and orchestra. “It’s a big deal,” the symphony’s Graves said.
Malpede has numerous film and television music production credits, including “Spiderman 3,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “City of Gold,” “Cries From Syria,” and the award-winning “Another Harvest Moon,” co-scored with Rick Garcia.
“I am looking forward to completing my arrangement and hearing it with Ms. Leigh and your wonderful orchestra,” Malpede said.
What’s next for Steffanie Leigh? After being on an international tour with Disney Princess the Concert the past three months, she’ll welcome some down time.
“I am looking forward to spending some time back home in New Hork and seeing what the next adventure will be.”
Reach writer Jim Flint at email@example.com.
Nov. 16: Spelling of Steffanie Leigh’s first name corrected in the headline.