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Theatre Student 'Plays' On Broadway

Katie Clarke, on the left, plays "mother" in SHSU's production of "Ragtime." She will star as "Clara Johnson"
in the Broadway production of "The Light in the Piazza" beginning Dec. 16. The musical is expected to run
through March 26.

SHSU musical theatre major Katie Clarke is giving her regards to Broadway as the recently-cast character “Clara Johnson” in the presentation of “The Light in the Piazza.”

Clarke, who was selected to replace Kelli O’Hara after a nation-wide search, signed the contract to play the character on Nov. 18 and began rehearsal for the role Nov. 22.

The Friendswood native is one of the few, but not the first, SHSU alum to earn a Broadway role, according to theatre and dance department chair Penelope Hasekoester, who added that alumnus Greg Graham is currently working on “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and alumna Tracy Edwards was cast into a secondary role in “Hairspray.”

“Something like this is always a surprise,” said Hasekoester. “I’m not surprised that she (Clarke) was selected to do this role because it’s obvious that she’s talented enough to do it, but considering the competition out there in the world, I’m always surprised.”

Clarke’s Broadway debut will begin Dec. 16, the day before she is scheduled to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The musical is expected to run through March 26.

Though she will not walk across the stage on graduation day, Hasekoester said Clarke plans on completing her final exams online so she will be eligible for her degree.

Theatre faculty member Tom Prior, who is also a professional actor, said the opportunity Clarke has received is too good to pass up, despite the fact that she will not walk.

“It (performing on Broadway) is the cornerstone of an actor’s career,” Prior said. “It is a role that is thrusting her into the limelight in the New York theatre circle.

“What it is going to do, since she’s auditioned for the director who works a lot in New York and a composer who’s written a lot, she will keep working,” he said. “She will go from this project, and through the connections that she makes, she will probably be playing on Broadway for many years to come.”

Among her roles at SHSU, Clarke has starred as “Liesl” in the department’s production of “The Sound of Music;” was a featured soloist in “Smokey Joe’s Café,” which went to regional competition in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival last year; played “mother” in “Ragtime; and received an Irene Ryan Award nomination through the KCACTF for her performance as “Sunny” in the “The Exonerated,” which was recommended for the regional festival this year.

“There are people in the department that I say, ‘yes, this person will definitely make it,’ and Katie is one of them,” said Prior, who directed Clarke in “The Exonerated.” “There are certain people who just have it innately, and Katie is definitely one of those people.”

As “Clara Johnson,” Clarke is stepping into the role that earned her predecessor, O’Hara, a Tony Award nomination. The award-winning musical, based on the novella by Elizabeth Spencer, is set in the summer of 1953 and tells the story of a mother and daughter traveling through Italy, the daughter's romance with a handsome, high-spirited Florentine and the mother's determined efforts to keep the two apart.

“This is a very big deal,” Hasekoester said. “This is an award-winning show, and she is one of the first replacements. She is stepping into a role that is one of the leads.”

In addition, Clarke was automatically granted entry into the Actors’ Equity Association, a union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States, through signing a contract as a leading role, Prior said.

“It (union membership) is really a sign of working in the professional field,” he said.

Prior also said he expects big things to come in Clarke’s career, both on Broadway and in film, if she chooses to take that path.

“I’ve always said that Katie is a true triple threat, meaning that she’s a great dancer, a great singer and a great actress, and I’m ecstatic that she’s been cast,” Prior said. “I think it’s a good thing for the department, it shows us off very well, and frankly, I’ve been on cloud nine for the past three weeks.

“I’ve lived in New York, I’m an actor myself, and I know how hard it is to get these kind of jobs,” he said,“ and the fact that Katie knows a couple of people, went up and auditioned and they liked her so much, it just says a lot for her.”

The musical will be performed in the Vivian Beaumont Theater, at 150 West 65th Street in New York City.
Tickets range from $65 to $100 for performances, which are held Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. performance on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and on Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at 212.239.6200.


SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Dec. 6, 2005
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