TheaterMania U

Classical Training for the Win!

Nicole Pietrangelo identifies her five favorite Broadway stars with roots in opera and classical voice.

Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth
(© Tristan Fuge)

Some of you may be wondering why I am a vocal performance major since I seem to enjoy musical theater so much. Honestly, I wondered the same thing during my freshman year. I was doubting myself and wondering if I made the right choice to attend the University of Alabama’s music program.

I decided to audition for some musical theater programs, planning to transfer somewhere in hopes of pursuing these dreams. After completing my auditions, I had some decisions to make. Was I really willing to leave this great school and all my new friends in hopes of changing my major? Did I ever really give Alabama’s music program a fair chance?

The answer to both of those questions was “no,” so I made the executive decision to stay where I was and truly commit to vocal performance. I knew I had ended up where I was for a reason, so I felt I should stick it out and fully experience all it had to offer before packing my bags and getting out of there. Looking back, I’m so thankful I did what I did. I now get the opportunity to sing both opera AND musical theater, while also studying acting, dance, stage combat, etc. And there are plenty of other Broadway performers who made the same decision I did. Here are five of my favorites!

1. Kristin Chenoweth– I’m sure most of you are well aware that Chenoweth began her career studying opera. She also sang in a gospel choir! She attended Oklahoma City University, earning her BFA in musical theater and her masters in opera performance. She also got a full scholarship to Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, but turned it down in hopes of moving to New York City to pursue her musical theater career.

2. Kelli O’Hara– She also attended Oklahoma City University, receiving both her BM and MM in vocal performance while studying with the same teacher as Chenoweth. Despite her classical voice training, she has been nominated for 4 Tony Awards for musical theater performances.

3. Tituss Burgess – Burgess graduated from the University of Georgia with his BA in music. His high tenor voice and origination of “Sebastian the Crab” in The Little Mermaid on Broadway is his claim to fame. He now works with the Broadway Dreams Foundation, where I’ve had the privilege of working with him.

4. Audra McDonald – As an undergraduate, she studied classical voice at the Julliard School. Afterwards, she began her musical theater career, ultimately winning 5 Tony Awards! She still performs both musical theater and opera today.

5. Nicholas Rodriquez – Rodriguez graduated from the University of Texas with his BM and MM in vocal performance. For his Broadway debut, he performed in Disney’s Tarzan. Currently, he also works closely with the Broadway Dreams Foundation.

While there are plenty of other Broadway stars with roots in opera and classical voice, these five performers stood out to me. If you aren’t familiar with any of these people, I highly encourage you to google them and most importantly, look them up on YouTube. They are truly an inspiration to all aspiring performers, in both musical theater and opera. So for those of you who are studying opera or classical voice but still have a passion for musical theater, all hope is not lost! As you can clearly see, some of the most successful Broadway stars started out this way too. We are not alone!