Raleigh’s own English Bernhardt will join Jackie Burns and Anthony Rapp, two original Broadway cast members of If/Then, on May 24-29 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, as part of DPAC‘s SunTrust Broadway Series. Burns, who was a standby for 2014 Tony Award® nominee Idina Menzel — who won the 2004 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Elphaba in Wicked — when Menzel created the role of Elizabeth on Broadway, will star as Elizabeth on tour; and Rapp will reprise his performance as Lucas in the original Broadway production.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
[trying to decide which one to take]….
… I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“If/Then shows you two separate paths that Elizabeth’s character might take,” says English Bernhardt. The ingenious plot twist of If/Then, which features music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning team that penned Next to Normal, is that Elizabeth takes both roads, one as “Liz” and the other as “Beth.”
In addition to Jackie Burns as Elizabeth, a 38-year-old newly divorced urban planner hoping to make a fresh start in the Big Apple, and Anthony Rapp, a community organizer whom Elizabeth meets in Madison Square Park, the cast of the First National Tour of If/Then includes: Tamyra Gray as a kindergarten teacher named Kate, Matthew Hydzik as an Army doctor named Josh, Janine DiVita as Kate’s girlfriend Anne, Jacques C. Smith as Elizabeth’s old friend Stephen, Marc Delacruz as Josh’s best friend David, and English Bernhardt as Paulette and others.
“I’m primarily in the Ensemble,” says Bernhardt. “There are various little scenes and parts here and there where people have various lines…. Paulette is one of my little moments. She’s a young girl who approaches Lucas in the park and asks for his autograph.”
The tour co-stars Xavier Cano as A Soldier, Kyra Faith as Elena, Corey Greenan as the Deputy Mayors, Cliffton Hall as A Bartender, Deedee Magno Hall as Cathy, Tyler McGee as A Street Musician, and Alicia Taylor Tomasko as A Flight Attendant. Swings include Charissa Bertels, Trey Ellett, Joseph Morales, and Emily Rogers.
If/Then made its Broadway debut, directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Larry Keigwin, on March 30, 2014 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it played 401 performances before closing on March 22, 2015. The show was nominated for two 2014 Tony Awards®, including the Tony for Best Original Score Written for the Theatre.
The show’s First National Tour, also directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Larry Keigwin, kicked off on Oct. 13, 2015, at the Buell Theatre in Denver, CO, and is currently scheduled to conclude on Aug. 14, 2016, at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA. In addition to Greif and Keigwin, the tour’s creative team includes music director Carmel Dean, scenic designer Mark Wendland, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, costume designer Emily Rebholz, hair-and-wig designer David Brian Brown, sound designer Brian Ronan, production stage manager Shawn Pennington, and stage manager Jen Ash. The show also features orchestrations by Michael Starobin and vocal arrangements by Annmarie Milazzo.
Born in Raleigh in March 1996, 20-year-old English Bernhardt was apparently bitten by the theater bug in the cradle. “I started taking ballet at age two-and-a-half,” she recalls. “At age eight, I started taking classes at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory.”
Also at age eight, she started auditioning for the North Carolina Theatre‘s mainstage productions. At age 10, Bernhardt was cast as Marian the Librarian’s piano student, Amaryllis, in The Music Man (2006), starring Tom Wopat as Harold Hill. “After that,” says Bernhardt, “there was no stopping me. I wanted to audition constantly, and I wanted to be in very show.”
NCT producer Carolee Baxter remembers, “She was heads above any others auditioning.”
Bernhardt subsequently played the title character’s sister Nellie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun (2008) and Louisa von Trapp in The Sound of Music (2009). Then, at age 13, she played Depression-era America’s favorite redheaded orphan in Annie (2010). The next year, she played Peron’s Mistress in Evita (2011).
But English Bernhardt’s breakthrough performance was Eponine in NCT’s stellar 2014 presentation of Les Misérables, of which this reviewer wrote in a Feb. 12, 2014 review entitled “Les Misérables C’est Manifique!“: “… [I]t is two … North Carolina Theatre Conservatory students — English Bernhardt, who plays the Thénardiers’ daughter Éponine, and Reed Shannon, who portrays the impudent street urchin Gavroche — who create the most unforgettable characters. Moreover, Bernhardt demonstrates star quality, especially in her lovelorn character’s plaintive lament, ‘On My Own.'”
“In my opinion,” Carolee Baxter says, “[English Bernhardt’s] greatest performance on our stage was as Eponine in Les Misérables. She wowed everyone, and played the part so perfectly [that] it was as if she had been born just for that role.” NCT President and CEO Lisa Grele Barrie adds, “English Bernhardt … is an incredibly gifted artist and special human being!”
“English started in musical-theater class with me when she was 7 or 8 and private voice lessons soon after,” remembers North Carolina Theatre Conservatory artistic director Ray Walker. “Her talent was obvious from her first day in class. We were doing an excerpt from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in class, and she had a one solo line. I remember turning to the accompanist and saying ‘This kid’s got it.’ That was Day One.
“Throughout the next 10 years or so, I met with her once a week privately for a voice lesson; and English became our Conservatory Superstar,” Walker adds. “I don’t have children of my own, per se; but English is my ‘pride and joy.'”
Walker says, “English was all of pure natural talent. The years at the Conservatory were concentrated on preserving her special singing voice with proper technique and providing her with performance opportunities where she could shine. She was extremely committed to the program and made everyone else in the classroom better.”
He adds, “English was exceptional in many roles at NCT: Eponine, Annie, and In the Heights at the Conservatory [in 2013]. My favorite was her performance as Peron’s Mistress in Evita, as I played Che; and we got to share the stage together. That was special.
“There was a time after I left performing in New York City that I didn’t think anything could top performing on Broadway,” says Ray Walker. “Then I became a teacher. Being part of English’s journey from the Conservatory to If/Then has been one of the greatest joys of my life and something I am very proud of.”
The North Carolina Theatre‘s artistic director, Casey Hushion, says, “I am a bit in awe of English Bernhardt. Certain performers seem truly born to be doing what they are doing, and I have always thought of English as one of them. She received top-of-the-line training at the Conservatory; and she has an abundance of natural talent, star power, and charisma. There is not much English can’t do.”
Hushion adds, “I have always been struck by her personal grace as well. At every age — having seen her in high-pressure situations over the years — she has been so poised and confident, always respectful and professional. She is warm and has a sense of humor and is always eager to challenge herself and to learn from every artist she comes into contact with.
“It has been a joy to watch her continue to grow into her talents and to see all that she is capable of and that through all of it, she maintains a strong sense of who she is,” says Hushion, who directed Bernhardt in Annie and Next to Normal. “It’s hard to choose a favorite performance — her Annie and her Eponine were both truly exceptional — but, personally, I might have to vote for [her May 1-3 and 5-10, 2015 performance as Natalie Goodman, daughter of a bipolar mother played by fellow Raleigh native Lauren Kennedy in] Next to Normal. I so enjoyed that creative process with English, because she was pushing herself and stretching different muscles and experimenting; and it was exciting to be a part of that. She has a great work ethic.”
When it comes to “The Road Not Taken,” English Bernhardt doesn’t have to look far for a personal example. For 12 years of primary elementary and secondary school, she juggled school’s academic demands with the pressures of her budding theatrical career. From age eight, she split her time between the classroom and the NCT Conservatory, which she credits with grooming her to pursue a career in professional theater.
After graduating from Ravenscroft School in Raleigh in 2014, Bernhardt enrolled as a theater major at Elon University in Elon, NC. But after her first semester, she reached a fateful fork in the road. She could continue her higher education while auditioning part-time for shows in New York City, or she could follow her heart to the Big Apple, audition full-time, and try to make her theater dreams come true. She chose to follow her heart. After all, she says, college will be waiting for her any time she’s ready for it.
Bernhardt moved to New York in March 2015, and soon found herself participating in a workshop/lab for Dear Evan Hansen, a new musical by Pasek & Paul, directed by Michael Greif, the director of the original Broadway production and the First National Tour of If/Then. She must have made a great impression on Greif, who cast her as Paulette and others in the tour, which began rehearsals in September, opened in mid-October, and has been touring ever since.
“English is not only gifted in the world of musical theater but she is a truly gracious individual,” says NCT producer Carolee Baxter. She adds, “I certainly do hope to see English in If/Then, and she typically does connect with all of us when [she’s] in town. My favorite place to meet up with English is her favorite place, Jubala Coffee in Lafayette Village, so hopefully she will have time to make a stop there.”
English Bernhardt is eagerly anticipating her DPAC debut in If/Then, but she’s no stranger to the DPAC stage. On June 2, 2014, she treaded those boards when she was named best actress in the 2014 Triangle Rising Star awards. Then, on June 30, 2014, she won Best Performance in an Ensemble honors at the sixth annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York City.
“If/Then is honest and truthful and relatable and really resonates with people,” claims Bernhardt, who’s looking forward to sharing this offbeat musical with family and friends, not to mention eating some home cooking and maybe sleeping in her own bed. She adds, “It’s a different kind of show. It’s a modern show about how people live and act and the choices that they face today…. I think that people will leave the theater excited about their lives….
“Come with an open mind and a keen eye, ready to pay attention to details,” says Bernhardt. “The scenic design, lighting, and direction will help you keep track of whose life we’re in now….”
SECOND OPINION: May 23rd Fayetteville, NC Fayetteville Observer interview with actor Anthony Rapp, conducted by Brooke Carbo: http://www.fayobserver.com/living/arts_theater/rent-star-brings-if-then-to-the-stage-in-durham/article_600785dc-c915-5f55-9f53-c07aaff387f0.html; May 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article78869177.html; May 19th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/if-then-star-talks-about-chances-rent-dazed-and-confused/article_18dcb524-1d4f-11e6-b165-33e2d1e613da.html (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); May 13th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh interview with actress English Bernhardt, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-English-Bernhardt-of-IFTHEN-National-Tour-20160513; and May 12th Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Lincoln Pennington for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/raleigh-native-returns-to-area-with-ifthen/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents IF/THEN at 7:30 p.m. May 24-26, 8 p.m. May 27, 2 and 8 p.m. May 28, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 29 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30-$115. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2117654.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
TOUR CAST: http://ifthenthemusical.com/cast.php.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://ifthenthemusical.com/creative.php.
DPAC‘S SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, May 28th, performance.
If/Then (2014 Broadway musical): http://ifthenthemusical.com/home (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/495050 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/ifthenmusical/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/IfThenMusical (Twitter [page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If/Then (Wikipedia).
Tom Kitt (music): http://www.tomkittband.com/ (official website of The Tom Kitt Band), https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/100673 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Kitt_%28musician%29 (Wikipedia).
English Bernhardt (actress who plays Paulette and others): http://ifthenthemusical.com/cast.php (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/502778 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5056114/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/english.bernhardt (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/ebbernhardt (Twitter page).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing email@example.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)