All the world's a stage for Knoch grad Brittany Woodrow
The Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Holland, sat in darkness, save for the spotlight bathing Brittany Woodrow as she walked alone to the edge of the long stage.
The crowd in the 12,000-seat sold-out venue was silent as it collectively followed every word and movement of the performance the Alle-Kiski Valley native was delivering in her role of Sheila Franklin in "Hair: the Musical."
Overhead, the Jumbotron captured the intensity of her expressions as she built to the conclusion of the song "Easy to Be Hard."
Stretching her arms outward, tilting her head upward, she summoned all of her power and emotion for the final note.
The silence was broken with the roar of applause.
In the audience that night a few months ago in the Netherlands, her parents, Kim and Dan Woodrow of Winfield Township, hugged each other and cried.
"At that moment," her mother says, "we knew that our daughter was where she has to be: The stage is her life."
That's not just parental pride speaking.
The actress, singer and dancer, a 2004 graduate of Knoch High School, Jefferson, has been receiving glowing reviews as the lead in high-profile musical productions worldwide, and now, in her just-under way American touring debut as the lead female (The Lady of the Lake) in Monty Python's "Spamalot."
Julian Benson, of the Dublin, Ireland-based Julian Benson Management, whose international clientele have appeared in "Phantom of the Opera," Cirque du Soleil, "Chicago" and "Riverdance," recalls his first impression of Woodrow: a "petite, shy and timid girl." "Suddenly, when she began to sing, she turned into a dynamic diva with a powerhouse voice from above," he says.
"Industry insiders on this side of the water have tipped her as the next big thing in musical theater," he adds.
"Brittany's career is only going one way, and that is up," says Benson, who has been her agent in Europe for the past three years and now in America. "She's an exceptionally talented and beautiful performer with a very unique and distinctive vocal ability. She has a great dynamic on stage and oozes that all-important charisma factor, which we always look for in an artist."
From Ireland and London's West End, through Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Woodrow, 25, has displayed that "wow factor" in "Fame -- The Musical" ("A show-stealing performance; the most expressive and powerful performer on stage," the Irish Times said); "Hair the Musical" ("She conveys her emotions with her strong acting and great voice; she is very professional and hard-working," said Petra van Straaten, a producer of the Netherlands show); and as lead vocalist in Michael Jackson's "Thriller Live," and other shows.
From the beginning
Her first professional experience came in 2006 in shows at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Va. The Point Park University musical-theater major moved to Ireland in 2009 to work with the Irish dance troupe that employed her at Busch Gardens.
She has been singing since she was 5, was with the Civic Light Opera Mini Stars during their 1996-97 season, soloed for Marvin Hamlisch and, on one memorable night, at 15, performed "My Girl" with the Temptations in Erie.
Benson sees his client one day going on to lead roles on Broadway, headlining concerts in the contemporary and musical-theater genres and developing her solo recording career.
When she was starring as Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" at Knoch High School in 2004, Woodrow says, "I only, in my wildest dreams, thought that I would be doing what I am today.
"I never imagined that I would have traveled to so many parts of the world for free, and been given so many wonderful opportunities to do what I love to do, sing, act and dance. Fame and fortune have never been one of my goals, but happiness has always been what I strive for. Theater is what I love, and where I belong."
Ask Kim Woodrow, a Highlands School District nurse and head of the high-school health-services department, when she knew that her daughter was destined for a show-business career, and she chuckles in reply: "At birth."
"When she made her way into this world, Brittany had attitude, spunk and the prettiest cry that was actually heard even before she made her first appearance," her mother says. "We always said that Brit started singing before she was born."
Dan Woodrow, a veteran crane operator at Allegheny Ludlum, Brackenridge, says he and his wife feel the same way any parent would as they watch their child fulfill their dream. "It's awesome," he says. "It still amazes me, though, how she never shows any nervousness. When I watch her, I get so nervous that, by the end of every show, the restroom attendants know me by name."
What has pleased the couple the most, Kim Woodrow says, is that success has not changed their daughter. "She's still our Brit."
How she feels
Brittany Woodrow describes herself simply as "an entertainer" who wants to keep doing what she is doing for as long as she can.
"I've always believed that the stage is an outlet for all emotions, and that's what has really drawn me to it," she says. She likes the unpredictability of live theater and the fact it always is a new experience. "It is exhilarating," she says.
Beyond her singing and acting, she cites her primary strength as a very strong, believable stage presence. "I approach each and every role with honesty," she says.
Woodrow is having fun portraying the mystical, yet human, Lady of the Lake in "Spamalot."
Monty Python's spoof of the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is hilarious, she says. "I still laugh every night backstage when certain scenes are on," she says.
Jose Solivan , company manager of the show, is happy to have Woodrow and her positive attitude aboard. "Brittany is such a fun and beautiful young lady. Not only is she a joy to watch on stage, but she's also a fabulous company member," he says.
Early reviews provide additional praise.
The Maryland Theatre Guide noted, "The real prize (of the show) is... Brittany Woodrow, (who) belts her heart out. Her voice is uniquely her own and so powerful that it will blow you right out of your seat. She commands her role to perfection.
The Baltimore Sun lauds her "terrific voice and styling."
Benson calls Woodrow a "chameleon performer who is consistently able to adapt to any role."
Performing as the Genie in "Aladdin" in Ireland's Gaiety Theatre, she brought the house down with her show-stopping performance, Benson says. "She has the capacity to captivate and move her audience," Benson says. "As the lead vocalist in 'Thriller Live,' she performed like a true recording artist, stepping from the world of musical theater into international concert performances."
Woodrow says she "has never got such a buzz in all of my life" than the solo experience in the Netherlands for "Hair."
"To be absolutely alone on the end of that stage, in the middle of that incredible audience, I still get chills," she says.
As of now, the closest "Spamalot" will come to Pittsburgh is in Wheeling on March 8. Woodrow says it would be "absolutely amazing" to perform in Pittsburgh again for the first time since she was a child.
Wherever her career takes her, though, she says she hopes the audience "is able to leave feeling the love I feel for this art." "Theater can touch so many people in different ways," she says, "and I can only hope to do that each and every night I perform."
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