The Hippo


Mar 19, 2018








Caroline Burns. Photo by Emma Contic (

NH’s next Broadway stars

Where to see the next generation of theater talent or inspire a future actor
The Wizard Of Oz: Palace Youth Theatre production at the Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester, Thursday, March 9; Wednesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 16, at 7 p.m.; tickets $14, visit or call 668-5588
A Year With Frog and Toad: Peacock Players production at the Janice B. Streeter Theater, 14 Court St., Nashua, Friday, March 10, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 11, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 12, at 2 p.m.; Friday, March 17, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 18, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 19, at 2 p.m.; tickets $12-$17, visit
The Drowsey Chaperone: Derryfield Upper School Players at the Nancy S. Boettiger Theater, 2108 River Road, Manchester, Friday, March 10, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 11, at 2 and 7 p.m.; tickets $15
James and the Giant Peach, Jr.: Kid’s Coop Theatre production at the Derry Opera House, 29 W. Broadway, Derry, Friday, March 10, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 11, at 1 and 6 p.m.; tickets $12, visit
Annie: Bedford Youth Performing Company production at the Derryfield School’s Nancy S. Boettiger Theater, 2108 River Road, Manchester, Friday, March 17, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 18, at 1 and 7 p.m.; tickets $15.50, visit
The Lion King, Junior Majestic Academy of Dramatic Arts production at the Derry Opera House, 29 W. Broadway, Derry, Friday, March 17, and Saturday, March 18, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 19, at 2 p.m.; tickets $15, visit or call 669-7469
Fame: Maskers Drama Club and Central Community Players production at Central High School, 207 Lowell Road, Manchester,, Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25, at 6:30 p.m., tickets $12
Seussical: The Musical: Pinkerton Players, Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 25, at 1 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 26, at 2 p.m., tickets $12,
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Windham High School theater department at 64 London Bridge Road, Windham, Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 25, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 26, at 2 p.m., tickets $13
Ryan Dever
Exeter mom Maribeth Dever remembers her first panic at seeing her son Ryan Dever onstage. He was 8 and starring as Amahl in Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Leddy Center for the Performing Arts. It helped prepare her for seeing him as Bruce Bogtrotter on the Broadway national tour of Matilda: The Musical this past spring.
“I sat down in my seat for opening night … and all of a sudden I thought, holy crap. If he screws up, the whole show is toast! … I don’t think I breathed until it was over. And he did fine! But there is that sense of, that’s your kid. … You don’t want them to feel like they failed, and you certainly don’t want to disappoint other people. And Broadway’s Broadway. That’s a bigger deal.”
Ryan Dever, 13, is home now with the rest of his siblings, who all love theater. His latest gig was as Scar in the Palace Youth Theatre’s The Lion King with his younger brother. What’s next is uncertain; after all, he only just entered his teen years.
“I can see myself doing musical theater in the future, but as of plans, I’m 13! I have no idea what I’m going to do yet,” he said. 
Caroline Burns
Hollis teen Caroline Burns is readying for Brooklyn: The Musical, which starts with a four-week show in Dallas this summer, but you might know her from The Voice, where she competed on Team Adam Levine.
Since then she’s remained busy, making frequent trips to Los Angeles and New York to meet with directors, producers and potential cast members, and flying to Nashville to record music. Before The Voice, Burns traveled the New Hampshire theater circuit, performing with the Palace Theatre (its youth and teen company), the Peacock Players and the Riverbend Youth Company and singing the national anthem at local sporting events.
Alexandra Socha
Alexandra Socha has been living in New York for 10 years, but her biggest claim to fame is the job she got when she first moved to the city, replacing Lea Michele as Wendla in Spring Awakening on Broadway in 2008. The Nashua native was performing with the Peacock Players under directors like Keith Weirich, Scott Severance and Tim L’Ecuyer when she went to the Boston open calls with a few other Peacock Players students. After the audition, she had one callback and then heard nothing for ages.
“I sort of thought I’d never hear anything again. And then two months later I got a call saying one of the ensemble members was leaving and they were going to have callbacks in New York to replace her — and would I come?” Socha said. 
She got the part. She was 17. She joined the ensemble in 2007 and took the title role a year later.
“As far as Spring Awakening goes, it was about being in the right place at the right time in the right role,” she said. “I got to cut the line in a very big way, but after Spring Awakening closed is when my career as an actor started. I learned how to go to auditions and how to file for unemployment, and what it takes to really get the work.”
She’s since taken up a number of projects, from Broadway (Brighton Beach Memoirs) and off-Broadway (Fun Home, Death Takes a Holiday) to Netflix. Ten years later, her Spring Awakening days still carry weight. At the time of her call, she’d just finished a four-week development workshop with a new musical, Head Over Heels
“There are only so many productions and a million actors,” Socha said. “I joke that I spend a lot of time doing work that potentially nobody will ever see. But you know, sometimes you strike gold, and the thing you’ve been working on gets a production and moves to Broadway. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The Claytons
Missy Clayton
If you’re a regular Palace Theatre audience member, you might recognize Manchester native Missy Clayton, a frequent dancer on the Manchester stage, her most recent credits being Hairspray (still running) and Smokey Joe’s Cafe.
She and her brother, Max Clayton, were part of the theater’s first Teen Company, now in its 10th year. Artistic Director Carl Rajotte said Teen Company is like the “varsity” of the theater’s youth programming; Teen Apprentice Company is “junior varsity” and Palace Youth Theatre is for all levels.
“Not everybody is going to be a theater professional, but it will help them with everything — learning how to speak, learning how to cooperate with people, learning how to create art,” Rajotte said during an interview at the theater. “The mission of the teen program, casually, is it’s for the serious musical theater student who might want to continue theater as a professional or at least through college as an arts degree. It guides them and makes them know what the professional business is like.”
The Claytons danced in a variety of the Palace’s youth and mainstage shows. During an interview before the theater’s Hairspray production, Missy Clayton pulled out a photo of the two as the salt and pepper shakers in the theater’s take on Beauty and the Beast on her phone.
“That was a huge stepping stone for myself and for my brother, getting the opportunity to be pushed on a higher level than most kids our age,” she said. 
Max Clayton
Max Clayton is currently deep in ensemble rehearsals for Bandstand on Broadway, with previews beginning March 31. The Manchester native studied at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and also performed in Broadway’s Gigi, On the Town and Something Rotten. He never took formal voice or dance lessons in high school; most of his training was at the Palace. He lives with his sister in New York and sees friends from New Hampshire all the time.
“For such a crowded, busy city, it’s also very small; it’s so nice, leaving your stage door, walking one block and running into your best friend,” he said via phone between rehearsals. “It doesn’t feel like work at all. And that’s the goal — the second it starts feeling like work, I’m doing something wrong and I need to change up my routine. But performing on Broadway is a very special feeling that I haven’t gotten over yet.”
Peter Mazurowski
Bow native Peter Mazurowski, now 20, is a company member at the Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina; at 13 he was cast in the lead of Billy Elliot on Broadway, which he performed in until the show closed a year and a half later.
Mazurowski caught the theater bug as a kid, performing with companies like the Children’s Theatre Project, the Palace Theatre and the New Hampshire School of Ballet. He was advised to audition for the role of of Billy at a national dance competition with his studio. His voice teacher at the time, Joel Mercier, helped him with the vocal audition.
“I was a local kid from New Hampshire. I wanted to make it someday, but I didn’t expect to have a dream like that come to reality when I was that young,” he said via phone. 
The experience was amazing but difficult on his parents, who took turns staying with him in the city. When he returned home, he decided to pursue dance over musical theater and studied at the Boston Ballet School for two years before securing his current position.
“[Billy Elliot] definitely opened up a lot of doors for me. I was surprised how much of a pull it had, and how many connections I now had in the ballet world because of it,” he said.
Kaleigh Cronin
Kaleigh Cronin, a Manchester native currently in the ensemble of A Bronx Tale on Broadway, fell in love with theater when she first saw people on the Palace stage.
“I knew instantly that I needed to do that. I auditioned for my first production of Annie at age 5 at the Palace and was cast as one of the orphans,” Cronin said via phone. 
She performed in youth productions as a kid but was often cast in mainstage shows as a teen.
“Lots of times people would come in from New York City and I’d be working alongside them. You can’t ask for better training as a kid,” said Cronin, who in addition to Palace work took dance classes at the Bedford Dance Center with Missy and Max Clayton and performed with the Bedford Youth Performing Company before studying at Carnegie Mellon University. “When I got to Carnegie Mellon, which is a Top 3 musical theater school, most of the people in my class came from performing arts high schools. … I remember thinking how awesome it was I was able to have a phenomenal public high school education through Central High School, and having participated in all the shows at the Palace, not only being on the same level as these kids, but in some ways more advanced. I had so many more real-life experiences.”
Cronin was cast in the national tour of Jersey Boys after her first audition in New York. Two years later she scored an ensemble role in Cabaret and played understudy for Emma Stone and Michelle Williams. She still hangs out with the Claytons all the time.
“It’s so cool the three of us stuck together. We all did the Bedford Dance thing, and we all worked at the Palace, with the dream of someday performing in New York,” she said.
Mia Moravis
Keene artist Mia Moravis is on the Van Dean/Stephanie Rosenberg production team of Anastasia – The Musical, with Broadway previews starting March 23, opening officially April 24. 
It features more than a dozen new songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and the story is one that resounds with Moravis personally, having recently rediscovered long-lost family members.
“I love this show. It’s all about home, love, family, self-discovery and self-empowerment,” she said via phone, days after returning from the Grammy Awards, of which she’s been a voting member for 25 years.
She credits this first Broadway stint to a long career of hard work and patience. 
In addition, she had her off-Broadway co-producer debut last year with You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and is an Emmy-nominated producer and a filmmaker, actress, songwriter and voice-over artist, for Wonkybot Studios’ podcast The Secret Diaries of Tara Tremendous, which is now No. 1 in the Kids & Family category on iTunes.
Courtesy photo. 


New Hampshire to Broadway
A look at the road to stardom for Granite State performers

By Kelly Sennott

 Caroline Burns made her national television debut last March as a contestant on The Voice —  a whirlwind experience not only because she worked with pop stars like Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera, but because she finally nailed her big break.

And then she flew home to Hollis. 
Upon her return, the teen practiced vocal and dance exercises every day. She remained active on social media and tried to stay in touch with the Los Angeles connections she’d made. Her mom, Rhonda Burns, kept an eye out for other auditions and opportunities. Though to be honest, they weren’t certain what came next. The Voice is big, but it doesn’t hold the same weight American Idol did in its first seasons. 
“People think you go on The Voice and then all of a sudden you’ve taken off, and everyone’s asking you for things. But you come back and you still have to work so hard at it,” Caroline Burns, 16, said during an interview at her family’s Hollis farmhouse this February. “Now there are so many people on these shows.”
Three months later, she got another bite in the form of a phone call from her old voice teacher, Carlos Martinez, who told her Mark Schoenfeld was looking to cast the lead in a revival tour of Brooklyn: The Musical. Schoenfeld, who co-wrote the music and lyrics for Brooklyn, coincidentally lived in the same building as Martinez in Manchester and had been unsuccessful trying to find a lead at New York auditions. Would she be interested in singing for him? 
Today, Caroline Burns still practices singing and dancing every day, but with a purpose: to get ready for the Brooklyn tour, which kicks off in Dallas this summer. She’s waiting to see who’s cast alongside her in the five-person show and dreaming about where this job could take her — ideally, Broadway. 
The road to the biggest stage of all is never straight, even less so for New Hampshire hopefuls, who must navigate it with long trips to New York or compete against performers who grew up near the Big Apple and know the business already. Every so often, they’ll lose a part to the son of a Backstreet Boy.
But there are many Granite State success stories. Some have made it to Broadway, and others, like Caroline Burns, are still hopefuls on their way, but all their tales share the same basic ingredients: a bit of business savvy, a sprinkle of luck, tons of talent and unwavering grit and determination. 
Impossible dream?
For lots of New Hampshire kids, Broadway is not an impossible dream. Or at least it doesn’t seem that way, as many alumni of local theater companies are now on the big stage. You can’t go through a Peacock Players production without hearing about Alexandra Socha, who took over for Lea Michele in the lead of Spring Awakening in 2008, or do a Palace Theatre show without hearing about Kaleigh Cronin, who’s currently in A Bronx Tale, and Missy and Max Clayton, Manchester natives who are singing and dancing professionally. Max Clayton is famous among the Palace youth for graduating from the University of Cincinnnati’s College-Conservatory of Music program with three offers, including Broadway. Every so often, kids in these programs will meet successful alumni returning to lead workshops or see or perform in a New Hampshire show. This past October, for instance, Socha headlined a Peacock Players fundraiser. 
“I’d heard of people who were at the Palace and who went to Broadway, and that gave me some hope too. I felt like, well, they can do it — that means it’s not impossible,” Caroline Burns said.
This is how Missy Clayton said she and her brother and her best friend, Cronin, felt performing with the Palace Youth Theatre and its teen company. They met and worked with visiting New York actors for Palace mainstage shows all the time, so it didn’t seem that far off.
Socha said during a phone interview that there’s actually pretty high New Hampshire representation in New York, where she lives now. She mentioned Garett Hawe and Darius Harper, who both performed with the Peacock Players with her and have Broadway on their resumes now. Cronin said one of her friends from New Hampshire wound up dressing her at Cabaret. They credited their success to the strong musical theater scene in New Hampshire.
In addition to Palace and Peacock, you can find youth theater at the Majestic Theatre, the Riverbend Youth Company, Kid’s Coop Theatre, the New Hampshire Theatre Factory, the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, the Children’s Theatre Project and many others. Some, like the Palace, have altered their programming specifically to help kids transfer into the real world after high school, with resume and audition workshops. 
Promising starts
Sometimes the theater signs show up early.
When Caroline Burns was 4, her mom remembers parking their car, turning off the radio and listening to her daughter belt out tunes without accompaniment. As soon as she was old enough, she put her daughter in theater programs. At age 9, she began taking voice lessons with Martinez, who could tell right away she had what he calls “star quality,” evident in the way the petite blonde talked, walked and presented herself.
“And that feeling was totally justified when I heard her sing,” Martinez said. “Some people are just born with it.”
For Exeter 13-year-old Ryan Dever, who recently returned from the Broadway national tour performing as Bruce Bogtrotter in Matilda: The Musical, it was clear from the time he could talk he would be onstage, said his mom, Maribeth Dever. He loved jamming out to Kelly Clarkson and High School Musical songs on his pink microphone, and when he was 2 he snuck past his parents at his older sister’s dance studio and jumped into class. 
“The teacher had to bring him down to me,” Maribeth Dever said during an interview in their Exeter living room. (Ryan  Dever can’t recall the details but does remember holding onto a pole not wanting to leave.) At age 6, he tagged along for his sister’s auditions at the Leddy Center for the Performing Arts production of Oliver. He wasn’t technically old enough to perform in the show.
“Somehow he talked them into letting him audition. He wasn’t prepared to do anything. He didn’t have a headshot. He just went in and sang Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me,’” Maribeth Dever said. “And he got a part.”

The route
The most direct path to musical theater stardom is to attend a Top 10 school — like the University of Michigan, the University of Cincinnati, Carnegie Mellon University. It’s the path Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte recommends for his students going through his youth and teen programs who want to continue with the art after high school.
“I always promote college. I’ve been through the business, and I’ve seen a lot of friends who’ve made it without going to college, but it’s just a lot harder because you’re 18 years old. You don’t even really know who you are yet. So to be thrown into New York City without the safety net of professors looking after you, college nurturing you, it’s scary,” Rajotte said. “But I will say, it is harder to break into the business if you’re in a school that’s not in the top 10. The top 10 is where you get a great showcase your senior year in New York City, with invited agents and managers and casting directors.”
As such, local theater directors and voice teachers sometimes become like college advisors, helping their kids pick out the right songs, monologues, even the right outfit for that college audition.
After school, it’s all about New York, even if Broadway is not your first destination or even your final destination. All the regional companies, cruises and tours host auditions in New York, and if you want to get on the national stage, it means either moving to the city or vowing to make regular four- or five-hour hikes from the Granite State.
Some people get big gigs right out of college, but more often the steps are steady, with actors performing in increasingly higher-caliber theaters over time. Finding an agency could help you connect with producers and book auditions, but they’re not always necessary. And, of course, some actors skip a lot of steps. 

Skipping steps
The shortcut for Caroline Burns was YouTube, which she started using at age 7. 
“We didn’t know it was going out to the world. We were just posting videos to send to my grandparents, and my sister had said, if you post it on YouTube, then you can send the link,” Caroline Burns said. “And then people started watching it.”
And so she created more YouTube videos of her singing, which is how scouts from The Voice found her and asked her to audition. 
When she scored the part in Brooklyn, it seemed foolish not to get on the ride.
“That’s what you’re going to college for, so why pass it up?” Caroline Burns said. 
For Ryan Dever, the stage was always the dream, even at recess. While most boys went to play soccer, he’d hang out by the playset and imagine it was the barricade from Les Misérables.
“Ever since I was little, I had always been picked on for being the theater kid,” Ryan Dever said. “I’d just start singing Les Mis, and people would be like, ‘Would you stop singing!’ But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t stop singing.”
Maribeth and her husband, Sean Dever, grew a little concerned about their third of five kids when he turned 10.
“Things can be a little challenging when you’re a little different from the rest of your class. He was feeling a little blue in the fifth grade, having trouble finding his niche, and three people on the same day over Christmas break sent me messages about this group called Broadway Kids Auditions, who were coming to Marblehead [Massachusetts] to teach kids how to do a professional audition,” Maribeth Dever said.
They signed him up. Maribeth Dever dropped her son off and returned five hours later to observe mock auditions. He sang “Alone in the Universe” from Seussical. At that point, Maribeth Dever realized what her family was getting into.
“All the other mothers around us are crying as he’s singing, and I’m going, ‘Oh no,’” Maribeth Dever said. 
Broadway Kids Auditions helped them find an agent, Take 3 Talent, in 2014, which lined up auditions in New York with all the Broadway productions looking for kids at that point — School of Rock, Matilda, Pippin, Finding Neverland, Disaster!.
“I had to stop hyperventilating, because now I have five children and we’re going to New York,” Maribeth Dever said.
Family sacrifices
If you live in New Hampshire, New York auditions are all-day affairs.
The morning of an audition, Maribeth and Ryan Dever leave Exeter at 5 a.m. and drive to Hartford, Connecticut, where they take a train to Grand Central Station. From there, they walk 20 minutes to the audition studio. After the audition, they turn around and do it in reverse. Maribeth Dever said she used to look at parents of celebrity children and question, what are they thinking? But now she understands.
“I thought, those poor kids are thrown into this so their parents can get some glory off of their fame. And I’m finding myself in this position with him,” Maribeth Dever said. “It’s not easy for us to do it. It’s not something we would ever imagine ourselves doing. … But Ryan charges his batteries when he goes down to the city. He’s kind of like a square peg in a round hole up here a lot of the time. So when we take him down, and he sees people who have the same passion … the other stuff doesn’t bother him anymore.”
Over the next 14 months, Ryan Dever had some near misses. For Disaster!, he was narrowly edged out by the son of a Backstreet Boy. The final callback for School of Rock involved singing to Andrew Lloyd Webber (also known for music in The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ SuperStar, Evita and Cats). After 18 auditions, he captured the role of Bruce Bogtrotter, the boy who steals Miss Trunchbull’s chocolate cake. 
“The part is like Beyonce on a desk — how could I say no?” Ryan Dever said.
His mom was less certain.
“I had gotten an email while we were on the train [on the way home]. They said they wanted to cast him in the tour. I was trying to decide if that was a step we were willing to take as a family,” Maribeth Dever said.
Seeing her son’s excitement, it was hard to take the opportunity away. So they made the leap, moving to New York for rehearsals in January 2016 and traveling with the rest of the Matilda cast, including 15 other kids, via bus and airplane, starting in Charlotte, North Carolina, and ending in Boston in June 2016. Rehearsals were 10 hours a day, six days a week. Sean Dever stayed home with the rest of the kids.
“I went from having a job, five kids, a dog, a husband, to living a whole year in a hotel with one child,” said Maribeth Dever, who started a blog, the Reluctant Stage Mom, inspired by her experience. “But this kid is so driven. … I never had to tell him to practice lines. I never had to tell him to practice his song. Those are the things that, if I ever felt like we had to push him, that would have been it.”
This is a common investment from parents, whether they hit Broadway as a kid or not. Socha said she and her mother lived in hotels the first month she performed in Spring Awakening before finding a one-bedroom 400-square-foot apartment three blocks from the theater. 
Before kids turn 18, it’s often the parents who are doing the driving, the scheduling, the scouting for opportunities and then accompanying kids to everything.
“Even with her voice lessons, I never left her alone. I would drive her to every lesson, sit there and wait,” Rhonda Burns said.
Learning show business
When you’re a professional artist, you’re an entrepreneur. You have to learn to sell yourself, network, negotiate and find jobs, because Broadway stints don’t last forever. Once a show ends — after a couple months or a couple years — it’s back to square one.
“In order to be successful as a performer in New York, there are so many aspects, and it’s not just about talent. Are you a good business person? That matters enormously. How good are you at networking, and how good are you with an interview at an agency?” said Joel Mercier, artistic director at the New Hampshire Theatre Factory. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from California, Wisconsin or New Hampshire. What matters is if you have those skills or qualities.”
Some of it is who you know, and making people remember your face. This is how Ryan Dever found voiceover work for an episode in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. At an audition for Disaster!, he made an impression on Seth Rudetsky. Not long after, Rudetsky had dinner with Tina Fey, who happened to be looking for a boy who could belt for the Netflix show.
“He’s been taught his job is to make an impression. To tell a story. It’s not about walking away with the role. It’s about making them want more,” Maribeth Dever said. “You have to go in there with the point of view that nothing’s wasted. Nothing’s lost. You’re making connections. You’re showing people what you can do. You’re getting your name out there, and the bonus is if you get a callback.”
And you need to stand out, said Martinez, and be able to take criticism. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.
“You need to prove or show someone something you do that is different, that nobody else does,” Martinez said. “Preparation, presentation, look, everything has to be done right. You never know what the people listening to you want. … Some of it’s based on talent. But most of it is, do you fit the criteria for the show?”
This “who you know” business can sometimes be disheartening for people who grew up in New Hampshire outside the business, but in Socha’s opinion, that’s the only drawback.
“I’m [auditioning] against famous people’s daughters all the time. I think their one advantage is they grow up knowing the business. They have this innate understanding of how it works because they’ve been around it,” Socha said. “But understanding the business doesn’t mean you’re better or worse at the art form.”
Keep trekking
For Ryan Dever, the differences between performing as John in Prescott Park’s Peter Pan and performing as Bruce in the Broadway tour of Matilda were the difficulty, the expectations and the bow (the latter was on a scooter). Other than that, it was just a performance, which he puts his all into no matter the show. 
For most performers interviewed, Broadway wasn’t the all-or-nothing goal; their effort was about making a career as an artist. To do what they love for work, no matter the job.
“Yes — of course — everyone would love to be on Broadway, but there’s so much out there in the professional industry. My goal is just always to be dancing and performing and making a living. ... And that’s what I’ve done,” Missy Clayton said. “Since the day I graduated from college, I’ve worked nonstop.” 

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