Formidable Females: Kaley Ann Voorhees

      As I waited outside Amy’s Bread on an overcast afternoon in midtown Manhattan, I couldn’t help but feel a dull sense of nervousness in my stomach. The last time I had spoken to Kaley Ann Voorhees in person was during the summer of 2011, most likely while applying copious amounts of glitter to her wig-framed face backstage at a local production of Into The Woods. Now, at age 20, Kaley is playing the role of Christine Daae two nights a week on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera, starring opposite of the legendary Norm Lewis.

       I’d read articles about Kaley’s overnight success written by local journalists from our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, lined with quotes from Broadway royalty—for example, producer Hal Prince, describing Kaley as “miraculous.” How was I about to interact with Broadway’s newest starlet? To put it simply: we weren’t just two somewhat awkward teens doing community theatre together anymore, and no glitter was about to be involved! However, upon her arrival, my nerves were washed away immediately by a friendly hug with Kaley. It suddenly felt as if it were just yesterday that I was giving her the standard Rapunzel makeover.

         “You HAVE to try one of their cupcakes,” she gushed excitedly. We both ordered a red velvet as she told me a story about wiping out in the middle of Phantom— we giggled at the image together, my own giddiness skyrocketing at the reality of this delightful person being the official Christine alternate in this lavish Broadway production.

After catching up for about an hour, Miss Voorhees and I finally settled down for this official interview. All cheesiness aside, the conversation that took place was nothing short of an inspiring adrenaline-rush-and-a half for any former theatre kid or Ohio-girl-with-a-dream. Kaley truly is an infectiously warm individual, and her story, particularly when rendered from her point of view, boasts an almost Disney-esque level of affirmation that dreams really can come true.

Hannah Leach: Where are you from?

Kaley Ann Voorhees: I am from Aurora, Ohio! A little rural area. I have a little sister named Carolyn, she’s a senior in high school, and my mom and dad— my dad’s a chemical engineer, along with pretty much the rest of my family, and my mom raised us, she’s a stay-at-home-mom. I did a lot of community theater and high school theater, I’ve been singing a really long time! We moved to Aurora when I was five, so that’s where I’ve spent my entire life. Had the same group of friends that I’ve had since, like, seventh grade…just hangin’ out in Aurora! Very stationary, very…stereotypical. I went to Aurora High School, just a public school, was very involved in the drama department there, and choir and all that, of course.

Kayley Ann Voorhess in her new home! (Photo: Hannah Leach)

HL: When did you first start singing?

KAV: Day one! [Laughing] I don’t really know when it happened! I was always raised very closely with music, so we were always listening to stuff in the car. And it was always very encouraged to sing— it was a very vocal environment! My family is very loud. So singing was not weird. Like, beltin’ it out in the car was not uncommon, or in the shower, or whatever.

I’ve told this story before, but my family took this trip to Disney when I was six, and we went to see The Little Mermaid, and it was the tenth anniversary, so Jodi Benson was playing The Little Mermaid— I obviously didn’t know how cool that was at the time— so my parents turned to me after the show and said, “Oh, Kaley, is this something that you would wanna do? Isn’t this fun?” And I was like, YEAH. And since then…that was it! It was never even an option to do anything else!

HL: Before this summer, you were enrolled at Point Park University as a Musical Theatre major—what was that experience like?

KAV: I love…everything about college. I love it all. I mean, I was never a super big partier. I swear, I have the soul of a forty-year-old, like, I’m already ready to get a couple cats and just be done. I went to parties and stuff, but I wasn’t huge in the social aspect of college, but it’s the training that I got [at Point Park] that was incredibly helpful. And even if you did what I did, which was to go, and apply and go a couple of years and then leave and come back, because I definitely plan to go back, it’s just that every class for me was incredible informative. Especially from someone who wasn’t raised by people in musical theatre, like, my parents don’t really sing or anything, so there were a lot of things that I didn’t know until teachers or students told me.

So, I mean, college auditions were probably the most stressful time of my life, but they were also some of the most helpful. I mean, I didn’t know how to format a resumé, I googled it! I didn’t know what type of songs I should be singing, I had never taken an acting class before college. My freshman year of college was my first acting class. So it’s stuff like that that with without those two years, even if I didn’t finish, without those classes I would…I would be terrible…So one thing I think college definitely prepared me for was the initial audition [for Phantom] and keeping everything professional and confident, and once [I was] in the actual process, being able to take direction and run with it, is something I think classes really helped me with!

HL: So it’s practically legend at this point, but how exactly did all of this happen?

KAV: It happened extremely fast and it feels like it never happened at all. I mean, it sounds really weird but…I got called in, and I went down to the audition and auditioned once a week until they ended up offering me the part. But another thing is that I had never been to New York on a not-school trip until my audition. And so…there’s something about New York that is so inspiring!? And I’m not one that’s really for that, where I see a monument and I’m like, “Oh god, it’s so inspiring!”, you know what I mean?!

I’m not one of those people who needs a new inspirational quote for their wall, so inspired!, but there’s something about standing in Times Square by yourself. You planned the trip, you came down here, you were in charge of it, you have an opportunity to do something. And there’s something about standing in Times Square and watching people walk by that I found very very inspiring. The whole thing was just so surreal. It was very…dream-like.

Kaley & Hal Prince (Casual, right?)

After that first round when I came down and saw Times Square, we were walking to my audition and I said to my dad, “You know what, no matters what happens in this audition, this was awesome. Like, this was so good! To just do this, and be here.” I was ready to go home. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Best case scenario, I get to callbacks, it doesn’t work out, I have grown from this. But…luckily, it did work out! But it’s true, [an experience like that] truly shapes you as a person.

HL: When did it truly hit you that all this Phantom stuff was really about to happen?

KAV: It didn’t hit me for a long time. Because it’s hard to imagine your life so completely different than it is, so me going in Ohio, I was like…this jump is almost incomprehensible. I think one of the first waves that it really hit me was when the car was packed with all my stuff and I was about to leave Ohio. We were about to pull out of the driveway and I was like…woaaaah. My stuff is in the car and we’re NOT going to school, you know? I cancelled my classes with Point Park, and I talked to them, and my mom’s asking me what else I need, telling me to say goodbye to the dog, you know? College stuff, I’d done it before, but all of the sudden it was all…it was different.

When it hit me that I was going to be doing this, like, onstage and everything was probably in my put-in, which was on a Friday, and I opened Monday. And so, the put-in is in costume and everything is there, and it’s all coming together, and the whole cast was there and I was meeting everyone for the first time and I was like…oh my gosh. I went home that day and I…this was real! I had no idea.

Kaley & Sierra Boggess, one of the most beloved Christines in Phantom history

This doesn’t really count as an oh-my-gosh-it-hit-me thing, but I have never felt so…content?…as when I’m on that stage. And that feels weird, because you’d think that me having no prior experience, I would be very nervous and slightly uncomfortable…and I mean, it’s amazing, but you’d have so much adrenaline that you’re tweaking out a little bit… but once you step out and you can feel the stage lights on you and everyone is so devoted and into it and you can feel everyone’s energy…there’s something about everyone’s energy onstage that is just so dedicated that it’s like pure joy. You’re so comfortable and it’s like…untouched happiness. I have such joy and standing on that stage! And it has nothing to do with the spotlight or being the center of attention, just being there with everyone—

HL: Because it really is such a team thing!

KAV: Oh, very much! VERY much. And the crew, and everything…I have such faith in them. Everything just falls into place.

HL: What’s been the most challenging aspect of this huge, miraculous opportunity?

KAV: The biggest challenge for me is living up to expectations. A lot of people are so excited for me, and my story really is very unconventional in a lot of ways, and I just want to do everyone proud. And I want to do the directors proud, and I want to do the cast proud, and my family, you know what I mean? I’m working towards it. It’s a process, it never really stops, which I know, but I really want to do the best that I possibly can for the people that I care about! And I care about anyone who is following this, or who has sent my messages, or sent me fan mail! It’s one of those things where…again, quote, but the only thing to fear is fear itself. The biggest obstacle I have is me.

HL: How have you been adjusting to this huge change on a day-to-day basis?

KAV: It’s the first time I’ve ever lived alone in my life… It’s very hard for me, living alone, to be motivated to do things! [Laughing] Because I know that I can go home and do nothing! But I’ve finally settled down into the routine of things that I’m excited to go out and take classes. I’m ready. I need something to do. I’m starting to go a little stir-crazy.

Socially, I’ve gotten really lucky because the cast is phenomenal. And the crew is phenomenal….Everyone involved is SO nice and I know that if I ever got into a situation where I didn’t know what to do, or I needed someone to go with me somewhere, I could text pretty much anyone and they’d be there for me and that’s amazing.

Then again, I don’t really have any family in the city and again most of my friends are still in college, so I don’t really have a ton of people in and around the city who have the same schedule as I do, and can do things when I can do things, or any of that. So it was very much a culture shock, so I spent a lot of time just hangin’ out places! Just by myself! Which isn’t bad it gave me a lot of time to think about things.

A lot of the people in the cast are in different points in their lives [than I am]. Many of the cast members, you know, are married and have kids and have pets, don’t live in Manhattan…so they’re not looking to go to ComicCon with me! Or go out clubbing! I can’t even go out and grab drinks with them, because I’m twenty. So it’s not like it’s even, “let’s go grab a drink afterwards!”, I can’t do that! But overall, I’ve had a very good experience.

HL: What’s your favorite part of the show to perform?

KAV: I…LOVE doing “Final Lair.” I LOVE it. Like, this is gonna sound terrible, but for me it’s hard concealing my joy in “Final Lair”! I mean, my pure and undiluted joy! Because…it is just such a cleansing experience. I’ve heard it described as a therapy session. The show itself is a therapy session, and “Final Lair”…it is just….you’re there with the Phantom and you’re there with Raoul and everyone is EMOTING. They are GIVING IT. And you can just feel it, and the energy is so intense!…I think I like it so much because it’s the second time Christine really sticks up for herself, you know? She says no, you can’t do this to me. It’s not out of anger, but out of just…sticking up for herself! And I love that. She finally decides. It’s more of a release, more than anything, and I love it. “Final Lair”, any day.

Kaley onstage in Phantom.*

And a very very close second for pretty much the same reason is “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” because it’s the first time, and she doesn’t go all the way with it, because she obviously gets reeled back in when the Phantom starts talking to her again, but the end of “Wishing” she decides, no. I think those are probably my two favorite parts to perform because she is less confused or searching and more grounded and I love that.

HL: Christine is a super, almost archetypal character, especially considering how big the show is and how long it’s been running. Has it been hard for you to find a way to connect to the character, or at first was it intimidating to be playing a character that’s so sought after and iconic?

KAV: Again, I’ve been a fan for a very long time, but it’s a little bit daunting, it’s very intimidating, but luckily the director, Seth…he is amazing. We got together that first day and we just talked. We talked about her and her life and he told me to go home and make a story for her and talk about her life and develop her for myself! There are obviously certain things and context clues, some things that she just is, but each Christine and each interpretation of her is different! And so it’s a little daunting at first but once I came up with a story for her and I developed her more in my mind, honestly, I love her.

You know how people in the Hunger Games are like, “Team Katniss!” or like “Team Peeta!”, and people ask me, “so are you Team Raoul or Team Phantom?” And I tell them I’m completely Team Christine, because I think she’s the best. It’s easy for people to judge her, again, the show’s been around so long that everyone has opinions about her, but I really— again, I can’t say I really identify with her, because I’ve never been in her situation— let’s hope not, let’s hope no one ever has to be in her situation!— but her as a character, fundamentally, I can identify with and I really like her.

If you could name one specifically, what has been the best part of this experience thus far?

KAV: Opening night was probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. And it’s not even because of specific moments! Opening night is a complete mush, it’s a big blur, but it’s a crazy elated happy blur…My family was there, and the cast was there, and the director was there, and Norm [Lewis]…When the curtain closed, THAT was amazing. Taking bows, that first time? It’s really, honestly, it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. I stand by, top three best days of my life. Probably number one

I remember the curtain closed and then I turned to Norm and gave him a hug and the whole cast was so supportive and everyone was clapping after the stage closed and then Norm stepped aside and Andrew Lloyd Webber was walking towards me and then he gave me a hug…I will never be able to repay everyone for what they have given me. I mean, throughout this whole experience, but I will never be able to give them what they have given me. It’s incredible.

HL: What advice do you give to those who are aspiring to do what you’ve done?

I try to give the best advice that I can, and something that I like to say is that even if you go and you do something that seems pointless, it is never pointless, because it shapes you as a person…Every experience helps you in the long run. So even if I went to [my Phantom audition] and they told me “this is NOT for you, leave”…it would’ve made me better for it. So advice that I give to people is just…go. Just go. Even if something seems pointless, or you don’t want to, or you think it’s stupid. Just go and do it.

 

HL: As of now, what are your plans for the future?

KAV: I’d love to stay with Phantom as long as they want me! Of course, I’m interested in doing and looking into other stuff and different projects, but I’m just so in love with Phantom…it’s very much a family feel? It has a family feel to it, so it all depends!

It’s one of those things where growing up, the plan was always Broadway. And then once you get there, what do you do next? This was honestly everything I’ve ever wanted. So once that happens, what do you do? …It’s like in Wicked: ”because happy is what happens…!” And this role…!? It doesn’t get any more iconic!

So now that I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted as a kid, here’s the difficult part: now I have to come up with a new goal. I need to come up with a new dream. To quote Tangled! Now I need a new dream…When Rapunzel sees the lights and she’s wondering, “What if it’s not…what if it doesn’t live up to everything I’ve imagined?” But Phantom did! It lived up to everything! I’m still trying to figure it out, but as long as they want me around, I’m happy to stay. But we’ll see what happens, you never know!

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You can catch Kaley Ann Voorhees playing Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre on Monday nights and Thursday matinees as she fills her alternate position.

All photos were used with permission from the Kaley Ann Voorhees official Facebook page unless otherwise stated. 

Is there a lovely lady in your life here at NYU or in NYC that’s doing something remarkable the world should hear about? PLEASE let us know! Email Hannah Leach at [email protected] and tip her off.