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Lifestyle

October 16, 2011

A ‘sweet’ gig

Cullman’s Morgan Smith starring in Neil Simon classic

CULLMAN — From “Backwards In High Heels” to “Freckleface Strawberry” and now as Charity Hope Valentine in Neil Simon’s “Sweet Charity,” Cullman’s own Morgan Smith has wowed audiences from here to New York and on to Maine with her acting, dancing and singing prowess. She was cast as “Jane” in the play, and understudied the lead character, a young Julianne Moore in a play based on Moore’s autobiography, directed by Buddy Crutchfield. Smith played the lead in over 25 performances.

As part of the original cast of the play, Smith enjoyed a one-year run as the young Julianne Moore. The play’s score is now available on I-tunes, and the play itself was received by critics and the public very well. It garnered loads of accolades and was a lot of fun, according to Smith. The show, cast, and creative team received nominations from The Outer Critics Circle Awards, The Lucille Lortel Awards, and The Obie Awards. Morgan, along with her eight cast mates, received the first annual TINA Award for Best Musical Ensemble.

Performing professionally at the age of 14, Smith did stints in various productions with Summerfest Musical Theatre, Red Mountain Theatre Co. and the Birmingham Children’s Theatre, as well as the Alabama Symphony and several productions with The Alabama Ballet.

Smith, a 2002 graduate of Cullman High School, left Alabama to catch her rising star two years ago. Since then she has been fortunate enough to be cast in several television and film projects, Off-Broadway and other acclaimed regional theatre productions and numerous concerts and benefits with some of Broadway’s most famous names.

Smith’s ability to be comfortable doing Shakespearean plays as well as comedy has led to dozens of roles. “It’s been fantastic,” she said, bubbling over with enthusiasm. “Of course you know it’s going to be hard going into it, but now that I’m in Actors’ Equity (an actor’s union) the audition process is a little different.”

“Although, you learn to take rejection as a part of life,” the young actress explained. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of being a couple of inches too tall or too short.”

She admits to still getting a little bit nervous when she goes for an audition, “But it’s a ‘good’ kind of nervous, sort of anxious, and it keeps me on my toes,” she laughed.

 Her parents have been to NYC several times over the course of Freckleface Strawberry’s run, but when Smith got the chance to work in the Red Mountain production, she jumped at it. “For one thing, I hadn’t been home in over a year,” she said. “And it gave me a chance to see friends and family that I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

Red Mountain Productions contacted Smith about doing the part in the Neil Simon play after seeing her on Good Morning, America. She appeared on the nationwide telecast with the rest of the Freckleface Strawberry cast performing and donating to the NYC coat drive.

 The part she portrays in Sweet Charity is challenging. “It’s a heavy story for a musical,” she said. “It has a lot of quick humor which isn’t always easy, and of course, there is a lot of singing and dancing.” Smith’s numbers include such familiar songs as “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “Big Spender,” and “I’m a Brass Band.” It’s ironic that several of her real life friends were in the audience on opening night, and others plan to see her before the play closes.

 “My character is a victim of circumstance,” she drew out the plot. “The play is set in the late ‘60s in NYC, and even though she has the worst luck with her relationships, she never loses hope. Charity is a girl who is optimistic to a fault — always finding a silver lining even in the bleakest of situations. At the end of the day she perseveres through everything. It’s an inspiring play.”

Sweet Charity received four stars from the Birmingham press. There were crowds there for the opening performances, “Even though we were competing against college football,” she quipped. “I had forgotten how much Alabama loves its football.”

She received vocal training from Judy Blazer in NYC, as well as from Mildred Allen of the Metropolitan Opera, and Dr. David Smith (BSC). She studied ballet under Dame Sonja Arova, Pamela Merkel, and Edith Monroe of the Alabama Ballet.

Morgan has proven that she is an incredibly versatile actor, and the fact that she also sings and dances makes her what is known in the theatre as a “triple threat”.  With a knack for comedy, depth of character, and a bright, charismatic personality, she is certain to leave her mark on Broadway and later on, maybe Hollywood.

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