NORWICH – Norwich native and well-known local performer Kaitlyn Jackson has landed a role in the Broadway musical “Anastasia,” with shows coming to Syracuse, Elmira, and Binghamton this month.
“This opportunity is truly a blessing,” said Kaitlyn. “I am able to travel the country with a beautiful show and perform for thousands of people every night. The tour is the Broadway show on wheels; we worked with the Broadway creative team to set the show and are able to bring that caliber of performance to people across the country and Canada.”
Anastasia is on a national tour with the first nearby performance beginning Tuesday, January 17 to 21 at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse, then at the Clemens Center in Elmira January 25 and 26. The show will also perform January 30 and 31 at the Forum Theatre in Binghamton.
“I love how theatre is able to transport both actor and audience and allow them to share in experiences that aren't their own. I feel like every show can be a lesson in empathy and a uniting experience for so many people,”said Kaitlyn. “Personally, I love that I'm able to become someone else, live in an entirely different life, and tell important stories through another's eyes.”
Kaitlyn has dedicated her life to music and theater and has been a well-known local performer for many years, along with her father John. She drew national attention as a teen in 2014 when she became a finalist on American Idol.
“I think Anastasia is my biggest accomplishment career-wise. It's on a national scale in the entertainment industry and it feels like the first really big step in pursuing my career in the arts professionally, as an adult,” explained Kaitlyn.
“When I was on American Idol at 15 years old, that was a really exciting experience and definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I didn't fully understand what was happening and how it could have impacted my career on a large scale level, because I was only 15 and at the time my focus was still on finishing high school and where I was going to go to college.
“I hold that adventure in my heart as part of my adolescent music experience and I used it to explore who I was as an artist and as a person, but this next chapter with Anastasia definitely feels like my 'American Idol' opportunity of my adult life,” said Kaitlyn.
The Broadway performance of Anastasia is inspired by the beloved film. Kaitlyn plays the Queen Tsarina Alexandra.
It “transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love, and family,” is how the show describes itself at anastasiathemusical.com. “Anastasia is the spectacular new musical about discovering who you are and defining who you’re meant to be.”
She was very grateful for her family, the community, and supporters when talking about her experiences. She said the pandemic had greatly impacted opportunities in the theater industry and that she, like many others, are now trying to to get their careers back on track.
Kaitlyn recently graduated from Ithaca in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, a hard time for a theater performer's career to begin.
“Life is too short not to love what you do. It will come with its challenges and you'll question if you're doing the right thing,” said Kaitlyn “The biggest piece of advice I would offer any young person is do what you love. Whether it's theatre, physics, or jewelry making, follow your passion.”
“My dad has always encouraged me to pursue my love for music. For my first singing competition when I was 5, we sang Elvis' 'Teddy Bear' together,” she said. The family sang small gigs together including karaoke.
“When I started a full band he always sang backup for me. He even taught himself guitar so he could accompany me for acoustic sets that didn't need the full band. The constant support I've gotten from him and the rest of my family has been so essential in me continuing to pursue the arts,” she said.
Kaitlyn also recalled her experience from Norwich High School, “The 'Most Marvelous Miss Mary Mayo' - now Mary Williams - gave me my foundation of music literacy skills which definitely prepared me to learn and polish music going into college,” said Kaitlyn. “My experiences in the NHS musicals also prepared me for the work I would do in college, and now professionally, and most importantly solidified my love for theatre and my decision to do it as my career.”
She applied for the recent broadway role after a friend saw an audition posted on a website called Actors Access. She almost hesitated due to personal injuries.
“I was still recovering from my most recent knee surgery so I wasn't really looking for auditions that actively yet, but since he thought of me for it I decided I would submit and I'm so glad I did,” said Kaitlyn.
After reviewing her submitted video audition Kaitlyn was invited for an in-person audition in New York City. After attending that audition it would take about three long weeks before an email from a production manager appeared: "Welcome to Anastasia!"
Kaitlyn sobbed with joy, her dream had come true. However, she received the email just two days before reporting to the College Light Opera Company, so she had to learn all of the material while on contract for the performing group.
“It was a very busy couple weeks but we made it happen and I was memorized on all my music and lines by the time I joined the tour. I learned all of the blocking and dance for my role in Anastasia. I play the Tsarina and I am in the ensemble – in less than two days I was ready to go on,” she said.
She also had to learn the role Countess Lily, as an understudy.
“It has definitely been a journey from NHS to Anastasia,” said Kaitlyn.
“The college audition process for musical theatre is grueling and extremely competitive. Some schools get thousands of applicants and accept four women into their programs. My senior year was very stressful; I auditioned for 14 theatre programs and two non-theatre options for schools."
“My time at Ithaca was filled with challenges and growth, lots of self-doubt and encouragement from my family and peers, and overwhelming fulfillment when I exceeded my own expectations for myself."
“My three knee surgeries have brought their own set of mental games, but I keep doing my physical therapy exercises and trying to stay optimistic. Coming out of my most recent surgery and getting thrown into this amazing job has been the greatest and most surprising joy.
“It makes all the perseverance and hard work feel so worth it. I feel so incredibly blessed to be where I am today and I'm hoping this is just the beginning,” said Kaitlyn.
After high school Kaitlyn attended Ithaca College and received a BFA in acting as well as a minor in Integrated Marketing Communications. She also focused on musical theater at school.
She decided to pursue musical theater over being a more independent singer or songwriter because, “The theatre industry gave me a little bit more structure and the pressure of having to basically create a career path for myself all from networking was a bit daunting,” she said.
“I love working closely with people, being vulnerable, and telling important stories and I wouldn't get those close, emotional experiences with others as often as a solo artist,” said Kaitlyn.
When asked what her future plans are, Kaitlyn responded, “I'm not exactly sure what's next. That's the bane and beauty of the entertainment industry, but I'm going to keep auditioning and see what opportunities present themselves.”
She added, “It really is one step at a time in this industry so we'll see. I'm excited for the journey.”