Broadway Star Helps Kids Nurture Dreams

Source: Times Herald-Record
Date: 2006 November 11
By: Dianna Cahn

They sat deep in the recesses of Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater Wednesday night, high above the reach-out-and-touch-the-stage experience.

Yet they sat on the edge of their seats. And when Link Larkin, the play’s young heartthrob, sang his first solo, the students from Middletown High School were electric.

Girls giggled and clapped their hands to their cheeks; smiles tugged at the lips of boys — not because they were star-struck, though some were, but because the star was one of them.

Aaron Tveit is four months into his Broadway debut in the hit musical Hairspray. Five years ago, Tveit, now 23, was a student at Middletown High School. He took choral director Gregory Bennett’s classes. And he starred in every spring musical during the four years he was in school.

“He sat in the same chair as me,” said Jordan Taylor, 18. “It goes to show you, if you have the motivation, what you can do.”

Tveit hasn’t forgotten his roots. He’s come back to MHS on many occasions — as a college student, and then, as a star in the national tour of Hairspray.

When Tveit came to the high school Monday to talk about pursuing the dream, this time he could tell them his has come true. That hit home for Bennett’s students, who went to see Tveit on Broadway two days later.

“Just knowing that someone from MHS actually made it out there,” said Melanie Funicello, 16, a fan. “The fact that he sat in the same chorus room as we do, the fact that he had Bennett.”

“It makes everyone work that much harder to get where we want,” added Holly Babbin, 17.

It wasn’t always clear-cut. Tveit played soccer in high school and was torn between pursuing the theater or business. It was Bennett who saw what Tveit was meant to do.

“There were times when we butted heads,” Bennett said. “It’s just that I saw what I saw in him and he got a little distracted with sports. Three quarters of the way through his senior year, I had to sit down and tell him this is a pivotal time. It was emotional. I know I had a hand in sweeping him in that direction.”

At the front of the bus Wednesday, Katie Hopper, 23, who was Aaron’s leading lady throughout high school, knew she’d made the right career choice. Hopper is a music teacher in Pine Bush.

“I love the theater. But it’s not something I personally feel I need to do,” she said. “I mean, you’re not gonna have actors unless you have teachers.”

That choice resonated with Bennett’s students. Latye Anderson, 17, wants to be a chef, but was reconsidering theater after seeing Tveit on Broadway.

Alan Chorm, 17, is so intent on becoming an actor that he drives to acting classes in New York City every Saturday. Seeing Tveit on Broadway just made him want it more. He stood outside the stage door, got Tveit’s autograph, and grew more determined.

“Mr. Bennett said if you are unsure, maybe you should think about doing something else. Because there’s no point if you are not going to give it all you got,” he said. “Now that I’ve seen Aaron, it makes me want to work even harder. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

“[The theater] is really exciting,” said Alexis Brooker, 17. “The lights, the music, everything is going at the same time,” she said, clapping with delight.

Up and down the rows of the bus, on the late ride home, students who could sing, dance and act thought about Tveit’s performance — and the fact that they, too, could make it one day.