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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

SU Alumna Jennifer Wills Takes on Broadway

SALISBURY, MD---Ocean City, MD, native Jennifer Hope Wills has always loved theatre and performing. Now she’s having her chance to be seen as one of Disney’s most popular heroines of all time: Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.

Wills debuted in the Disney classic on Broadway in January as Veronique, the flirtatious broom. Then, as understudy, she performed the title role of Belle on March 21. Other opportunities to play the lead will follow.

Since graduating summa cum laude from Salisbury University with a B.A. in music, Wills has studied at one of the nation’s best schools of music, and has performed in many musicals not only on the East Coast, but around the country.

Her love for theatre was nurtured by family productions at the Parker Playhouse in Ocean City. “I think that theatre is very close to my heart and means so much to me since it was associated with the love and closeness of my family,” she said. More than entertaining summer audiences, however, she enjoyed adding life to a character which evoked emotional responses.

She followed her passion at SU, performing in Grapes of Wrath, West Side Story, and her all-time favorite, The Secret Garden. Wills said her time spent at SU was memorable. The support of faculty and students instilled the confidence necessary for her to flourish in theatre. “Jennifer is one of those rare gifts to a teacher,” said SU Director of Theatre Paul Pfeiffer. “She has an eager mind and exceptional talent all tempered with humility and respect for others one rarely finds.” At Indiana University, she continued to hone her skills in music, theatre and voice while focusing on opera. Wills graduated with honors with a Master of Music in vocal performance and pedagogy.

 “I loved opera and always shall,” she said. “But I realized my heart wasn’t in it. I followed my heart and returned to [theatre].” She pursued a short-lived teaching career after graduating from IU. In 2000 she moved to New York City and currently calls it home. She has since worked around the country. Among performances in Oklahoma, The Secret Garden, and Phantom of the Opera, Wills received rave reviews for her portrayal as Sandy in Grease at New Jersey’s famed Paper Mill Playhouse. “Jennifer Hope Wills is a charming gooey-eyed ingénue with a sweet voice and a winsome personality,” said Robert L. Daniels in Variety, the Bible of the entertainment world.

Becoming the understudy in Beauty was not her original intention. She was auditioning for the lead in another Broadway show, Wonderful Town, and lost the role to Jennifer Westfeldt from the television show Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. A month later, Wills received a call from her agent about understudying Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano as Belle. Ironically, the Wonderful Town audition had been with the same casting director as Beauty and the Beast’s. Wills was notified of receiving the Beauty role only a couple hours after auditioning for Disney.

 “You just never know when one thing will lead to another,” she said. “You always need to perform your best.” Wills is fortunate, only 2 percent of working actors ever have the chance to perform on Broadway. “It feels like a huge reward for all the years that have lead up to this moment, and I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “Home is where the heart is,” said the actress; quoting the song Home from Beauty. And her home is now the Broadway stage.

For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu.


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