Before the overture started, the cast would come on stage and form a circle behind the curtain. In a symbol of unity, they shared a word for the day and then dispersed to their entrance spots. Just before the lights dimmed, Nikki Bohne’s voice, in the unmistakable character of Elle Woods, chimed through the theater.
“Hey guys, do you have a sec? So OK the show’s about to start and it would be totally helpful if you’d turn off all cell phones, iPhones, Blackberries … well you get it,” Bohne would say. “If I catch any of you texting, tweeting or putting this on YouTube I’m coming after you and I am so not kidding right now.”
Bohne is a BYU alum who’s living a success story many aspiring Broadway hopefuls only dream of. A graduate of BYU’s Music Dance Theatre program, Bohne went from BFA to leading lady in a few short weeks, landing the role of Elle Woods in the Broadway touring company production of “Legally Blonde.”
Bohne secured an agent during her senior showcase in New York City.
According to Tim Threlfall, chair of BYU’s Music Dance Theatre program, the showcase is in it’s 10th year and is conducted each year in New York and Los Angeles.
“It’s an extended audition for all of the students involved,” Threlfall said. “We invite industry professionals [including] producers, agents and casting directors.”
Often the reward from the exposure isn’t seen for months or even years down the road.
“Casting people keep really good notes,” Threlfall said.
Included in the program for the showcase is a list of BYU graduates currently working.
“The list typically includes between three and four students on Broadway and around 10 in touring companies,” Threlfall said. “Our kids are working.”
For Bohne, one of the first auditions her agent booked was for the lead role of Elle Woods.
“It was all very fast, but very exciting,” Bohne said. “It was one of those auditions where … everything clicked.”
Bohne left the audition satisfied she had given it her best. She was called back to audition four more times before getting the call from her agent she had the role.
“The show was amazing,” Bohne said.
Bohne said working with the creative team, the original costumes and learning the original choreography was exciting. After a grueling five-week rehearsal schedule, the show hit the road with numerous stops in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“Sometimes we’d be in a place for a week … other times we were bouncing around every day,” Bohne said.
Bohne said she was a member of Young Ambassadors while at BYU and credits her two years experience performing with them as great preparation for touring with the theater company.
Being in the show was strenuous work. Bohne said she was on stage for 95 percent of the show which required quick costume changes that were choreographed. She had a “star- dresser” who traveled with her to make sure she was changed and ready for her next entrance.
“Sometimes the off-stage excitement was more stressful than the on-stage happening,” Bohne said.
After 244 performances as Elle Woods, Bohne described closing night as one of the most rewarding of her life. That’s when all the hard work paid off. Her parents were in attendance. The audience was receptive and energetic, applauding from her initial entrance through the final curtain call. It was satisfying for Bohne, who said she felt she had given her all to the character, cast and audiences.
And now it starts all over again. Bohne is back in New York settling into a new apartment, taking classes and auditioning. There are several things in the works, but nothing to announce.
“It’s a really hard business,” said Natalie Hill, a former BYU student whose Broadway credits include a debut as Cha Cha in “Grease” as well as roles in “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Wonderland.”
Hill said she got her first taste of living in New York City when she attended NYU her senior year in high school. The next fall, which happened to be 2001, she returned to Provo for a semester at BYU.
“It was kind of inspired the way it happened,” Hill said. “I wouldn’t have been able to handle [9/11].”
Hill also attended Yale and graduated from NYU but her ties with BYU remain strong. Her vocal coach is BYU faculty and they conduct lessons via Skype.
“BYU vocal performance faculty is genius,” Hill said. “Their acting faculty is fantastic. The great news is [BYU] is being recognized more and more in New York and people are seeking out talent from BYU.”
For those looking to come to New York and and make their break, Hill has advice.
“Do not expect that your first six months out here you’ll book a great job and have a steady career,” Hill said.
Hill said once a show closes, the process starts over. It’s hard work and takes a long time.
Hill’s earliest memories are of performing, her first solo was at age 2.
“There was never a time in my life when I thought I could do anything else,” Hill said.
To prepare for the prospect of success, Hill suggests taking advantage of everything offered at BYU and the surrounding community and especially strengthening dance skills.
“Be as well rounded an artist as you can be,” Hill said.
In a self-described “Elle Woods-esqe” manner, Bohne offered words of advice for aspiring BYU students who have dreams of living in New York and performing on Broadway.
“Go for it 100 percent and never look back,” Bohne said. “You can’t have any doubts and you have to believe in yourself.”
Bohne encourages students not to fear having to compromise LDS standards for a career in theater.
“It’s definitely possible to go out into the performing world and maintain your standards,” Bohne said, adding that her morals, religion and testimony were not only maintained but strengthened through her touring experience.
“My cast never pushed me to do anything I was uncomfortable with,” Bohne said. “More than anything it was an opportunity to share who I [am], my background and where I came from.”
Bohne expressed her hope that BYU students have faith in themselves and their ability to share the gospel through their talents.
“Go out into the world and do good,” Bohne said.