North Central grad returns to sing at her alma mater
Wheaton native Lucia Spina has made a name for herself in New York City as a Broadway performer who has appeared in shows such as "Kinky Boots" and "Les Miserables" and as a celebrated cabaret singer.
A 1997 graduate of North Central College with a major in theater and a minor in music, she's returning to her alma mater to perform a cabaret show at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, in the Madden Theatre in the Fine Arts Center, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.
If you goWhat: Broadway performer and Wheaton native Lucia Spina in a cabaret show
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22
Where: North Central College's Madden Theatre in the Fine Arts Center, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville
Tickets: $30 and $35
Info: (630) 637-7469 or northcentralcollege.edu/tickets
Tickets are $35 and $30 and available at (630) 637-7469 or northcentralcollege.edu/tickets.
In an email interview, Spina, who now lives in New York City, recently chatted with the Daily Herald about her career, the people who influenced and supported her, and the excitement of living in the city that never sleeps.
Q. Is this the kind of career you dreamed of growing up?
A. I would say I have a career as an actress who does a bunch of cabaret on the side.
Growing up in Wheaton, I was active in sports, especially volleyball. I quit the game after my senior season at Benet Academy and performed in a couple of shows there.
The summer after graduation, I landed the role of Rizzo in "Grease" at the Wheaton Park District. As the saying goes, I got "bit" by the theater bug.
Q. When and why did you decide to make music your career?
A. Music has always been a big part of my life. I've always sung, although I didn't study it until after high school, and it's always brought me great joy.
Then I discovered acting and, long story short, my acting professor Brian Lynch (at North Central) told me, "Lucia, someone has to be an actress. Why shouldn't it be you?"
As a curvy character actress, I wasn't sure of my ability to actually make what I enjoyed doing a career. Brian assured me it took all shapes, sizes, types, energies and abilities, and since he spoke from his vast successes as an actor and took such sincere interest in my talents, I believed him. Thank goodness he was right!
Q. You have been in a number of Broadway shows, including "Kinky Boots" and "Les Misérables." Do you have a favorite?
A. I have been in five Broadway shows, most recently as an original cast member of "Kinky Boots." I made my debut with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," and that will always be one of my most special Broadway memories.
As far as my favorite goes, I think it would be "Legally Blonde." Before I even auditioned, my goddaughter and I went to see it, and from the second the lights went down and the drums kicked in to the first notes of the opening number, I was hooked. The score is one of my all-time favorites. I just loved every second of performing that show.
Q. You perform songs of Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Barbra Streisand. Do you have a favorite?
A. It's no secret my love for Stephen Sondheim knows no bounds. I feel like there's a Sondheim song for every moment of your life. That's the most musical theater nerdy thing to say, but I've said it, now it's out there, and I can't take it back. His material requires you to not only be a facile vocalist, but a diligent musician and a deft actor.
What I appreciate about Barbra Streisand is that no genre or style limits her. She sings whatever she likes, however she likes, and she does it very, very well.
Q. You have won a number of awards. Has any one of them been particularly meaningful to you?
A. Awards are lovely acknowledgments of how your work has been viewed, but at the end of the day they don't comfort you much. The greater joy is to know you can go to bed each night knowing you've been impeccable in your pursuit of hard work, good work, new work, and that you've done your best not only as a professional but as a human.
Q. Among other things, you were the voice of Ore-Ida potatoes. Where else have people heard your voice without knowing it?
A. You can hear me on the cast recording of "Silence! The Musical," which began its commercial run in the summer of 2011. It's a really hilarious piece that parodies the movie "Silence of the Lambs" in ridiculous ways. I played Catherine Martin (the girl in the well) and her mother, Senator Martin. I sang and belted ridiculously high notes on my hands and knees in bare feet and ate Twinkies. I can't think of anything else to top that!
Q. Have you performed at North Central before as a professional? What should people expect in your concert?
A. I returned to North Central in the fall of 2011 for the college's sesquicentennial.
For my concert, people will be treated to an evening of Sondheim and Streisand tunes. I am passionate about both artists, so I am eager to share it with friends, family, alumni and some people I may not even know.
Q. Did you have someone special who really mentored and encouraged you in your choice of career?
A. Before I made my way to North Central College, I met a wonderful woman named Elizabeth Murphy, who was my first voice teacher and who I would call my mentor. I always hear her voice in the back of my head when I am making creative decisions, when I am learning new music, when I am finding joy in teaching others.
Beth not only taught me how to sing, she taught me how to be an artist and how to make choices that would not only pay the bills, but soothe my soul. She taught me how to be a graceful, kooky, generous, curious, hardworking and compassionate human.
I had several professors at North Central who took great interest in crafting and supporting my talents. As I mentioned before, Brian Lynch really set me out on the path of making theater my career. He was the one who suggested I go into voice-overs, something I had never heard of before.
Jeordano "Pete" Martinez (music professor emeritus) is quite possibly one of the most effusive, animated, fun and generous teachers I've ever had. He has such affection for choral music and musical theater and opera, not to mention a nurturing affection for his students.
He took me to my first opera, "The Barber of Seville,' and that was mind-blowing. He saw things in me I never would have thought of, let alone thought of as possible.
Larry Van Oyen (director of bands and chairman of music) directed the Jazz Band and cast me as its vocalist. It lit a fire in my musical interests, and to this day jazz is one of my favorite genres. Larry's enthusiasm was infectious.
Ramona Wis (professor of fine arts and music) conducted the Women's Chorale, and I believe I was one of the first members of that choir. Coming from mainly musical theater and pop interests, I had never heard any sort of classical female choral singing, let alone performed it. It was a totally different and empowering experience.
Ramona saw something in me and was adamant about me pursing a career as a music educator. And while I didn't end up choosing that path, her belief in my skills were very important to me.
There are a couple of others at North Central who, while not professors in classes, provided great support and encouragement.
Former President Hal Wilde and his wife, Benna, were always big fans and would come to see me perform outside of school. Hal once called me "The Chanteuse of North Central College" and that has always made me smile.
And then there's vice president for institutional advancement, or as I like to call him "The Face of North Central College," Rick Spencer. Rick is a truly genuine, one-of-a-kind human, who not only supported and nurtured me at North Central, but has continued to do so since I graduated. Whenever he's in New York, he'll take me to dinner. He brought President Troy Hammond to see me perform in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway. He's just a nonstop train of goodness and it's been great to have him on my team.
Q. What do you look forward to in your career?
A. I look forward to aging, actually, and all that will bring for me within the industry. I certainly anticipate playing many roles I've not yet been able to play (Madam Rose in "Gypsy," Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd," Dinah in "Trouble in Tahiti," Margaret in "The Light in the Piazza"), but I am also excited about the new people I'm meeting and the collaborations we'll create. I also have very much enjoyed directing and producing and coaching over the past few years, and I am looking to find more ways to (build) on that in the future.
Q. What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to a career as a singer?
A. My advice to any performer -- be it singing, acting, dancing, anything -- is to educate yourself on your craft and to not focus so much on what you want to do and where you want to go, but to remember to look back to those who have gone before you.
Learn about your art form from the people who have allowed you to even think about doing what you're doing.
I'm a big fan of continued education. I think a college degree is a marvelous thing. Our bodies and souls do not always hold up to the demands of the performing industry, and there may come a time when you need to move on.
You can have a degree in biochemistry and still be a performer. The more you know about the world around you and how we all got here, the more interesting and well-rounded of a performer you'll be.
Also, you must learn where that line between the professional and the personal lies for you. Yes, we're all out there actively pursuing and creating "art." But art as a business is something else entirely and can beat people down. Often, rejection has nothing to do with you as a person or your abilities. There are a million other subjective factors that determine who gets a job and who doesn't.
Learn to not take things personally, amass a strong support system, and have other interests that fulfill you so you are able to put the professional away and be a person.