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Bruins on Broadway


By Mary Daily, Illustrations by Brett Affrunti, Photos by Bleacher + Everard

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:30 AM

Touring Company

Watch Broadway Bruins in action in these clips:

Taylor Sternberg channels one of Jersey Boys' five Frankie Vallis.

Susan Egan shows her range with a demo reel that includes Drew Carey and NYPD Blue.

Heather Lindell embraces her inner crazy on Days of Our Lives.

John Rando dishes on directing Urinetown.

Kristen Hanggi performs in the Tony's highly charged salute to Rock of Ages.

The theater faculty is supportive even when the best opportunity may lie outside UCLA. As a student, Stuhlbarg, a native of Long Beach, learned from a classmate about a drama program at the Juilliard School in New York. He decided to audition and asked McLain to critique the performance he planned to do.

After McLain watched, he said, "If that's what you're going to do, you might as well not go. That will never get you in." The professor coached the student, and he did indeed leave UCLA for Juilliard.

"UCLA was amazing," remembers the star of 2009's A Serious Man, who has been cast in an upcoming Martin Scorsese film. "The people there were excited for me, but I would never have been ready for Juilliard without UCLA. I got to do everything I wanted."

In 1999, Stuhlbarg appeared on Broadway in Cabaret with another actor who attended UCLA, Susan Egan. From Seal Beach, Egan chose UCLA at the urging of a Bruin one year older. At 16, in a children's theater production of Babes in Arms in Los Angeles, a cast member who was a UCLA freshman at the time told her about the theater program. His name was Jack Black.

Now a five-time Broadway veteran, Egan got a chance in the middle of her junior year to audition with director Gene Saks for a national tour of Bye Bye Birdie. She won the part and faced a hard choice: Should she accept it and leave UCLA?

Gardner said yes. "I told her to drop out; the opportunity was too good." Indeed, her next gig was as Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, and another top-tier theater career was launched.


Bruin Michael Stuhlbarg currently plays crime boss Arnold Rothstein in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

Once she got to Broadway, Egan called on every skill she had learned at UCLA — including prop-building. When the stagehands spotted her using a drill in her dressing room, they marveled, "Belle's got power tools!"

Scribes are part of the Bruin playbill as well. Prolific playwright Sheila Callaghan M.F.A. '97 learned to trust her voice at UCLA. "That's so important in what I do now," says the graduate. "Otherwise, you listen to everyone else and end up with a Frankenscript." She realized she could synthesize others' critiques without compromising her vision. "UCLA showed me how to get a thick skin."

Currently on the writing team for Showtime's United States of Tara, Callaghan also is scripting the movie version of I Dream of Jeannie. But her edgy, mind-bending original plays are produced around the country. "I like to open up issues and not supply answers," says the New York native. "I want the audience to feel the ground shift under them." According to the Los Angeles Times, "Callaghan has a keen sense of language as an act of aggression."

Tony Award-winning director (for Urinetown in 2002) John Rando M.F.A. '88 says that UCLA convinced him of his potential. "It was a place to bring together all my energy, talent and wherewithal to create the skill set I needed and get serious about my work. UCLA gave me the belief that I could make a difference. It's where I learned to love what I do." He already had a bachelor's degree in German when he came to UCLA and told McLain: "I think I have a need to direct plays."

Directors depend heavily on stage managers to execute their artistic vision and ensure the consistent safety and excellence of a show day-to-day. Meg Friedman '06 thrives in that role. A three-time veteran of Broadway, she loves "being in the hot seat all the time," solving problems that can arise at any time — an actor gets sick or injured and an understudy has to be summoned, or a prop breaks mid-scene and can't be quickly replaced. Any or all of this while keeping her eye on how the director envisions the show.

Growing up in the Silicon Valley, Friedman started attending children's theater productions when she was only 3. Before long, she was acting. At 11, she started building sets and hanging lights. When another child, her friend, was suddenly killed, she added his stage management responsibilities to what she was already doing. Pretty soon, she was hooked.


After her fair share of waitressing and soap opera stints, Heather Lindell '04 performs alongside Kelsey Grammer in La Cage aux Folles and says she feels more alive onstage than anywhere else.

Her UCLA experience taught her that a theater career is not about "staying put or getting comfortable," she says, speaking from eastern Connecticut, where she is working on the world premiere of a musical version of James and the Giant Peach. She also learned in Westwood the necessity of reaching out for opportunities, not limiting herself to student productions, but also seeking out theater gigs in local Los Angeles venues.

And she gained the realization that pre-production on any new show always means starting from scratch, regardless of your previous experience. "You always have to figure out everything all over again," she says.

Not every Bruin working in theater is a theater graduate, however. John O'Dea '89, an economics major, is director of finance at the famed La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, Calif., which has sent some very successful shows to Broadway. O'Dea previously was part of the entertainment practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles. He loves the mission of the playhouse, where he says the people behind the curtain are just as passionate about their work as those onstage.

"I'm so proud of what we do," says the CPA, "and of our ongoing relationship with our patrons and donors. I must be the biggest non-marketing person promoting plays." He gets together regularly with other Bruins for theater nights or trips to Broadway to see shows.