When you’re little, the world feels like your oyster. You have permission to think big, dream bigger and believe that anything is possible. Some people want to be doctors, lawyers, or astronauts, and some want to be singers. But wanting to be a singer comes with a unique set of challenges not faced by people who aspire to careers in more ‘traditional’ sectors, not the least of which is the fact that you have to have a certain amount of God given natural ability. A lucky few get to pursue that dream, but many end up putting it aside in pursuit of more reasonable and safe goals.
When LeeAnne Rorabeck was growing up she dreamed of playing the role of Fantine in Les Miserables. She excitedly recalls waiting outside to buy twenty dollar tickets to Les Miserables when Colm Wilkinson returned to Toronto and sobbing through the entire production. “I sang I Dreamed a Dream from the age of about nine onward even though it wasn’t even remotely age appropriate. That has always been my go-to song.”
LeeAnne was accepted and attended Wilfrid Laurier University where she continued to pursue her dream of becoming a singer, but somewhere along the road she became lost. Perhaps it was the fact that she was a self proclaimed “musical theatre geek” in a program geared towards classical training, or maybe it was the realization that a life devoted to singing is not easy or safe. Either way, she found herself shying away from her passion and pursuing a career in fundraising for the arts instead. But like any true passion, her love for singing never completely went away, and last year she found herself signing up for voice lessons with Elaine Overholt, a celebrated Canadian vocal coach. That led to an audition notice for Bravo’s Way Off Broadway, a reality television show that features amateur performers putting on a production for a live audience at The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. The rest, as they say in show business, is history.
After attending the audition LeeAnne won the lead role of Dorothy in Way Off Broadway’s production of The Wizard of Oz. She timidly recalls that first rehearsal stating that “I almost quit. Once I saw the cameras and thought about what I was doing I seriously debated walking out. But I’ve always been the girl who chickens out and this was something I really wanted.” So after speaking with director Sarina Condello and the show’s producers LeeAnne felt comfortable that this was an experience worth taking a risk on. “I could tell that they really wanted this to be a show about helping people grow and building people up. Plus I made sure to show my true self. If you give them drama and crazy of course they’re going to air that, it makes for good television! But if you are true to yourself and put your best foot forward then I think that shines through.”
And shine is exactly what she did. In this week’s episode Elaine Overholt is brought into rehearsals to help the performers improve their acting and vocal technique, and she is especially hard on LeeAnne. There’s a touching scene in which Ms. Overholt uses the feelings that LeeAnne has for her young newphew (whom she describes as “the absolute best thing in her life”) to help her express more genuine emotion while performing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The end result is beautiful, as viewers get to see a distinct change in Lee-Anne’s take on the song. When asked about having to experience something so emotional in front of all those cameras, LeeAnne expressed gratitude: “I was having a hard time with my character and my song and being put in that situation was like a pressure cooker. You’re in front of your cast and all those cameras with Elaine so there is an extra level of stress. At the time I was a bit put-off by her method of using my nephew to get what she wanted out of me, but the result was her getting me into this sweet spot that helped my performance. Watching the episode after the fact I notice a real difference in my face and the way I come across. Elaine knew what she wanted and she knew how to get it.”
Watching LeeAnne’s growth over that one episode is a rare and fascinating experience. As a viewer you get to feel like you are watching someone rediscover their joy. In the end, that’s what this experience was really about for LeeAnne. It was a way to get out into the community and participate in something that was always her first love. The final episode has yet to air, but if this week’s performance of Somewhere Over The Rainbow is anything to go by, audiences are in for a real treat.