From her days as a pre-teen acting with DeSoto Family Theatre and on stage at Southern Baptist Education Center (SBEC), now Northpoint Christian School, Ashley McCormack has dreamed of performing under the big lights of a Broadway production.
McCormack, at the time, may not have thought the journey to Broadway would involve countless hours on a bus to the four corners of the country. But that’s what she is now doing as part of a Broadway national tour of Finding Neverland the Musical.
Part of the show’s ensemble in a character role of “Miss Jones,” McCormack is also an understudy for the leading female roles in the production.
McCormick and the Finding Neverland cast will find their way to the Bologna Performing Arts Center on the Delta State University campus Tuesday, Feb. 4. The curtain rises that evening at 7:30 p.m.
That particular night, McCormack will be cast in the leading female role of “Sylvia,” because they know she’ll have many familiar faces to her in the audience.
“I know that my high school theater teacher is going to be in the audience, my mom and my dad, my grandma, and my husband, and those who have known me my whole life and know this has been a dream of mine will get to come to Cleveland and be a part of a national Broadway tour,” McCormack said in a recent phone interview. “To share that with everyone is going to be surreal, I think.”
Finding Neverland chronicles the story of J.M. Barrie, the author and playwright of “Peter Pan.” Barrie, looking for the courage to become a writer, meets Sylvia, a widow, and her four young sons. The boys and Sylvia gave him the inspiration to dream up the imaginary Neverland and write the play that became “Peter Pan.”
McCormack’s journey to this national Broadway tour all began on the local stages of SBEC and DeSoto Family Theatre, or DFT.
“I grew up doing theater at school and did countless shows with the DeSoto Family Theatre,” McCormack said. “It was like a second home for me on stage and in college.”
She went to the University of Alabama, where she graduated with a BA degree in Musical Theatre. McCormack and her husband would begin following her theatrical dreams with a move to New York in August 2019.
“I started auditioning for shows in January of 2019,” McCormack said. “New York is where you want to go if you want to be on Broadway, but it’s also where you want to go for national tours and regional productions across the country. I was auditioning for a few things here and there and the national tour of Finding Neverland is what I’m traveling on right now.”
The cast has been on tour since last August, part of a 55-city trek around the country that will end in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada between Apr. 7-13.
“We started the bus tour portion after the first of the year,” McCormack explained. “We’ve got a really nice bus actually and the cast is like a family, so it’s pretty neat to travel the country with your second family. Life on a bus is not easy but having my cast mates along with me does make it a little more fun.”
Being an understudy is a special challenge for an actress who must know more than one character’s line and music.
“What I do is that I am the understudy for four other roles in the show,” McCormack said. “That includes the three principal females, so if they get sick or if something happens, I have to be ready at a moment’s notice to go in for them at any point in time.”
An example of that came during an appearance in Florida, when McCormack said she had to step in for an injured leading lady.
“Our leading lady who plays the role of Sylvia got injured during the middle of the show,” she related. “She did all of Act One and her injury happened during intermission. I had to go in that night for Act Two.”
But McCormack calls this tour exciting and she credits it all to her time in her youth acting in DeSoto County.
“I started doing shows at DeSoto Family Theatre when it was founded and I started doing shows there my entire school career,” she said. “I would come home from college in the summer and do shows there. It has absolutely served as the foundation of my love for theater and the training ground. I don’t know if I would be the performer and actress I would be were it not for DeSoto Family Theatre.”
Ticket information for Finding Neverland the Musical is available online. McCormack looks forward to sharing her moment on stage with as many of those who want to come and watch her perform and see her dreams come true on Feb. 4 at Delta State.
“Still, as a 30-year-old woman, I walk out onto that stage now and get tears in my eyes when I think about that little eight and nine-year-old girl who decided this is what she wanted to do for a living,” said McCormack.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.