2 Winni Playhouse alums make it big on Broadway

MEREDITH — As the Winnipesaukee Playhouse enters its 11th season, two early Playhouse alums have recently made their Broadway debuts in two of Broadway's biggest hits.

Kaleigh Cronin, who appeared in the Playhouse's children's musical series "Professor N.E. Mull" in the 2004 summer season, is featured in the newly opened revival of "Cabaret." Christine Dwyer, who appeared in the summer 2005 children's musicals "Papa Gander's Twisted Tales," recently took over the coveted role of Elphaba in Broadway's "Wicked."

Playhouse Marketing Director Lesley Pankhurst, says, "When we first opened we were looking for older teens and college-age students to perform in our children's musicals. Being so new to town we found it difficult to recruit cast members." Pankhurst met AutoServ's Donna Hosmer at a function and told her about the plans for the summer. "Donna told me she knew a really talented performer, Kaleigh Cronin, but she was only around fourteen. We weren't looking for teens that young originally but decided to let her audition. We were absolutely blown away by her talent. Even as a kid, she definitely had 'it'."

Cronin was cast as several animals in the musical series, including a singing octopus. Pankhurst says, "Kaleigh was not only talented but had an incredible work ethic. She was as mature, if not more mature, than some of our professional staff that summer. You could tell she really had the talent and drive to make her Broadway dreams come true."

Throughout high school, Kaleigh, who was from Manchester, performed in many mainstage productions at the Palace Theatre. After graduating from high school she attended Carnegie Mellon before moving to NY. She now shares the stage with screen and stage stars including Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams.

Approaching summer 2005, the Playhouse had a little more luck recruiting college-aged performers for the children's musicals. On one day of auditions, a freshman from the Hartt School in Connecticut showed up whose powerful vocals made her an obvious choice. Christine Dwyer was cast in four children's musicals that summer where she played everything from a singing cow in a spoof of Jack and the Beanstalk and a Madonna-like Princess with a pink wig.

According to Pankhurst, "By that summer we had structured an intern program where the performers not only entertained children but also helped out in the scene shop and stage managed our mainstage shows. Christine was so fun and easygoing, taking on all her different responsibilities with humor and hard work."

After graduation, she was cast as Maureen in a national tour of "Rent" and soon after that was made the understudy for Elphaba, the wicked witch in the national tour of "Wicked." After some time she was promoted to being the full-time Elphaba on the road. After completing that contract she was cast as the understudy for Elphaba on Broadway, making her Broadway debut when the leading lady was out around Thanksgiving. Only weeks after starting that contract, she was told she would be taking over as the "official" Elphaba when the actress she was understudying left the production. On Feb. 25 her name was on the marquee as Broadway's Elphaba.

Dwyer says, "I'm not sure when another opportunity like this will come along so right now I'm just enjoying each performance."