Junior returns to Broadway

Returning to off-Broadway performances, junior Elizabeth Teeter will star in world premiere musical “The Secret Life of Bees,” directed by Tony winner Sam Gold.

Elizabeth Teeter performs in “The Crucible” (2016) with Saoirse Ronan and Ben Wishaw. Photo provided by Elizabeth Teeter

Written by two time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, the play is adapted from the bestselling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, published in 2001. Music has been created by Grammy and Tony award winner Duncan Sheik, with lyrics by two time Tony nominee Susan Birkenhead.

Teeter will play protagonist Lily Melissa Owens, a curious, radical and ever-changing white teen from Sylvan, SC., in 1964.

In the past five years, Teeter has commuted to New York for performances, rehearsals and auditions during summer and school months. During shows, Teeter balances a full-time job as a performer and a student.

Teeter has previously starred in Broadway productions such as “Mary Poppins” (2012),  “The Audience” (2015) and “The Crucible” (2016).

Previously, Teeter has been away for shows in elementary and middle school but never had to worry about lacking credit. In her newest show, rehearsals occur from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day until performances begin. Teeter will perform eight times a week, taking on a full-time job and expected to continue a high school education.

Late rehearsal days will leave more time for schoolwork, but Teeter said it will be a “learning process.”

Although she has had opportunities to travel for work, Teeter has stepped back from most out-of-town productions, cherishing the high school experience and focusing on classes, sports and friendships. Teeter will leave during Spring Break to start rehearsals in New York, missing the rest of second semester.

About why she wanted to pursue this opportunity, Teeter explained, “The book is so good. I’ve never had the opportunity to really be a part of an adaptation of something, of such a well-known novel… I immediately fell in love with the story and the character and so that made me want to do it even more.”

In November, Teeter spent a week in New York for pre-rehearsals, meeting the cast, learning the music, reading through the script and getting to know her character.

“It’s cool because it’s a completely new musical, and they are still in the process of writing. I walked in and the lyricist had written two new songs after my audition, or I would sing something and we would adjust the key to fit my voice,” Teeter said.

“As a group, we did a read through of the script, and the creative team valued our thoughts on scenes and lines. The next day, we came in and had 20 new pages of lines just because of what we had said,” Teeter continued.

Teeter’s character is accompanied by her surrogate mother and black caregiver, Rosaleen, played by Tony nominee Saycon Sengbloh.

Owens, living with her abusive father and losing her mother at a young age, depends on the companionship of Rosaleen. After the pair ends up in a drastic situation, they must embark on a journey, escaping to Tiburon, South Carolina.

Sengbloh’s role, considered a secondary character in the novel, is projected to play a bigger role in the performance according to Birkenhead.

“I think the story is really relevant and an important time to bring this piece; it touches on a lot of important points about the strength of women and the racial issues in society,” Teeter said.

The novel is illustrated by Owen’s consciousness, telling the story in her perspective, which will translate over to the performance.

“When I read the book, there were so many things that I immediately connected with, just what (Lily) was going through and her thoughts. It just feels right,” Teeter said.

This will also be Teeter’s first principal role; in the past, she and other actors have rotated playing roles.

Teeter said, “I’ve been in musicals before, and I’ve had principal roles, but this show is different because I’m one of the lead characters. It’s a lot more responsibility and hard work that I will have to put into it because I will be on stage pretty much the whole time.”

About her connection with the character, Teeter knew the part felt “right” while reading the book prior to and during her audition.

Teeter explained, “Most of the shows I’ve gotten into, I’ve had a feeling walking into the room, and had a certain connection with the character. I’ve definitely had auditions or self tapes where I think I did okay, but I am also thinking, ‘I know I’m not right for this character,’ so the minute I got the sides, I just felt like it came naturally, when you aren’t really forcing anything, the character just kind of lives inside you.”

Officially opening on May 12, “The Secret Life of Bees” will run through July 7, with the Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater.

Emily Stisser – Opinion Editor 

This will be Emily Stisser’s first year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year.

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