Manchester actress Kaleigh Cronin visits Jersey before heading to Big Apple's Great White Way with role in 'Cabaret'
Welcome to the Klub, Kaleigh.
Manchester native Kaleigh Cronin is preparing for her Broadway debut this spring, having landed a coveted role in the revival of the classic musical "Cabaret." Cronin is playing Lulu, a member of the Kit Kat Klub ensemble in the story based around the happenings of a seedy 1930s nightclub in Berlin.
"'Cabaret' is a show that I have wanted to be part of forever. I think it's an amazing piece," said Cronin, a 2007 graduate of Manchester High School Central, about the tale set in a turbulent time of social, political and ethical upheaval. "It's an amazing piece. It's an incredible story to tell, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
Cronin's story is pretty impressive as well. At 24, she will wrap up a two-year national tour of the musical "Jersey Boys" this month and begin "Cabaret" rehearsals in February. "Jersey Boys" was her first audition when she arrived in New York just after graduating in 2011 from Carnegie Mellon University, where she majored in acting and musical theater.
Less than three years later, she will be on Broadway — a destination that for so many aspiring actors can be most elusive.
"I feel so lucky with how everything has kind of happened for me and fallen into place," Cronin said last week between "Jersey Boys" performances in Philadelphia.
"People talk about Broadway like it's a big deal — and it is," she said. "But I think performing is performing. I think I'm going to take the same approach as that. It is exciting, though."
The show opens in April, when Jack and Maureen Cronin plan to be there on opening night to see their daughter realize her dream of playing on Broadway.
"My mom tells stories about when anyone ... came over to visit, I pulled them aside and did a performance. I think I always wanted to sing and dance," she said. "My parents were so great about encouraging that but not pushing it ever upon me."
Maureen Cronin recalled a teenage Kaleigh coming to her with a question about how to handle interviews and questions about a backup plan should Broadway not happen. Kaleigh didn't have one — which her mother pointed out was the perfect answer.
"She is such an incredibly hard worker," Maureen Cronin said. "It sounds like it happened quickly, but she's been doing this since she was five or six years old and very consistently."
Kaleigh laughed when asked about her start in show business.
"I think my first show was 'Annie', which I went on to do six or seven times," she said. "As a young redhead girl, that's kind of a role you get typecast into."
Young Kaleigh established that she could be more than a plucky orphan with the right hair color and her roles expanded. She nabbed parts as Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird," based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 book about small-town America and issues of racism, and Anne Frank in a production about the Jewish girl who penned her now-famous diary as she and her family hid from the Nazi regime during World War II, prior to her discovery, deportation and death at a concentration camp.
Cronin also took up the saxophone as a fourth grader and developed her instrumental skills over the next six years. She thought she was done with the sax until she was about to audition for "Cabaret" and learned that the Roundabout Theatre Company was looking for a Lulu who had a bit of brass in her background.
Cronin enlisted her boyfriend, a saxophonist on the "Jersey Boys" tour, for some refresher lessons.
"He coached me back into fighting shape and I was able to play well enough to pass the audition," she said. "It was kind of funny to me. Here I am making my Broadway debut also playing the saxophone."
Cronin said the challenge of "Cabaret," which was converted into a movie in 1972 and won eight Oscars, is a challenge not only for its celebrated score but because the subject matter is rather dark.
The tale, set in 1931 as the Nazis are gaining a foothold, centers around nightlife at the steamy and seedy Kit Kat Klub, where English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with American writer Cliff Bradshaw take center stage.
"There's a fantastic world that exists within the play. It exposes a lot of the harsh realities of what's really going on in the world — Berlin right before the Nazis came to power," she said. "I think it will be a great challenge for me so I'm psyched about it."
In addition to singing, acting, dancing and playing the saxophone, Cronin also is the understudy for one of the principals, Frauline Kost.