Shot from a cannon, landing at home
By Nelson Pressley
Friday, September 26, 2014
Howard County’s Glenelg High School sits only 35 miles from the Kennedy Center, but actress Caroline Bowman has taken the long way around ---- you know, stopping on Broadway. And in Turkey. And passing through China.
Also Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Des Moines ---- just some of the cities that her current gig, a year--long U.S. tour of “Evita,” will have played by the time it arrives at the Kennedy Center next week, with Bowman playing the title role, the megalomaniacal wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron.
“It was like being shot out of a cannon,” the 26--year--old Glenelg grad says, sitting in a gleaming white meeting room across the plush hall from the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. Bowman is referring to her first night as a Broadway understudy, going on as Elphaba in “Wicked,” but the velocity applies to just about everything in a career that’s kept her almost entirely too busy to work in Washington until now.
Not that she’s a total stranger to local stages. Bowman ---- bright and energetic, with an intriguing dark edge to her voice ---- performed as a teenager in musicals at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Md., even as she was landing plum roles in school productions of “The Music Man,” “Pippin” and “Grease.”
“By junior year I was doing the school play and rehearsing at Toby’s at night,” Bowman says.
She already knew what she wanted to do. Her mother, Connie Bowman, acts, models and does voice--over work, so Caroline was familiar with the theater world. Yet she never set sights on the New York conservatories, opting instead to study musical theater at Penn State. It wasn’t until the summer after her junior year that Bowman auditioned in Manhattan, merely expecting to feel out the scene.
To her surprise, she landed a job ---- a three--month tour of “Fame” in China. Her mother encouraged her to take it, and her professors blessed the plan. Bowman finished her senior year on time, then ---- hired again by the “Fame” producers ---- trekked to Istanbul to play Rizzo in “Grease.” The venue was an outdoor stage overlooking the Bosphorus Strait.
“I sang ‘There are Worse Things I Could Do,’ ” Bowman recalls, citing the hard--bitten Rizzo’s “I’m not gonna cry” number. “You’d think I was singing the most romantic song in the world to a full moon overlooking the water. I wished I was singing ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ or something.”
The international audiences took to it: “ ‘Grease’ seems to be universal,” she says. “And ‘Fame’ ---- oh, my gosh ---- they loved it in China.”
Back home, Bowman was hired for a national non--Equity tour of “Spamalot.” Non--Equity tours can be relentless, often moving from city to city night after night.
“I did 16 one--nighters in a row,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It taught me how to do eight shows a week under crazy circumstances.”
Bowman played Rizzo again in Olney Theatre’s 2011 production of “Grease” and figured she’d live in New York but get work around Washington. Instead, she was picked up as an understudy for “Wicked” on Broadway. She ended up playing the daunting green witch Elphaba three times, and was mainly nervous about botching her timing with the machinery ---- the “levitator” that creates the flying illusion.
“Obviously my goal as an understudy is just to make the show happen,” she says. “The last thing I would want is to not fly ---- to not defy gravity.”
Bowman stepped into the ensemble of the musical “Kinky Boots” when it was still finding its Tony Award--winning form. And now, the last stop on the “Evita” tour is practically in her back yard.
At 26, there are plenty of roles ahead ---- maybe even movies or television. (Her agents are encouraging that.)
“Whatever’s next, I’m obviously going to work for it,” Bowman says. “But I’ve trusted so far. So I’m just going to see what’s going to happen.”