Age & Hometown: 41; Indianapolis, IN
Current Role: A fiery Broadway debut as Opera Populaire prima donna Carlotta Giudicelli in the 25th anniversary cast of The Phantom of the Opera.
Jingle Bells: Michele McConnell knew she was born to be a star...even if her junior high school music teacher didn’t. The teacher “personally knew the engineers at a recording studio,” McConnell recalls, and chose a few students to sing on a local commercial jingle. “I wasn’t selected, and I was so envious!” But the young actress changed her tune when she was handpicked to sing a jingle for the ‘80s doll TuggaBows, and before long, she had a thrilling after-school gig recording music demos and commercials. “As a kid, I learned not to put any limits on what my voice could do, and I learned to play around,” the actress explains. “But I also learned how to sight-read very quickly at a young age—time is money!”
Kiss and Makeup: Onstage at Phantom, McConnell makes playing a diva look easy, but with elaborate costumes that weigh up to 40 pounds, the role initially took a toll. “I’m not used to walking around with furs and carrying parasols and severed heads,” she jokes. When she isn’t singing into the stratosphere as the larger-than-life Carlotta, McConnell gives her co-stars beauty and makeup tips. “I started a Mary Kay business and fell in love with it,” she says. “Actors know how to do makeup to read from the back of the house, but don’t necessarily know what to do for every day.” McConnell’s most important advice is to wash off stage makeup every night—no exceptions. “These youngsters say, ‘Oh, I wake up in the morning and my skin is fine,’” she says with a laugh. “But let’s see what happens in 20 years!”
Prima Donna: Before making her debut in Phantom three years ago, McConnell thought her Broadway ship had sailed. “I was in New York for 14 years—I thought I didn’t have the pedigree,” says the actress, who previously worked on cruise ships and in regional theater. “I thought I’d never be considered to do a principal role full-time, so this is an amazing thrill.” Even more exciting was taking the stage in the mega-musical’s gala 25th anniversary performance in January—though she admits she was nervous. “I remember being really hyper-focused, probably the most focused of my life, for my opening cadenza,” she says. “But it’s special to know that when people look in a theater history book 50 years from now, my name will be a part of this cast! This has been a fabulously surreal experience.”