Age & Hometown: 22; Harrisburg, PA
Current Role: A dazzling Broadway debut as the mysterious and magical Witch who predicts Edward Bloom’s future in Big Fish.
Big Dreams: Ciara Renee exudes confidence and charm in Big Fish, but growing up, she insists she wasn’t so smooth. “My older brother Billy was really into video games, and of course I followed suit,” she says with a laugh. “I was such a dork—I was so geeky!” But Renee, who was “singing before I could talk,” had dreams beyond the glow of a screen. At age 12, she entered a local singing competition and won a trip to Nashville to perform for a panel of record producers. “I was so frightened, just absolutely shaking in my boots,” she says. “I mean, I was 12!” During the trip, Renee’s mother realized her daughter wasn’t ready to go pro. “My mom was like, ‘You know what? You’re too young for this. We should wait.’” A relieved Renee returned to Pennsylvania to continue singing in church and school choirs.
“Witch” Way to New York? Renee's life changed when she saw Mary Poppins during a high school trip to New York. “It never dawned on me that theater was a career before that,” she explains. The singer immediately began auditioning for local productions, and landed the role of Mimi in Rent. Videos of her performance went viral on YouTube, racking up more than 50,000 views. “I’ve been on YouTube mash-ups of people’s favorite Mimis,” she says. “Like, really? That’s crazy!” Renee was so eager to begin pursuing a professional acting career that she skipped graduation at Baldwin-Wallace University. “I came to New York with two bags, my guitar and my laptop,” she says. “I set my stuff down and immediately ran to an audition.” Four months later, she was previewing on Broadway in Big Fish.
Spellbinding Debut: The Broadway newbie is understandably “over the moon” to be a part of a big, new musical, especially the opportunity to share scenes with two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, an actor she idolized in college. “Norbert is, like, the Fiyero in my head. He’s Jamie from The Last Five Years to me!” she gushes. "You always hear things about big stars being divas, but Norbert and Kate [Baldwin] are the most genuine, nicest people I've ever met.” Renee’s magical Broadway experience has been such a whirlwind, she still has to pinch herself while walking through Times Square. “I go down the street thinking, ‘Oh my God, I live in New York.’ But then I think, ‘Oh my God,’” she says, pausing for dramatic effect, “I’m on Broadway!”